This post is a follow-up to the post, Fire Your Friends: Drop The Negative People In Your Life.
My most popular post on Strong Inside Out is Fire Your Friends, in which I talk about cleansing your life of the negative relationships that hold you down.
It’s also the most controversial. I’ve had people thank me for helping them make the final choice to clear their life of negativity, and I’ve also had readers call me a brat, a horrible friend, and unrealistic. Mostly, this name-calling comes after people read (or scan) what I wrote about people being negative toward them.
Some misinterpret my point to mean that one should fire a friend who acts negatively sometimes. That’s not what I meant at all, and I apologize if that was unclear. We are all negative at one point or another. We all need to be lifted up by the supportive people around us.
What we don’t need is someone who constantly attacks, belittles or otherwise harms us. If a “friend” of yours does this regularly, and has shown no signs of change, I stand by my recommendation to save your own well-being by cutting ties.
But it’s not always that easy.
Sometimes the most negative relationships in our lives are with the people we’re the closest to. Family members know how to push our buttons, employers aren’t always the most loving and even friends go through rough patches where they act in harmful ways.
After a few years, I’ve come to realize that completely cutting these people out of one’s life is not possible, nor is limiting your interaction with them (say, in the case of your boss). So we need a process to deal with the people who we depend on, but limit the negative effects they have on us.
Let’s talk about a new way of being around these difficult people. It will be uncomfortable for us at first, but it will also be worth it. Here’s what you’ll get from this regular practice:
- Release of anxiety around relationship
- Clarity on how this relationship serves you (and if it doesn’t)
- Gratitude for the relationship
- Diminished effect from their negativity
Sound like something you want for yourself in your negative relationships? Then, keep reading!
Whoa whoa whoa. Hold your horses, Ms. Clover. Forgive this person? But they’re the one hurting me!
I hear you on that, Strongie, but listen up: the act of forgiving the person who triggers a negative reaction in you is extremely powerful. Just like finding the strength to forgive yourself releases the power that negative thoughts have over you (I talk about it in this post), forgiving this person releases you from the victim mentality and helps you step into positive action.
Let me be clear that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. To forgive someone is not the same as letting them walk all over you. In fact, it helps you let go of the past pain they may have caused you so that you can more easily take action to free yourself from the negative side of the relationship.
While I’d love to be there with you to talk you through this, I’ve recorded a Forgiveness Meditation that you can use to start this journey. It’s a completely free download when you sign up for the Strong Inside Out email list.
Here’s a gist of how the meditation goes:
- Start with deep breaths.
- Bring the person to mind.
- Feel what that relationship does to you.
- Recognize that the qualities that irk you in this person are often because of fears we hold in ourselves.
- Recognize that this person has a story and a reason for why he/she acts in these ways.
- Forgive them – and yourself – for negativity
- Send them thoughts of love and acceptance, focusing on the positives you get from the relationship.
- Take a few more deep breaths into that love and acceptance, then open your eyes.
You can do this meditation daily, or do it just once. I just recommend you try it. If it doesn’t work, find forgiveness in your own way, keeping in mind that it doesn’t make you weak.
Before we move forward, let’s take a moment to gain clarity on where this person is coming from. Before we throw the baby out with the bathwater, let’s make sure that your friend isn’t simply going through a really tough time. Ask yourself a few questions, journaling out the answers in detail:
- Has your friend always been negative like this?
- Has he/she gone through a trying experience that may have caused him/her to act this way?
- Have you offered to be there for him/her or to help him/her feel better in any way?
- Have you expressed concern for his/her state of being (if appropriate)? If so, how does he/she react?
- Have you expressed that the way he/she speaks hurts or worries you? If so, how does he/she react?
- How long have you supported him/her through this?
Use your answers to gauge whether this relationship is negative, or if your friend is just going through a rough patch. While the situation will vary from person to person, here are some thinking points to guide you:
- If your friend has been acting in a harmful way for more than a year, and hasn’t reacted positively to your concern, this person may not be in a state to hold your friendship.
- If your friend hasn’t always been negative and has recently gone through a tough situation, they deserve some time and support to pull through it, and they may need your love to help them do it. Be patient. You may need them in the future, too.
- If you haven’t been terribly supportive, it’s possible that your friend is feeling some resentment. Maybe he/she feels like the relationship is one-sided, but is too afraid to tell you. At the end of this post, we’ll talk about how to address this situation so you can move forward with your relationship if you choose to.
Where you’re coming from
In order to get to a place of gratitude for how this relationship serves you, let’s journal a little more to make it as tangible as possible. Journal out your answers to the following question:
How does this relationship serve you? In other words, what do you get from keeping this person in your life?
For example, if your boss is the person in question, detail out what your job provides (a stable income, a place to do what you love, co-worker relationships that you enjoy, etc.). If a family member is the one in question, detail out how the relationship serves you (love, being of service, etc.)
When you’re finished journaling your answers to that question, put down your pen and re-read your answers.
When you’re feeling frustrated or hurt and are unable to cut this person out of your life, express gratitude for the ways this relationship serves you. Keep your journal close just in case you need some reminders.
When you breathe into that sense of gratitude, allow yourself to be filled with compassion for their story, and let that compassion follow you into your interactions with them.
