I smile at everybody, try to brighten their day.
Okay not everybody. I’m human!
But one thing I have found makes me happier, and the world a better place, is smiling and spreading positivity.
Sometimes it even works to reverse an incoming scowl.
While I was living in India – in an area where you don’t see white people, ever – local women would often scrutinize me with furrowed brow. Let’s face it, a tall, blonde, white woman would stand out like a sore thumb. What was I doing there, they must have wondered.
I first registered the expression as glaring at me, perhaps even resenting me somehow (did I represent something negative?) – that is, until I smiled. And the big, bright smiles I got back! Sometimes shy, or suddenly self-conscious of one’s own curiosity, but so vibrantly reciprocated made me feel instantly welcome and accepted. We were connecting, on some level.
Spreading positivity is awesome in traffic, you just know you’re making the world a better place.
When someone makes an honest mistake and looks at you with terror, expecting the finger or dagger-eyes, it’s so much fun to surprise them with a smile. The look of relief, and then you’re suddenly both in on a joke together.
In these interactions, there has been a connection on a human level: acknowledging we’re all in this together, we all make mistakes, and it’s okay.
You could have made the other driver’s bad day worse, or turned their good day bad, or triggered their shame which leads them to yelling at their kids. But, instead, they’re driving down the road with warmth in their hearts, paying forward that positivity.
Well, not always.
Some people are determined to be unhappy. You know who they are. You can tell from the first second you meet them.
Do not give these people your energy.
They are all too happy to latch onto that positivity, absorb it, and keep pulling on the line to see how much more they can feed on.
This is a fairly new idea to me. I used to think I could heal the world by freely giving out positive energy. However, I was actually flushing my energy down the toilet, one unit at a time.
Then I learned about the energy vampires.
You can google this concept, it is not my own. But it’s good that I now know, because my nature has made me an ideal target for these people in my life.
The Most Dangerous Human Vampires
The narcissists. I mean the people with the actual personality disorder as well as those with strong narcissistic tendencies – not just your run-of-the-mill ex that can’t seem to cooperate or be civil. If you aren’t sure of the difference between selfishness and narcissism, please google Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
These people are only too happy to take and take and take to the point of abuse. On the furthest end of the spectrum, they do not see other people as humans but as objects to be used. They see nothing wrong with trying to force another person to have sex with them, for example.
Giving people like this the benefit of the doubt can be dangerous. “Oh he’s just struggling with alcoholism and needs my help”, for example. No: YOU need your help. You need your time and energy. You need your physical, emotional, and mental safety.
Narcissists will eat you alive (they do actually sometimes kill their victims or drive them to suicide and other forms of self-destruction) and then move on to their next victim. If you have children together, they will actually hurt the kids (usually in untraceable ways) when it’s the only way they have left to cause you pain.
There’s a huge overlap between criminality and narcissism, and it’s important to know about it. Even if they don’t cross over into criminal behaviour, these people destroy lives – of coworkers and subordinates, of people in their community groups and churches, of children and spouses.
It’s a spectrum
Other people are less overt in their vampiring. They may not go out hunting for new victims, but they are more than happy to take advantage of you walking into their sphere.
There was someone in my life who wanted to leverage my generosity (or my aforementioned somewhat pathological need to help people) and my guilt/shame. Let’s call this person Susan. She had identified some issues in her own life that she could see could use improving. As long as we’re changing details, let’s say a big one was self-esteem.
So instead of taking ownership, Susan wanted to make me responsible for her self-esteem. No recognition whatsoever that I have my own demons, self-esteem being a big one. Susan preferred to paint a picture where I’m the strong one and somehow I should read her mind about where she is overly sensitive and tiptoe around and make her feel good about herself.
(BTW I take responsibility for creating the false illusion that I am strong, capable, and put-together.)
(This does not make me responsible for your issues, SUSAN.)
