Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Cut Toxic People & Negative Friends Out of Your Life

Connections with other people are one of life's greatest joys. Interacting with those that you love and who love you can make the difference between an awful day and an amazing one.

However, we all have people in our lives who are less than perfect. In fact, no one in this world is perfect! There will be times when our best friends, loved ones, and life partners will have bad days. They might grumble, they might be negative, or they may even be snarky and mean to us. Or, we might be the ones who are feeling negative, and will do the same to other people. This is normal and natural -- everyone has good days and bad. If we love each other, we'll put up with it, because the bad is often outweighed by the good.

But there are also people who don't quite fit this mold. You know the types I'm talking about -- the drama queens, the judgmental jerks, the negativity sinks, the time wasters, negative friends, and the users. (I have a book about emotional vampires, which you can peruse here, which goes into greater depth about the types of emotional vampires that we deal with on a day to day basis.) When you care about someone, but they are depleting you, perhaps it's time to have a heart-to-hear with them about what's going on. It is okay to speak up and explain to your negative friends when your needs aren't getting met. Don't assume that you're being selfish just because you're standing up for yourself and your own well-being. (Also… here's a radical thought: What's so wrong with being a bit selfish now and again, anyway?) Dump that toxic friend! You do not need to spend time with someone who's draining away your energy.

If you've already had these conversations with those negative friends, and you're still searching for ways to end a friendship gracefully, chances are that your needs are still not being met. I'm assuming that you've already taken a good, long look at the friendship, including the parts that you had played in your dealings with this emotional vampire.

You may be feeling as though you've tried all of the solutions that you can -- speaking from the heart, setting limits, enforcing boundaries, or saying "no" once in awhile, only to continue to be met with disrespect, negativity, or a lack of reciprocity. It's now time for you to cut this toxic friendship from your life, so that you can invest that time in focusing on bigger and better things.

There are two ways that you can go about this: The easy way (which is often harder!), and the hard way (which is often easier!). Either can be effective; it simply depends on the type of negative person you are cutting out of your life.

The easy one has one basic step: Just cut them out. Quit calling or texting them. Stop taking their calls, unfriend them online, quit inviting them to your functions, and stop going to theirs. If you have mutual friends, you must also resist the temptation to talk about them with those friends. The drawback of this is that there could be some backlash, particularly if you're close. However, if this "friend" has done an egregious thing to you, betrayed a major trust, or committed some significant act of betrayal, it may be the way to go.

The hard way involves keeping the negative friend in your life. However, you'll simply be spending less time with them. (I must admit, I've done this method before! It works!) This method is much better for people that you do like, but are just too difficult to be around all the time. Maybe they're very high-maintenance, very negative, or just really different from you in uncomfortable ways. Perhaps they don't respect your boundaries and don't seem to respond well to discussions or other attempts to correct it. However, if they genuinely mean well and are not going out of their way to hurt you, the "hard way" is worth a try. It will take a lot more time, but will also be much easier on your friendship. Encourage this person to branch out and do new things -- this way, there'll be less time for them to bug you. ;) Pare down your communication: for example, if you speak on the phone every day or two, try cutting down to a couple times a week. If you hang out every week, try canceling from time to time and see if you can get it down to a couple of times a month. Make a plan to reduce the amount of time that you spend with him or her. Write it down on your calendar if you need to, but stick to the plan. On the occasions that you do talk or hang out, keep things positive and cordial. I'd also recommend that, during any conversation that you do have, you try to insert details about things that are keeping you so busy -- talk about your kids, your job, any hobbies or interests or obligations which might take up your time. You don't need to complain about these types of things (unless they truly are driving you nuts!), but making sure to acknowledge them will help take the edge off with your friend.
If you have mutual friends, and you try the above method, you may be required to spend time with this person anyway. That's okay! Sometimes being in a group with the toxic person can make things a lot more palatable. You'll both have other people to talk with, and you can even spend time together in a more controlled setting.

A few words of caution: If you're trying valiantly to keep things civil and the other person is not being accepting of the way things are, things could get dicey. Try the following phrases to diffuse tension:

"I understand."

"I'm sorry."

"Let's talk about this later, when we've both had time to calm down."

Whether you actually agree with the above statements is not the point. Diffusing a tough situation is the name of the game. Anyone who is going to throw tantrums, though, might need you to revert back to "the easy method."

Does this technique sound passive-aggressive? I know that some aspects of it certainly are. However, when you're dealing with an emotional vampire, sometimes it's much easier to do things gently as it helps to minimize the drama which is the emotional vampire's lifeblood. It also helps to preserve your sanity, as well.

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