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Making the decision to improve upon yourself, and actually following through, can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a lifetime. We can all stand to become better people.
If you’re like the rest of us, at some point you’ve felt unfulfilled and didn’t (or still don’t) feel like you’re living up to your true potential. And since most people do not feel they have the power to change themselves, when you finally dig your own heels in enough to gain some momentum, do not be surprised if you meet resistance along the way.
Indeed, sometimes it feels like your entire social circle turns on you as you start seeing results.
Today I want to talk about friends. More specifically, the friends who drag you down.
Friendship Can be a Double-edged Sword
Your friends enrich your life. They are the primary characters in the memories you play of your past, days and nights unfolding now, and your plans for the future. Unfortunately, friends are not always a positive influence – for many different reasons.
If you’re making positive changes in your life, for instance, you may still have friends who are stuck in the same rut that you used to be stuck in. While we love these people, it’s not always healthy for us to be around them, and it’s important to know how to juggle that dynamic if you want to succeed.
While some friends might actually act hostile towards you as your self-improvements manifest, most often the negativity is subtle and performed subconsciously (“oh, that’ll never work, 80% of all small businesses fail”, “just one drink, you’re no fun ever since you quit”, “why do you work so hard, stop taking things so seriously and just enjoy yourself?”).. It’s been said that we’re creatures of habit; well, we’re also creatures of consistency. And our subconscious urge is to resist when a person doesn’t act the way we expect them to.
Another common reason some people are so resistant to other people’s success is that on a certain level, it reminds them of their shortcomings and missed opportunities; it’s the other side of the coin that sees people take great joy in other’s failures. This can manifest itself in jealousy, animosity, scorn, gossip, passive aggressive comments, verbal challenges, alienation, and outright sabotage.
The Process of Breaking Free
So how do you navigate this social minefield? Is it possible to salvage these friendships, and if not, how do you know it’s time to let go? Let’s look at a simple 7-step process you can use to analyze these relationships when they start feeling like dead weight at your feet.
Step 1: Recognizing Friction
The first obvious step is recognizing when a relationship has become toxic. This can sometimes be a bit more of a challenge then one might think.
First off, every friendship has its ups and downs, and sometimes we tend to ignore an increase in the downs, just passing it off as business as usual. It’s one thing, however, to have your struggled moments, but when bickering and power-plays become the norm, it’s more than just being moody or needing a couple days apart.
Another reason it can be difficult is because the way your friends undermine you is not always obvious. Humans are emotional creatures who communicate in subtle ways, especially considering that we ourselves don’t always understand our own motive.
Aside from obvious sabotage or friends who bring you down because of their own self-destructive behavior, just be sure to pay attention when a friend leaves you feeling negative more often than they leave you positive, even if it seems unintentional. Consider why and how they are making you feel the way they do.
Is it becoming a cycle?
Step 2: Try to Understand Them
Upon determining that your friend is holding you back, the first temptation is often anger. After all, they are supposed to be your friend – how could they betray you by wanting anything but the best for you?
But slow down for a second. Resist the temptation to get emotional or vengeful in return. You stand a far greater chance of preserving the friendship and maybe even coming to some new understandings of your own if you seek empathy instead.
Try to understand what exactly is causing your friend’s behavior. Are they really angry at you or are they just feeling insecure? Are they trying to purposely hold you down or acting on a natural inclination to keep the friend they know and love? Seek truth first.
It’s also important to explore the possibility that you’ve actually been acting different due to the changes in your life – and that maybe that’s what’s bugging your friend.
As an example, I was reading about a study recently that discovered people who are making more money actually drive more aggressively, and that a person winning a basic board game rigged in their favor will act more aggressive and brash at the table.
This was a big “aha” moment for me as there are times in my own life when I’ve caught myself driving like more of a jerk when in a nicer vehicle.
Considering this, think about how you’ve been acting lately. Is there any chance the new positive changes in your life also have some more negative side effects on your behavior that is rubbing people the wrong way? Maybe it’s you who needs to lighten it up a little.
Step 3: Consider the Benefits
Take the time to consider the positives your friend brings into your life. It’s only fair to think about how much they mean to you and all the pleasure and support they offer aside from the recent difficulties. Dismissing this can cause you to undervalue them in a state of anger, and you don’t want to make a huge decision like this in haste.
The unfortunate truth is that you may realize at this point that any value they did bring to your life has long since disappeared; sometimes that’s just the way life goes. Just as you’re changing for the better, sometimes people change for the worse.
Whatever the reason, if a person brings nothing of value to your life other than negativity, it might be time to let them go.
Step 4: Understand the Negatives
After going through the positive benefits this person brings into your life, it’s time to get serious about the negatives.
