How To Be Happy: Tell your brother his negativity is distressing you

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The Independent Online

'I am finding it very difficult to manage my brother's persistently intrusive negativity, which really gets me down. I know he needs my help but I think that I need some boundaries.' A.

Step 1: Setting clear boundaries is essential to maintaining our emotional health and wellbeing. You clearly matter very much to your brother and are an important support to him. Perhaps he feels that the only way he can keep you close is to tell you how bad his life is. This has become a habitual way of relating to each other – but one you quite rightly want to make changes to, as it is ultimately detrimental to you both. Very gently, take this up with him and explore whether there are other ways that you can support him. Ask for some help for yourself, to show that the relationship can be reciprocally balanced; that you choose to encourage each other, for example, rather than focusing on what is wrong.

Step 2: Compassionately challenge his negative style of relating by telling him you love him and value your relationship, but you find his negativity distressing. This might prove pivotal for your brother and help him re-evaluate what matters to him. Most of us do not want to appear relentlessly gloomy, but sometimes we need it sensitively pointed out to us so that we can begin to make the necessary changes.

Step 3: Another approach to show him that you care, while maintaining a healthy boundary, is to arrange a special time where you meet or call each other to catch up. You can then still have a close and supportive relationship with him, while creating more control by reducing the number of unwanted intrusions. If the conversation starts to veer towards the depressing, you could say something along the lines of, "This pessimistic talk gets us both down doesn't it? Shall we think together about finding some resolutions or talk about something more cheerful?" In this way, you can thoughtfully signal to your brother, without blame, that you both need something more positive and nurturing in your contact. The more you do this, the more he will be able to respond in kind and you can build together the sort of relationship that values and nurtures you both.

Cecilia is Mind journalist of the year. If you would like her to answer your problems email her at c.dfelice@independent.co.uk

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