You’re only as good as the company you keep.
You’ve heard that before, I’m sure, and probably took it to mean what most people take it to mean: If you hang out with losers, you yourself are more likely to become a loser. If you hang out with winners, you’re more likely to become a winner. And etc. You know, the sort of stuff your parents told you when explaining why you could hang out with your straight-A-student friend as often as you liked, but your black-eyeliner-wearing, rumored-to-be-a-smoker friend was off-limits. (The joke was on them, because your straight-A-student friend was actually the one who got you into all sorts of shenanigans.)
But there’s a spinoff to the old cliche, and it’s one most people don’t always take into account, although they really ought to:
Your Life Is Only As Good As the People You Allow Into It
Surround yourself with amazing, supportive, loving people, and your life will be happier. You will feel inspired and encouraged. You’ll have fun doing nothing on a Saturday night just because you love the people you’re doing nothing with. When things get tough — as things will, from time to time — you’ll have a support system to lean on that will make everything a little less lonely and painful.
Surround yourself with downers, drama magnets and doomsdayers, and you’ll find yourself feeling resentful, anxious and irritable. Your energy will be sapped and your good vibes kiboshed. You’ll find yourself complaining more even when things are basically alright, and hard times will hit you twice as hard. Everything will just kinda suck more in general.
Negativity, just like positivity, has a tendency to seep throughout your world.
Most of us realize this, at least theoretically. We seek out and are drawn to the people who make us laugh, make us feel good about ourselves and make us glad to be around them. But sometimes we find ourselves stuck with the other sort of people, whether by chance (relatives, in-laws, coworkers), bad decisions or a moment of weakness when we thought we could “fix” someone and eventually realized we couldn’t.
The people in category A (those you’re stuck with by circumstance) you can’t always chuck, but you can limit your time with them and develop ways to mitigate their life-sucking abilities so they don’t harm you as much.
The people in category B (any and everyone who is in your life simply because you allow them to be), you can — and should — chuck, plain and simple. Here is why.
1. They Will Only Bring You Down
You may think you can bring them up with your injections of fresh perspective and invitations to optimism. You may naively think they just need a hug, or someone to give them a smile, or a kind gesture to erase their memories of being picked on in middle school (or whatever it was that turned them into a prickly forcefield).
And occasionally, once in a very great while, you can do this. I won’t tell you not to try, because it’s a brave and kind and generous thing to want to help other people, and because giving up on that would go against everything my spirit animal Anne Shirley stands for.
But once you’ve tried, and failed, innumerable times and they’re still just as impenetrably prickly, it’s time to accept you may not be the one who can bring them out of their funk. Often no one can but themselves. There’s a critical difference you need to understand when it comes to people who are just stuck in a gloomy mood and people who have lived so long in their negativity it’s become a part of who they are: negative-at-the-core people won’t change because of any effort you or anyone else makes on them.
That’s not to say they can’t change. They can, but only if the decision to change comes from within. Whatever it is that made them the way they are, they’ve been stewing and festering and entrenching themselves in it for so long it’s become a part of their very DNA. Nothing you can say or do will make a significant dent in that armor; it will just wear you out and expose you to more of their negativity rays than necessary.
Save yourself. You have better things to focus your energy on.
2. Sometimes People Just Suck
I’m reminded of a certain Popeye’s drive-thru incident in which the husband and I had a terrifying run-in with a person whose toxicity was so fierce and inexplicable I still to this day find myself idly musing over what life events must have led her to become someone who would act the way she did.
I muse on this not because I think there’s any answer to it — or at least not any answer I can ever get to the bottom of — but for the sake of my own mental exercise, the way you’d muse on the “one hand clapping” koan. It’s intriguing to imagine the different factors that may have gone into creating this person’s extreme reaction in this particularly un-extreme situation. Sometimes it helps me loosen up my synapses when I’m suffering a bout of writer’s block.
But the trouble with the run-ins we have with the toxic people in our lives is that we often feel we should be able to get to the bottom of them. We secretly wonder what we’ve done wrong to cause or exacerbate this person’s awfulness. And in the vast majority of cases, the answer is, “nothing.”
The simple truth — and I hate to say this because I do believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to see the good in everyone — is that sometimes, people just suck. Maybe, like the Tootsie Roll goodness at the center of a Tootsie Pop, there’s a heart in there somewhere that’s been shellacked over with layers and layers of unbreakable anger and resentment and hostility. And it’s incredibly sad to think of whatever must have caused that.
But you, yourself, are not responsible for the task of chipping away at that veneer for however many attempts it takes to get to the center. It’s a long, hard job to get there — sometimes one that takes a lifetime and the kind of professional experience that comes with a high billable hour rate — and, as aforementioned, the effort will only bring you down rather than them up.
Some people can’t be fixed by you, and some people can’t be fixed at all. It’s not your fault or your responsibility to fix them, especially not if all you get for your effort is pain and suffering. Be a good person. Be kind and patient. Then know you’ve done your best, and move on.
3. You Should Spend Your Awesomeness on the Things That Are Worth It
Your life is short, and your days on this planet are numbered. You have gifts and talents and love and awesomeness the world deserves to know about and benefit from, and wasting those things on people who only repay you with soul-sapping is not only a crying shame, but a slap in the face of the universe that gave you said gifts, talents, love and awesomeness.
If you’re kind and positive and forgiving and generous, it will radiate outward. It will affect those around you, whether you see it immediately or not. It may even affect people you’ll never meet, in ways you’d never imagine, including some of those toxic people you thought were beyond hope.
But only if you disengage from them so you can do you to the best of your ability.
Your mission on this earth is to be the most kickass version of yourself you can be, and you can’t be that person if you’re surrounded by people who consistently bring you down. It’s like trying to be a race car driver when your pit crew is quietly loosening your wheels and filling your tank with water every chance they get. Choose a crew that’s got your back. Be on the crew of people you admire. You’ll do a hell of a lot more good that way.
4. You Deserve Better
Is this one a selfish reason? I suppose so, and I have zero guilt over that. So should you.
For a society where selfie sticks are actually a thing and weddings have their own hashtags, we’re amazingly reluctant to allow ourselves to pursue the courses of action that will make us happy. Narcissism and navel-gazing are on fleek, yet we’re terrified of coming across as “selfish” for daring to make a life we love when the people around us insist on staying miserable.
But guess what? The shitty people in your life feel zero guilt about making your life shittier. They are black holes that get off on pulling everyone else into their vortex of suckiness, and if your good-faith efforts to reach out and help them are ignored or rebuffed, it is totally and absolutely within your right as a human being to rid them from your world.
Whoever declared it was virtuous to tolerate people who insist on acting like asshats was probably an asshat himself, trying to guilt-trip people into still hanging out with him after they decided they were finally fed up.
Fuck that noise, and fuck it hard.
You can still be a good person, and preternaturally kind to toxic people whenever they happen to cross your path, while also making a decided effort to keep them out of your path at all junctures possible.
It’s your life. It’s your energy. It’s your precious time on this planet. Don’t feel bad about standing up for that. Don’t feel bad for wanting to spend it on things that are worth the effort.
What toxic people do YOU need to evict from your life?
Image: JD Hancock / Flickr