Susan did, actually, succeed in making me feel guilty. A lot of it goes back to some false narratives from my past that led me to believe that I’m some kind of bully. Which I now reject. Well, I practice rejecting. (They still get me, sometimes: if someone tries to portray me as a bully, my gut reaction is to agree and I have to catch myself: Waaaaait just a second here!)
It’s not just positive energy that people can feed off. Susan fed off my guilt. My pain. Just like the narcissist, who actually sustains himself by causing pain in others. Good or bad energy, it doesn’t matter, they’ll hoover it all up until you stand your ground.
Other people use you for company when they’re lonely. Maybe it’s the nice little old lady, and she truly is sweet but just doesn’t have anyone else to connect with. So she kind of manipulates you into spending time with her. You know the feeling of a black hole human, because they suck the air out of a room when they walk in. Spending time around them is exhausting, but it’s hard to know why.
A little while ago, I saw an old guy walking along the sidewalk, scowling. I have a fixing-urge, compounded by an empathic urge to alleviate the suffering of others. So I beamed a huge smile! He sucked it right in and kept scowling.
My friend said, “You’ve got to stop doing that. You can’t be throwing away your energy.”
Wow, she was right. I basically just threw emotional currency at that guy. I wasted my energy. Energy that could have gone to a loved one, a coworker, a mother with a screaming child in the grocery store.
This is not to say that we should only smile at people who smile back. I have no interest in turning my life into some twisted set of business transactions where I only give if I’m going to receive in return. Yuck!
It is also not to say that energy is a scarce resource and I should hoard it all to myself, or only share with people I judge as “worthy”.
My working theory on the abundance of energy is we have a certain amount of energy each day. It’s like willpower: if you exhaust it all early in the day, there won’t be any left when you’re trying to decide what to have for dinner and decide it’s easier just to open that bag of chips. Even the most energetic person will eventually wear out if they work in a toxic environment, or care for an infirmed loved one without also getting adequate rest.
Second, there are things we can do to expand the amount of energy that is available to us on future days. Letting go of guilt, expectations, moving through shame and low self-esteem: these things all free up energy. Practicing compassion and lovingkindness (starting with ourselves, which inevitably spreads to others) fills up our energy reserves, and maybe even stretches our “container” of energy.
Love is infinite, but time is not. And I don’t think energy is, either.
Overall, smiling at people really does improve my life. I made a choice one day in university and turned away from negativity, pessimism, and toxic sarcasm and toward positivity, silver linings and smiling. I went all-in, and it made a big difference. Less energy being directed down the negativity tubes.
As far as negative energy, other areas could still use some attention. For example, not spending energy on frustration about things that are outside my control. Letting go takes far less energy than grasping to old habits or beliefs.
As far as being a good steward of my own positive energy and spreading it as far into the world as possible, I need to be wise about where all that positive energy goes. It can’t go to trying to please the authority figures who will never be happy. I can’t let it be stolen by people who don’t want to take responsibility for their own problems. I can’t go out for coffee with someone who just wants to feed off my energy (or pain), where I come home feeling exhausted.
There’s a local store that carries a lot of specialty items I can’t find anywhere else. It’s owned by a couple in their 60s who’ve run it for ages. He is a total doll, but she’s actually more of a troll. I know she has health challenges and I tried for years to give her the benefit of the doubt. I really do have compassion for her situation, and his. But I just can’t go in there anymore. I can’t be scowled at or scolded. I want to support local business, but between the cold welcome and the general dysfunction and disorganization in inventory management (which only mirrors the psychological dynamic), I have to order these items online. It’s just not good for me, my self-care, for the credibility I have with myself, or for the energy levels I’m trying to manage. At least not at this point in my life.
Part of caring for others is caring for myself. I can’t be so depleted that there’s nothing left. I can’t encourage others to stand up for themselves if I’m not setting the example. From now on, I’ll be [practicing] boundaries and awareness as they relate to energy.