How detrimental is your friend’s behavior and attitude towards your own life and push for self-actualization? Is it going to really affect your progress, or is it likely to just be a temporary growing pain that they’ll get used to just like they’ve always gotten used to the changes life brings?
This step is a time to get serious about how serious a problem this really is.
Don’t underestimate the value of your own self-esteem or the ability of others to cut the drive right out of you with a simple comment though. On a similar vein, if you’re trying to quit a destructive habit, like drinking or doing drugs, you should know that old friends who still do those things and can’t seem to step away from their demons are a particularly big risk to you.se
Step 5: Seek Balance
Before completely cutting people out of your life and burning the bridges, contemplate how you can achieve a more balanced approach first.
We have all types of people in our lives that we may not get along with 100% of the time. Bosses and co-workers. Brothers and sisters. In-laws. Even our own parents. Yet we usually find ways to still live with, work with, and even love these people.
Considering that, is it really necessary to completely throw a friendship out the door, or can you just redefine it somehow?
Maybe you just won’t be the type of friends who spend a great deal of time together anymore. It doesn’t mean you can’t still stay in touch – you should always have complete control over how involved someone is in your life, and there’s nothing wrong with holding someone at more of a distance while still staying in touch. As long as you’re not just doing it to play games…
Also, sometimes a pause can be enough to spark needed changes. After some time apart, they may be more likely to accept the new you, just happy to still have you in their lives. In fact, in the “honeymoon” period that old friendships always seem to go through upon reuniting, they may very well come to the conscious realization that even though you’ve changed the new you is just a happier version of the old you.
On top of that, sometimes you can initiate changes simply by altering the way you act towards the person (especially if you conclude that you have indeed been part of the problem), opening a dialogue, or even directly confront their behavior. These are all worthy options – it just depends on the situation.
Step 6: Take Action & Reassess
Once you decide on how you’re going to deal with a friendship that has become toxic, the next part is the toughest part. You actually have to follow through on it.
Remember this important fact though: often, the most manipulative of our friends, the ones most likely to be resistant to us changing, are also the most charismatic. That means that when they get a whiff of what’s going on, they might instantly change their behavior in response, and it can be a seductive ploy.
Friendships can sometimes resemble emotionally abusive relationships, where as soon as the victim tries to pull away, the abuser changes their act, only to slip right back into the old routine once the distance is closed again. Sometimes they do this on purpose and sometimes they just have no control over their emotional behavior.
Keeping in mind what I mentioned about manipulators, it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether their change of heart is a genuine effort or not.
If you’ve only decided to reposition your friendship or even have a discussion with the friend to see if you can make changes that way, this will also require some reassessment to see if it worked. You’ll most likely be immediately aware if it doesn’t, but just keep your eye on the situation, realizing that if things don’t get better you might have to pull the plug completely.
Step 7: Letting Go
I mentioned a few times in this article about “having a discussion.” But I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Confrontation and criticism are often the worst ways you can deal with walking away from the friendship.
Even if you decide your life is better off without a particularly poisonousrelationship, does that decision really necessitate some type of awkward and confrontational “breakup?” In the vast majority of cases, I would say no. This isn’t a romantic relationship here and you have no obligations to each other – friendships end all the time just by simply drifting away.
Walking away from a friendship, when done right, should be barely noticed. If you’ve changed enough to be seriously considering a friendship “break up”, then chances are your friendship is only held together by old habits and familiarity. If you let those go, you’ll often find the friendship dissolving naturally. There’s no reason you can’t keep things civil. Who knows, maybe someday down the road you’ll reconnect as two different – yet very familiar – people.
Of course, there will be cases where your decision meets with particularly desperate resistance and you may have to be a little less tactful if that friend really is someone that needs to go, but well, that’s just how life goes sometimes.
The Evolution Of Friendships
None of this is easy, and I don’t want to pretend I have all the answers to the chaotic landscape of human relationships. In a perfect world, all of your friends would see the great things happening in your life and hop right on board, not only happy to see you doing so well but eager to follow down the same path.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it usually works. Many people go through life without ever finding the strength to live up to their life ideals. And that means that evolving and the path to self-improvement is often a solitary, even lonely process.
Don’t let it get you down too much though. Remember that every time one door closes another opens. As you become someone just a bit different, you’ll meet new people who bring exciting new possibilities into your life. Not only that but you’ll quickly find out who your true friends are – the ones that really will be there until the end. It’s a painful process but sometimes well worth the effort.
And don’t be surprised if someday a relationship you once let go comes back around full circle as your old friend does a bit of growing up on their own.
If you’re ready to start developing new friendships now, check out our guide on How to Make Friends in College and get some tips that work no matter where you are.