Breaking Out Of Toxic Friendships

ONLY.  That word.  The dreaded “only.”  The one word that takes sage advice and turns it into a harsh ultimatum.

Only surround yourself with people who enhance your life,”  your mother tells you in a moment of parental guidance.  And you automatically equate the word “only” with an extravagant massacre of social ties.  Taking every person who does not share your exact world view and barring them from your existence.  With a grandiose gesture and a Braveheart battle cry, you cut the ropes in one fell swoop and create a firestorm of burnt bridges, riding off into the distance towards the rising sun and cheering crowd.

Yeah.  It’s kinda like that.

I have no shame in admitting that I am a recovering people-pleaser – “only” was just not a word in my vocabulary.  I always wanted to be close buds with EVERYONE, wanting to lift the weight off of every shoulder I encountered.  I wanted to form that deep connection to transcend all deep connections.  And in turn, I wanted – no, expected – to receive inspiration.  I wanted everyone to be everything – a red-town-painter and a deep-soul-searcher all rolled into one.

This proved to be pretty darn detrimental, to both my friendships and my own state of happiness.  Some friends, I started to find, rooted their lives in cynicism, loathing, and what-ifs – things I certainly did not value nor bother myself with.  But as I held tight to hope and circumstance, I found myself becoming frustrated with these friends for not living up to my ideal of them.  MY ideal — how twisted is that?  Who am I to say who someone is and how someone should act?  It’s unjust, unfair, and very un-friend-like.

Important side note: I was never judgmental.  Never.  I simply viewed our relationships as closer than they really were.  The actuality of the scenario was not something I wanted to face – that maybe we weren’t best buds after all.  So I fabricated that “special” kind of affinity in my mind.  I was so longing to be loved, I thought the answer was to form deep connections with everyone.  And here’s the thing – ultimately, it’s our job to support and uplift, not untangle and overhaul, the lives of those we care about.  That’s when dissent arises.

Detoxing your social circle is less about weeding out and more about honing in.

Not everyone in our lives is going to be our savior, not everyone is going to be the one to rock our world.  No, not everyone will be the apex of connection and partnership.  And it is foolish of us to seek that out or expect that from everyone with whom we come into contact.  It’s not all-or-nothing.

I came to a realization the other day: all of the people I consider to be my true friends – the people I hang with regularly, the people I would not be surprised to receive a call from at 12:48am about god knows what – truly know me.  They understand who I am as a person and know how I function.  From my healthy eating lifestyle punctuated with random, sometimes regrettable (hello Self Sabotage!), trips to the local fro-yo joint, to the understanding that if I walk into my apartment at 7pm I am pretty much done for the night, to not thinking me “weird” or “boisterous” for busting out rap lyrics and crazy dances and a vocabulary of SAT words dappled in f-bombs – I am consistent in their eyes, and they are the same in mine.  And they provide me with inspiration.  They make me want to do better and be better.

So how do we detox our social circle from the people who are sucking all the energy out of us – without succumbing to the wrath of “only”?

We must ask ourselves: Who inspires me?  Who makes me see the world as one big opportunity for success?  And those are the people towards whom we shift our focus.  No Braveheart reenactment is necessary.  Maintain healthy relationships with everyone, just start to separate the true friends from the “friendly” friends – the people who are a part of the varied and illustrious ensemble of our lives, but aren’t necessarily contenders for “Best Supporting Role.”

Look. It is not anyone’s job to validate us or provide meaning to our existence – however, the people who count will end up doing just that.Keep your wits about you.  Do not, I repeat, do NOT take responsibility for anyone’s happiness but your own, and in turn, recognize that it is no one else’s job to provide you with a sense of worth.  The ones who are truthful and consistent, whose values coincide with yours, will emerge.  And take note: care about many, count on few.  Surround yourself with people who enhance your life in a BIG way, while still keeping your heart open to those who add smaller, nuanced, colorful detail.  Because life is a lot less vibrant without an ensemble.  Because life is pretty dull with just an “only.”

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