One of my favorite Chicken Soup for the Soul stories is by Georgia Shaffer, who wrote about what happened when a “friend” drove her to chemo one day. Her friend spent the entire 50-minute drive relating painful stories about the people she knew who hadn’t done well with their cancer treatments.
“After previous treatments, I had never gotten sick,” says Georgia. “After that treatment, I was sick for two days.” That led to her epiphany: “The harsh reality is that I became painfully aware that some people are not positive and life giving. Rather, their negative or thoughtless interactions are draining and, in some cases, toxic.”
Georgia learned not to expose herself to people who were thoughtless or negative. That was difficult, because we’re all taught to be nice to everyone, and loyal to our friends. But if we want to be happy, we need to learn how to set clear boundaries.
I love how Georgia described her view of this “friend management” process: “I had never realized that just like the weeds in a garden rob the flowers of vital moisture, nutrients and sunlight, so too the ‘weeds’ in my life were robbing me of the vital energy I needed to fight cancer and heal. I could not afford to allow interactions with negative people to steal the few resources I had left.”
It would take time to make her cancer go away, but Georgia could make that toxic friend go away right then and there! This is fabulous advice. We absolutely should weed the gardens of our lives on a regular basis, pulling out the negative so that everything that remains can thrive!
There’s a great quote from Mahatma Gandhi that sums this up beautifully: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” We have the right to manage the friend side of our lives. No more dirty feet walking through our minds.
How many friends do you have who don’t add value to your life? You might find that you are reducing the time you spend with them and viewing your get-togethers as obligations instead of relaxing, fun breaks. You might be saying, “I have this friend… and I have to call her… she’s always complaining… I don’t like talking to her… but I have to.”
Noelle Sterne wrote about this in our book about female friendships. She didn’t realize for a long time that she’d outgrown one friend’s negativity until she finally paid attention to the nagging feeling she’d get after their monthly lunch dates.
Meeting up with her toxic friend actually made Noelle sick. Her friend would do nothing but complain, and it was exhausting for Noelle. She would absorb her friend’s anger and get a headache. Like a love affair gone bad, Noelle understood that it was time to say goodbye.
I have finally gotten to the point, after several years of “weeding,” where I do not have toxic people in my life. Every single one of them is gone! What a relief.
Now, I look forward to seeing or, during the pandemic, talking to 100% of my friends!
The Greek playwright Euripides said, “It is a good thing to be rich, and it is a good thing to be strong, but it is a better thing to be loved of many friends.” So I guess he agreed – work is a good thing; staying strong through fitness is good; but the best thing is to have friends. And that means not spending one more precious minute with the wrong people.
Identify the “friends” you dread seeing or talking to. Discreetly reduce the amount of time you spend with them, and increase the time you spend with people who bring joy into your life.
Do you have friends who don’t bring you joy? Do you try to avoid them? How will you shift your precious “friend time” to the people who make you happy? Please share your thoughts with the community!