“Surround yourself with people who make you happy. People who make you laugh, who help you when you’re in need. People who genuinely care. They are the ones worth keeping in your life. Everyone else is just passing through.”
― Karl Marx
I once heard it said that “you are the average of the five people you surround yourself with.”
I immediately had resistance to this concept, believing that my individuality and the path I take in life have nothing to do with those I choose to walk with. But I have learned over the last few years that my perspective was a little naïve. Who we surround ourselves with has a huge impact on the person we become and the life we live (tweet that!)
I am blessed to be surrounded by great friends. But it hasn’t always been that way. If I look back at my life ten years ago, I was a brand new mom having just moved to the city where I now live, and I was pretty much friendless. As an introvert I don’t find it easy to put myself out there, so loneliness prevailed, and I became desperate for company.
I eventually did everything I could to connect with other moms—baby groups, classes, community centre programs— and soon found myself amongst a sea of new friendships.
But they weren’t the right friendships for me. I’m a person who needs deep, honest and open conversation. What I got was gossip, small-talk and a sense of being back in high school with the “cool kids.” I didn’t thrive within this group; instead I felt small and found myself continually wearing a mask to try to fit in.
Though I craved connection, I arrived at the point where I knew that I was losing sight of myself, and I began to back away.
The cool kids
Relationships that aren’t good for us can often appear to be the most desirable. In high school I longed to be one of the “cool kids” that the boys went after and the girls all wanted to emulate. This “in crowd” included the prettiest, the best dressed, and the most well-liked. I envied these girls and the attention they received. I thought that if I could just be part of that crowd all of my teenage angst would disappear.
Instead I hung out with the crowd that was named the “geeks” or just plain “weird.”
But as I look back I realize that the popular people were struggling with identity far more than I was. On the outer edge with the geeks I was forced to find my own groove. The geeks were geeks because they did well in school, didn’t try to be cool and didn’t follow the crowd. Being a geek was a blessing.
And I firmly believe that if I hadn’t been on the outer edge of the popular circle, I wouldn’t have gone on to university—something that ultimately enabled me to enter Canada as an immigrant and set me on course for a new life.
My not-so-popular crowd loved to learn. The in-crowd said it wasn’t cool.
We’ve all had those people in our lives—the ones that drain us of energy when we’re with them. Perhaps they talk about themselves constantly and never ask how you’re doing; or they bring you down with their negativity. Or maybe they like to gossip about others and invite you to do the same. Or they might be fair-weather friends who only show up when you’re doing well or when they need something.
It can be hard to let go of those people, especially if they have been part of your life for a long time. But toxic relationships like this only serve to pull us down and invite us into negative behavioural patterns.
When I’ve found myself in a toxic relationship I have gradually backed away, putting distance between myself and the other person. Eventually that person becomes someone on the peripheral of my life, instead of in the centre. I can still care for and encourage them, but I no longer feel drained by them.
Relationships that thrive
If your friends aren’t pushing you to grow mentally, spiritually, and professionally, then they aren’t your friends.
After distancing myself from the group of friends I had a decade ago I went through a two-year period with hardly any friendships at all. I was miserable. The only people I had to talk to were a gurgling baby and a husband who regularly worked both day and evenings. I started to feel like there was something wrong with me if I couldn’t have just a few close friends.
But through following my writing passions and pursuing spiritual growth I slowly found like-minded people who shared similar values. And I pursued the relationships I knew would help me to thrive.
Relationships that thrive take time to both find and build, but they are worth holding out for (tweet that!)
In the past six years I have built a network of friends that I trust implicitly, can talk to about anything, but above all who encourage me to be the best person I can be. When I mess up they don’t judge, criticize or turn their backs on me; they show up on my doorstep with flowers and words of encouragement.
Thriving relationships remind us of who we truly are when we may have forgotten (tweet that!)
I have also learned that I have to value these relationships and continually sow into them if I want to grow. I can’t be a part-time friend or a fair weather friend. I have to put into my relationships the kind of effort I want others to put into me.
And of course they’re not perfect; they mess up sometimes—as do I. But I know that when I’m weary of the journey, these are the people who will keep me on track.
Are the people in your life ones who encourage you to become more of your best self? Grab your journal and make a list of all the people who are in your innermost circle (immediate family and very close friends), then all the people in your extended family and other friends, then the people who cross your path regularly but you aren’t that close to.
How have you dealt with toxic relationships in the past? Share in the comments!
Image by Tina Francis