ties that bind

In Monday’s post, I briefly talked about a time when, as heartbreaking as it was, I had to cut ties with someone I cared greatly for.  In that instance, it was truly not a selfish decision.  I was not acting out of anger.  I was not feeling used or abused.  And it was not merely the easiest choice.  Rather, it was a choice that I sincerely believed was best for the young man in question.

The sad truth was that drug abuse was ruining him.  Holding him down.  I couldn’t bring myself to allow the relatively pleasant and “normal” lifestyle he enjoyed with me to delude him into thinking that continued drug use would lead to such good things in the real world he would soon enter as an adult.  So, when yet another episode of use and blatant lying occurred, I chose to send him packing, trusting that the hard reality of where he found himself would eventually speak more truth than my words were currently achieving.  And as I’ve said — in doing so, he got the message.  Today, he is happy and healthy.

This particular cutting of ties was done for the benefit of another person.  But there are times in life when we must make the difficult choice to dissociate — or at least limit our time — with people for our own benefit, a measure aimed at allowing us to move forward toward positive personal goals.

If, for instance, I am serious about adopting a positive outlook in my life, yet a certain friend is constantly negative and sarcastic, I may need to make the decision to spend less of my time with this person.

Typically, I will attempt to have several positive conversations with this friend, explaining my goal and inviting them to join me.  If I’ve previously been “guilty” of the same behavior, I call myself — not them — out on it.  For example, I have said to people in the past, “You know, I’ve realized that I [not “we”] tend to cut other people down for the sake of humor or amusement too much, and I really want to change that about myself.  Will you help me by pointing it out to me whenever you hear me doing this?”  If my friend is also guilty of the offense in question, inviting him to keep me on my toes may be enough to limit his own sarcasm toward others, at least in my presence.  If it isn’t, I might point it out to him at a future time: “Hey, you can’t say those things!  Remember, you’re supposed to be helping me stay positive toward people.”

However, if this friend just isn’t interested in my “new leaf” and continues to be negative despite my requests, I may suddenly begin to be unavailable more often, at times when we might normally have otherwise gotten together.

Making a decision like this can often be awkward or painful.  It helps to view your choice as directly related to the other person’s choices.  They choose negativity, and so they choose not to spend as much time together with you.  Conversely, were they to choose not to cloud the space with negativity when you were together, you would be happy to spend more time with them again.

This is not selfish.  It is not unkind.  Often, making the choice to cut ties is simply part of being responsible — planning not to get into trouble.  Where a relationship can sustain it, an honest and direct conversation may be helpful, going so far as to say, “I’m really serious about change in my life, and it’s difficult for me when we spend time together, because of the negativity that tends to be part of what we talk about.”  [Notice that I still do not speak in terms of “what you are doing,” but rather of the behavior — “the negativity.”]

Serious dieters clear the fridge and cabinets of snacks.  Likewise, they choose not to go to book clubs that are bent on meeting at pastry shops or fast food joints.

Guys intent on saving their marriages don’t hang out with their buddies at the strip club on the corner.

Drug users who really want to quit don’t continue to visit crack houses where old friends hang out.

So it is for those who want to be intentional about adopting and maintaining a positive outlook and lifestyle.  Some things just have to go.  Again, think in terms of distance from behaviors and not people.  You are not rejecting people, only their current choices that hinder your own.

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About Erik

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, facilitator, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area. "It's more about writing lives than writing pages." View all posts by Erik

4 responses to “ties that bind

  • Evelyn Livant

    I’m curious as to how this approach works. Have you ever gotten positive results with it?

    Like

    • Erik

      Yes, I have. In the case of John, whom I mentioned, it was the best thing. Years later, he came to me and thanked me for it, because it did let him see where those choices led him. With other people, I’ve also had positive results, mindful that my goal is not to change the other person. Other people may stay just as they were. They may even be upset with me. But the positive results in terms of my own state of mind and well-being have been enormous. The key is in focusing on my choices and my behaviors, and inviting people to join me — rather than criticizing their behavior or negative influence. I usually don’t “announce” that I’m cutting ties or intentionally hanging around with someone less. It just happens. If they ask why, I will restate my focus and goals and explain that it is hard for “me” when “we” are together. A few times, I’ve done this. And among those, a couple of people have said something to the effect of, “So you think I’m negative?” I’m a big fan of the Socratic approach — answering a question with a question, such as, “The important thing is … do you think you are negative?”

      Again, this is never a surprise. I’ve had a few conversations with someone before I decide that some level of withdrawal is necessary to maintain positive focus and balance.

      Like

  • Barbara Dufresne

    Very good advice! I agree that we may have to cut ties with negative “behavior” if it is affecting and/or prohibiting positive change in our lives. Sort of like “plucking out or cutting off” an offending part.

    Like

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