Protect yourself (Woo Warning!)
When you focus on loving this person through practicing compassion and recognizing their story, the power this person’s actions has over you diminishes.
When you’re around this person, envision a wall of light between you and this person’s words and energy. Woo, right? If it works, would you give it a shot? Then, try it!
I close my eyes for a moment and envision myself beaming a barrier of light between the other person and me. As I open my eyes, I imagine it stays there, blocking me from their negativity and attacks.
Want a bonus tip? The whole time they talk, send them love. It can be really disarming for them; sometimes even neutralizing.
While this may feel silly at first, I find that envisioning things like this helps me feel safe. The cool part is that no one has to know you’re doing it!
Part of the issue of having negative people in your life is that your boundaries aren’t clear enough to them. Many of us have a hard time saying “No” (I’m one of them). We’re not aware that we are worthy of setting boundaries that protect our wellbeing just like we are setting them to protect ourselves from physical harm.
If you are not clear about what will be tolerated and what will not, how does the person know that what they’re doing is not ok?
Simply saying, “Please don’t talk to me that way,” the next time this person hurts your feelings can be enough to let them know that they’re being inappropriate. If you feel safe confronting the person about it, there’s a chance you could be the catalyst for change in them. If you don’t feel safe, move on to The line that can’t be crossed.
Before you cut someone out entirely, you can take the following steps:
Talk to them about it. See if they are willing to listen. It could be that they’re just unaware of how painful the relationship is for you.
Lovingly point out when they are being hurtful. This is often hard to do because our own ego flares up when we feel attacked. Take a deep breath, come back to compassion for their story, and let them know that what they said or did just hurt you.
If you want to be really effective, consider forming your own script off of these examples of how to deal with different relationships:
“I love you and I want to continue being here for you. When you say things like that to me, it really hurts my feelings and/or makes me feel attacked when I’m around you. How do you feel about us both being kinder to each other?”
OR “Please respect that I am here for you out of love, and it would be amazing to feel that same sense of love in return.”
“Could you phrase your criticism in a constructive way? I feel like I’ll be more efficient at taking your notes if it’s expressed in a softer way.”
OR after asking the person to talk in private: “It’s difficult for me to say this, but I don’t appreciate the way you speak to me. I value your opinion and I respect you. Please do the same for me.”
While standing up for yourself from a place of love is probably the most effective way to set boundaries, you may not feel comfortable doing so. If that’s the case, try this envisioning exercise when you interact with this person.
After the talk
If the person you’ve approached reacts positively to your boundary-setting when you talk to them initially, but fails to change their ways, it can be beyond frustrating.
If it gets to a point where you leave every exchange with them feeling defeated, listless, hopeless or exhausted, I stand by my opinion that you must move forward. Here’s how I handle it:
Give them a warning. Get to a loving state for yourself and go to them with compassion. Warn them that if they continue to speak in a harmful way to you, you have to look out for your own wellbeing and limit interaction with them (if not sever it altogether). Let them know that you don’t want to cut the bonds, that you hope they can hear you and understand how much you want to continue the relationship, but that you must stand firm and things must change. If your negative relationship is at work, you may consider going to Human Resources about this instead.
Follow through. If you warn them that you will not stand for their behavior and they continue to act in a harmful way, the only way you’ll really be able to protect yourself is to leave. Staying enables their behavior, showing them that it’s ok to continue to act this way. Don’t let them walk over you and get away with it. You cannot change them; they must change themselves, and not everyone is ready for it.
Anyone who is negative on a regular basis and refuses to change their ways is living in a fearful world of their own. It’s unfortunate and while we wish we could change them, it’s something they have to come to on their own.
The line that can’t be crossed
If the relationship is abusive (emotionally or physically), no matter who it’s with, reach out for help. It is an incredibly tough and shame-inducing situation that so many of us find ourselves in.Though society tells us that we should never leave family and that bosses are sometimes awful and it sucks, but it’s just part of life, I truly believe that you are worthy of safety and peace — with family or otherwise.
You are not alone. There is help out here for you, people who want you to be safe and supported. Please reach out.
Need help getting out? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE).
The choice is yours
When I was struggling to be positive at all, I remember getting together with certain friends, then leaving feeling defeated, drained and worse than before our meeting. I felt like I was taking steps backwards in my recovery. Now that I have perspective on it, I know that’s exactly what was happening.
By surrounding yourself with unsupportive, demeaning or aggressive people, you are reinforcing your fear-based thoughts with their treatment. You’re working yourself backwards.
In order to be the light, you can’t keep smothering it with people who demand the dark.
I know that you may be struggling with the idea of releasing relationships because a small part of you thinks that it will be hard to find other sources of support. Maybe this is all that you know.
I can tell you this: you have no idea what lies beyond this moment – the relationships you’ll have, the way you’ll grow, the boundless opportunities you’ll be presented in your lifetime.
All you know right now is that you are hurting, and this person is making you feel worse. For me, that’s enough to convince me that a change needs to be made. You may have a higher threshold for that kind of treatment, but I hope you’ll realize that you don’t have to stay. You have the choice.
This relationship happened for a reason, and you will realize that one day. It doesn’t mean it has to be your future.
Here’s to your unhindered growth, worthiness and strength that only comes after going through these kinds of struggles.