A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader seeking advice on how to gracefully let go of friendships that were no longer a positive influence. And while I have said before on the blog to surround yourself with uplifting and inspiring people that ultimately cause you to become your best self, I’ve never addressed the specifics on how to handle those relationships that while in your life currently, are depleting and destructive and need to be let loose.
While such a topic can feel like walking into a mine field, I’d like to speak to an even broader topic – how to create your very own healthy social circle because I believe it is one thing to know how to extricate yourself, but the key is to learn how to cultivate a positive environment no matter where you are in your life so that the need to let go of contrary people occurs less often.
After all, creating a life of fulfillment is figuring out how to balance our professional life with our personal life, and it is crucial to have a healthy, dynamic personal life that aids each one of us as we help those we care about live their most productive and enjoyable lives as well. Let’s get started:
First Things First
The most difficult part in the entire process once you’ve recognized that you are involved in friendships/relationships that are hurtful, detrimental and not conducive to anything positive, is figuring out how to remove yourself so that your conscience is at ease with regards to how you have handled it.
While there is not a simple way, there are two options, and it mainly depends on how close you are and how much respect you have for this person. If it is a person who doesn’t fit that description for whatever reason, gradually begin to see less of them and tactfully decline invitations. Upon declining invitations, there is no need to explain why or lie, simply say you are unable to make it, but you appreciate their consideration and wish them a great time.
If the relationship is one that leaves you still running into each other and you want to make sure there is closure or at least some explanation because you respect this individual on some level, find time to talk one-on-one and state that you care about them, but based on where you are in your life and what you value, their behavior, their treatment of you (whatever it is that isn’t sitting well with you) is not something you are comfortable with. Let them know you need some space and leave it at that. Don’t make promises to meet up again. If they are someone who respects you, they will grant you this (even if they don’t quite understand yet) and who knows what might happen down the road. But if they don’t handle it well, then you’ve respectfully handled the situation to the best of your ability and can walk away feeling good about how you tried to handle it.
Be Assertive, Not Aggressive or Passive
An important aspect to keep in mind when beginning any relationship is how you present yourself to those potential and current friends. It is vital that, even though you may be unsure of yourself around this person (or group of people) that you not shrink and morph into someone you’re not. Don’t agree to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. Don’t state an opinion that will gain your friend’s support if it really isn’t something you believe it. In other words, be proactive, let them see who you are without being aggressive. Only share certain opinions when the right moment presents itself and state it calmly - “As a matter of fact, I am a University of Oregon alumni, so be careful about what you say. You don’t want to ruffle my feathers.” You can be playful if you want with what you say, but stand behind your words, don’t let someone assume you’re not serious when you most certainly would be offended by something they might say.
By beginning the relationship being clear about who you are, you will quickly determine who accepts you for who you are and who wouldn’t be a positive addition to your life.
Having someone in your life that you share common interests and passions allows you to remain curious and pursue what you love. Now this person may be a significant other or it may be someone who has nothing else in common with you. By having someone in your life who shares the similar joy you have for whatever your passion may be, there is validation which in and of itself is empowering and motivating.
An Objective Voice
During times of indecision, it is always helpful to have someone who is objective to bounce ideas off of. Such a person should be someone who isn’t vested in the outcome of your decision whatever it may be. For example, while your mother might give much appreciated advice, she most likely cares about you and doesn’t want to see you hurt. Some times we need constructive criticism, and if it turns out we have a family member who is able to give such advice, it might be very hard to swallow coming from them, so do yourself a favor and discuss such decisive moments in your life with someone you trust, but also someone with some distance – a counselor, a mentor, a colleague you respect, etc.
Friendly Acquaintances at Work
While there will be a few remote instances where you will meet close confidantes at work, I highly suggest trying to keep most of your relationships at work on a professional level. Why, you might ask? First of all, unless you know them quite well, who’s to say why they are so chummy? And secondly, during tough times at work, when it comes right down to it, a job is a person’s livelihood, and it is better to lean on your efforts, professional work ethic and what you offer to the team, than to have the pressure of being honest with a friend about the future of a job situation and losing a friendship, as well as upsetting the work environment. Every situation is different but remember to maintain respect and always keep a little mystery.
Everyone needs a cheerleader in their life. Someone who will root you on when you may be doubting yourself. Someone who sees your potential during those times when you have lost that jive in your step. This someone should be a person who wants to see you rise to your best potential and doesn’t compete with you. This will require someone who is secure in who they are and the direction their life is taking.
Sometimes your confidante will also be your cheerleader but not always. A confidante should be someone that you can shed tears with and won’t view it as a weakness or hold it against you. This should also be someone that no matter what you share, you are confident you can trust them. Everyone needs someone to vent to every once in awhile (however, temper how often and use a journal, often times just getting it out somehow does a mountain of good).
While many don’t include a role model and/or mentor in their social circle because it isn’t necessarily someone they are friendly with, I beg to differ. A role model allows you to see something better for yourself, to aspire to become the best you possible can be and if the role model is also your mentor, they are able to provide guidance on how to be successful in this venture.
Whether you live in small town, the city or somewhere in between, be willing to establish a sense of community. Now that doesn’t mean you open up and share your darkest secrets with your favorite barista, but find out the name of the person that pours your coffee each morning or the dry cleaner who takes such gentle care of your cashmere. Be thankful and let them know that you appreciate their hard work and a good job when you see it. While we often assume that good service should occur at all times, when it does, say so. You’d be surprised what one kind, thoughtful compliment will snowball into – whether it affects you or not – it’s a very good thing.
Another piece of the puzzle is to be a good neighbor – wave hello, keep an eye on their place when you know their out of town (often this gets reciprocated), if you have excess vegetables from your garden and you want to make sure they don’t go to waste, share them with your next door neighbor who doesn’t have time for a garden. Trust me they will appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate a handful of my neighbors who are avid animal lovers like myself. They know my dogs by name and have put my dogs back in the yard two different occasions when they successfully weaseled out.
Eliminate the Scarcity Mentality
If you are in the process of creating a new social circle due to a move or change in your life in general, it is often easy to approach the building of such a vital part of your life with the mentality of lack. Always keep in mind that there are millions of people out there, and by being honest about who you are, taking time to get to know people and trusting your gut, you will eventually find people that help create a healthy circle of friends and support. By striking out with the attitude of abundance and humble confidence that you have something to offer, you won’t recede into your shell and allow others to dictate how you go about your life.
Be in Tune with Your Gut
While being introduced to new people or whenever you are considering letting someone become more a part of your personal life, take a step back and access how this person sits with you. Is there something that doesn’t “smell” right, but you can’t put your finger on it? If that’s the case, either walk away now before it goes any further, so simply keep this person at a manageable distance before you can ascertain exactly what it is that is causing this grumbling in your gut. Either way, you will be able to connect with some people much easier than with others. Some people will be magnetic due to their positive energy and zest for life, while others will be draining. Remember, this is your life, and you are the designer, be kind when moving on from someone, but don’t keep them in your life to avoid guilt because someone who is using guilt doesn’t respect you and there is no room in your life for such people.