As we grow up and develop, we often find ourselves outgrowing certain relationships in our lives. Connections we made with others at one stage in life might not transition in the same form. As the saying goes, people enter our lives for a reason, a season or treason (just kidding, or a lifetime). Learning how and when to let go of toxic relationships that may have reached their expiration date is an important part of all of our growth and development—but that doesn’t mean it’s eeeeasy.
Here’s a few things to try if you’re feeling like it might be time to move on from certain relationships in your life:
Step One: Make Two Lists: People Who Light You Up + People Who Drain You
The first step in letting go of toxic relationships is identifying them. It’s usually easy to think of people in your life whom you might consider toxic—mainly because the thought of being around them is exhausting. One excellent way to start identifying toxic relationships is by making a list of the people who light you up—the ones you feel most at ease with and who inspire you to be better. Next, make a list of the people who drain you—anyone who makes you feel more tired or like you need to recharge after being in their presence. These two lists are an excellent roadmap to help you see who makes you feel most alive—and who is potentially toxic.
Step Two: Delve Deeper
Take a look at the list of people who drain you. What characteristics do they share? How are you related to them? If anyone is really sucking the life force out of you, that’s a person to consider seriously distancing yourself from. Think about the nature of your relationships and if you have a choice in whether or not this person needs to be in your life. If you have a choice, then you can make a different decision. If you don’t (because they’re a relative or close to one of your loved ones), you can still take steps to protect yourself. No reason to be a martyr!
Step Three: Let Go of Guilt
One of the biggest reasons we stay in, and often hang on to, toxic relationships is because we feel guilty about walking away. We might feel like we’re a “bad person” for wanting to distance ourselves from someone, even if that person is causing us harm, whether they mean to or not. Before you can take any action with toxic relationships, you first must let go of the guilt you may feel. This is your life and you have every right to protect yourself—and to feel and be happy. If someone is pouring toxic energy into your life, then you have to love yourself enough to put yourself first. They’ll figure it out and most likely, find someone else who’s willing to take it. Or they might be inspired to change (but don’t hold your breath on that! This is about YOU – not them)
Step Four: Make a new choice.
Chances are, if you’ve labeled a relationship as toxic, there’s a good reason for it. However, you have a choice in how you view this relationship. It can feel irritating, annoying, and even hurtful—but there’s an underlying lesson for you to learn from this person. They are holding up a mirror for you to learn something. Maybe you’re supposed to learn how to stand up for yourself? Or to grow a backbone? Maybe this person pushes all your buttons to teach you patience and compassion. Whatever the case may be, try to identify the lesson this person is teaching you—and make a new choice in how you view his or her role in your life.
Step Five: Create loving boundaries.
Once you’ve identified the toxic relationship and thought about the role this person is playing in your life, you then need to create some loving boundaries to protect yourself from the toxicity in this relationship. Maybe this means completely cutting off contact with the person. Or blocking them on social media so they can’t pop in whenever they please. Or limiting the time you spend together or only talking on the phone once a month (or a decade). Whatever feels right to you. This is a chance for you to experiment and find the best arrangement that allows you to be yourself without letting anyone else dim your light.
I’ve had a few of these relationships in my life (and so has everyone because welcome to being human!) I will say that, in my experience, it’s been nearly impossible for me to get myself out of these situations, mostly for two reasons:
1. Always focusing on the good. So for example, someone might lie to me, only reach out when they need something, dump their baggage on me—but I choose to remember that one time they did something nice instead. This is something I don’t want to change about myself, BUT it’s worked to my disadvantage because I end up making lots of excuses for someone else’s poor behavior and putting myself in a position for them to use me for whatever it is they need in the moment—and then carry on. It’s like that hazing scene in Animal House: Thank you Sir, may I have another? Not healthy for anyone involved.
2. The other reason I have a hard time closing the door on relationships I know are toxic af to me is out of guilt. I genuinely feel bad not replying to someone if they reach out to me. Like it makes me feel like a shitty person.And then I feel guilty. Or I feel bad because I know that no person is actually toxic—they’re just toxic to me (and probably others) because they have issues they don’t deal with so they just pour them all over everyone else. If you don’t transform your pain, you transmute it. Someone smart said that and it’s true.
So, I’m no expert in letting go—but I’ve started to learn how to and it feels soooo much better. The steps above are something I practice and am still practicing. And I learned them from lots of books, advice, and a therapist. I hope they help you too! 🙂