I recently ended a long-term friendship. Perhaps friendship isn’t the right word, at least not for what the relationship became in the past few years. What began as an even exchange of friendship, commiseration, help, confidence, and caring degenerated into a one-sided affair as this person became one of the most negative people I’ve ever known. Eventually, I began avoiding her because it was all too much. Finally it all erupted into an ugly mess that ended the friendship.
Admittedly, she had some reasons for descending into the negative abyss. In the beginning I tried to be supportive and help her deal with those problems. Gradually, though, the negativity spilled over into every aspect of life, and even into mine. Any good news from me was met with derision. Any fun activity I tried to plan became an endless slog of complaints about everything from the food to the movie to the car ride. There was no positivity. Ever. And when I gently suggested that maybe she get some help to deal with her problems and the negativity that was taking over her life? Well, that was the beginning of the end.
It probably marks me as a monster that I couldn’t remain her friend, knowing that she was troubled. I don’t know. Believe me, I fully understand that we all go through rough patches. I’ve had my share. I know that sometimes you sink into the negativity and there isn’t an easy way out. But I also know that if it starts crushing you and dragging those around you into the pit with you, something has to change. (I’ve dragged enough people down to know how it works. Believe me, I’m sorry for it and I owe a ton of people apologies.) Unfortunately, I trend toward depression and anxiety of my own, so being around a constantly negative person isn’t good for me. Much as I may wish it to be otherwise.
Now that the relationship is over, I feel much better. Again, this relief likely makes me a monster. There is something liberating about kicking negative people to the curb. It reminds me of when I quit my last job. The boss was such a bully that my entire self-worth had shriveled to nothing under his constant criticism and derision. Leaving was a liberation in many ways. Some people, like that boss, are easy to kick out of your life. They aren’t your friend or a family member, so it’s easy to say, “You know what? I don’t need this,” and walk away.
It’s also very easy to dump negative people on social media. The unfollow/unfriend button is there for a reason. If someone is crapping up your feed with negativity, anger, hate, or other harmful emotions, just click and be done with it. No one needs to be exposed to that garbage.
It’s harder when there have been good times, or there is a family bond there. And you’re likely to put up with the negativity far longer, simply because you value the relationship that once was. But there comes a point where your own mental health has to become a priority.
Now, I don’t just go kicking people to the curb at the first sign of negativity. As I said, I know we all go through rough patches. But when someone’s negativity becomes chronic, unrelenting, and begins to invade my own life, then they have to go. In order to function and stay creative, I have to retain some positivity. It’s impossible to do that when surrounded by Negative Nancy’s. There are a lot of people in this world and there comes a time when you have to find the people who make you feel good, and let go of those who make you unhappy.
We all need positivity in our lives. That’s not to say we can’t (and shouldn’t) be open to the suffering of others, or to criticism. We absolutely should be. There’s just as much harm in creating a fake-positive environment for yourself where nothing ever goes wrong and everyone is always happy. The world isn’t like that and if you’re living in fantasyland populated by Pollyanna’s, you’re setting yourself up for a harsh landing. (Besides, all that perfection and happiness will eventually make you feel inferior because you’ll start to wonder why you can’t be like that.)
We all have a limit on how much negativity we can internalize before it starts throwing our own lives (and creative work) out of whack. You have to protect your own mental health above all. If you’ve done all you can to help a negative person or salvage the relationship, realize there’s nothing else you can do and let it go. And if that person isn’t even a friend but is rather a boss, a social media follower, or some other person you don’t really know or have any feelings for? Dump them immediately. Refuse to be surrounded by people who make you unhappy, or feel “less than.” Life is too short and your mental health too precious for that kind of misery.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)