Are we judged based by the company we keep? Did Hillary Clinton lose the 2016 Presidential race in part because of the actions of her husband and advisers? Am I judged on the actions of the people I surround myself with?
Maybe I am. And that’s kind of scary.
We live in a toxic world. We breathe in greenhouse gases, we drink polluted water and we slather on beauty products that are full of unpronounceable and indecipherable ingredients. Yet, with all these toxins in our atmosphere, it’s perhaps the toxic people in our lives that are most poisonous.
A popular quote from self-help guru Jim Rohn tells us, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” That’s pretty powerful. Many of us have also heard the idiom, “Lie down with dogs and you’ll end up with fleas.” Regardless of the saying you choose, the truth is that we are greatly influenced by the people around us. Just as a positive person can shine light and lift you up, a toxic person can bring the opposite effect.
It stands to reason that if we’re really going to turn into the people we associate with, we should only associate with really awesome people. If we want to be happy, we should surround ourselves with happy people. If we want to be successful, we should hang out with people that represent our version of success. And if someone is the embodiment of everything we don’t want to be, we simply shouldn’t spend time with them.
Sounds easy, right?
So why is it so darn hard for me?
I have always strived to be a Good Girl. A Nice Girl. Good Girls play nicely with other kids in the sandbox and don’t leave people out. They certainly don’t dissociate with anyone, even a badly behaving person, because doing so could hurt their feelings, and Good Girls don’t intentionally hurt anyone. The idea of intentionally cutting people out of my life seems rude and self-righteous to me.
This is also a difficult subject because I am an advocate for embracing people just as they are. I believe everyone deserves to be loved and accepted for being their own unique selves. I think everyone has something important to add to the world and I believe we should honor people’s unique talents and gifts. If someone is a little irritable or jealous, so be it. They have a right to live their lives the way they see fit.
Plus – I’m not exactly dripping with friends as it is. I am blessed to have several close friends, but I don’t see them very often – a side effect of having a busy, full life and many responsibilities, as nearly everyone in America can relate to. Additionally, as an introvert, I prefer to nurture close relationships with a few people in my life. I generally prefer one-on-one contact versus hanging out in large groups of people. While I often admire people that are seemingly always surrounded by many boisterous, loving, fun friends, my own life looks a little different. I rarely go out for a Girls Night Out, the “parties” we attend generally bounce houses and face painting, and as a rule I prioritize evenings out with my husband over any of the friends that I don’t see nearly often enough. There are a lot of reasons that my circle of friends is rather small, and with a small circle of friends, the idea of “getting rid” of the toxic members of that circle is a little intimidating. If I “get rid” of everyone who is toxic, will I have any friends left at all?
Being nice, accepting people as they are, and fear of being friendless have all held me back from saying good-bye to some people I should have parted ways with a long time ago. I don’t want to be mean! But at this stage of my life, being seen as mean is the risk I’m going to have to take.
When I started this blog about a year ago, I set out wanting to see what would happen if I started accepting myself and living as if I was good enough. The result is that now, a year later, I am actually starting to feel good enough! I am getting healthier and happier in all areas of my life – mind, body and soul. As a result, I really want to hang out with other happy, healthy people. With clearer eyes, I am starting to see some destructive traits in the people I used to surround myself.
Maybe I used to surround myself with those sad, angry people because I was sad and angry. Now that I’m not so sad and not so angry, I no longer have the desire to hang out with the same people.
Saying good-bye to toxic people isn’t a bad thing. It’s an empowering thing. No one has given me permission to say good-bye to the bad influences in my life, so I’m just going to have to do it for myself. So now the question is … HOW?
STEP ONE: Accept that cutting out toxic influences is necessary for my own well-being. According to Bustle: “Chances are, in a toxic friendship, you’re used to putting the needs of your friend first, often sacrificing your own happiness and needs. In order to truly cut someone out of your life you need to be prepared to put yourself first, for once.”
STEP TWO: Understand that it’s kinder for the people I’m cutting loose, too. People deserve to be surrounded by people that appreciate them. Holding on to a relationship for the sake of nostalgia or misplaced guilt is a very bad idea for everyone. It hinders growth and stifles authenticity.
STEP THREE: Decide on a technique. I’ve typically ignored the bad influences in my life, hoping that through polite distance they’d get the hint and go away. That’s … well, the word “immature” comes to mind. A bit pathetic, too. Ghosting and fading away are rude and ineffective. I need to embrace honest confrontation. It’s harder to tell the truth, but much less painful in the end.
STEP FOUR: Do it. I have no more excuses. I have only a responsibility to myself and those around me.
Only in letting go of what doesn’t serve me will I have the space to invite more good into my life. And so, with nothing but gratitude for the blessings and growth that sustained our relationships until now, I can and will set free those people that no longer serve me.