By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
One friend tells me that she believes in me. Another doesn’t seem to care. A third makes sure that I remember my failures, and tells me to expect the same.
We all have friends like all three of these. The interesting thing is the impact that these friends have on us. To some extent, we have to take responsibility for how we react to these types of things, but our defenses are only so strong. Eventually, those who would tear our defenses down will win. Wouldn’t it be better to be around those who will build us up?
It’s a difficult thing, but sometimes we all have to cut our losses. This sounds so harsh, but we can help nobody if we don’t protect ourselves first. Firefighters will train, obtain proper gear, and take the time to put that gear on before going to a fire, or trying to rescue anybody. If they failed to do so, it is more likely that they will get themselves into a situation where they need to be rescued along with those they intended to rescue which makes matters worse. We have to look out for ourselves. While we want to do good, and lend a helping hand to those who are in need, if we burn ourselves out, we can help nobody at all.
I have a friend who tells me she had to break free from her family. While she does keep in touch, she has very little to do with them. Sadly, her family are largely unemployed, but my friend works very hard waiting tables. When her family contacts her, they are usually asking for money, which takes it away not only from her, but from her children as well.
My ex-wife made her choice. As a non-drinker, educated and hard-working husband, I did everything I could to support her desire to pursue a degree in higher education, and take care of the four boys from her first marriage. As an alcoholic, she elected to divorce me in favor of a man who is a known alcoholic, drug addict, high school dropout and registered pedophile. This is a common problem with those who suffer from chemical addictions. They tend to attract others who enable their habits, with similar addictions to normalize their behaviors in their own minds.
One of my friends moved to Florida to escape her friends. As a recovering addict herself, she recognized that all of her friends from her home state were heavy drinkers, and would spend considerable time taking drugs. She realized that she could never fully recover and re-build her life surrounded by those who made her feel bad about trying to improve herself, and who would encourage her old demons. I’m so proud of the progress she has made, but her success was made after making a strategic decision: to lose those friends who were dragging her down.
It’s not easy, and it feels heartless. We all like our friends and enjoy spending time with them, otherwise they would not be our friends. But, sometimes in our life we feel stuck, and as difficult as it may be to admit, it is entirely possible that the mud under our tires are some of our old friends. When this happens, the difficult decision must be made to either lose old friends to make room for new ones, or give up on our dreams of improving.
When thinking about this difficult decision, there are some things to ask yourself about each individual friend.
Does your friend have qualities to which you aspire? One of the best ways to achieve your goals is to be around friends who have succeeded in those areas. For example, if you are wanting to return to college, befriending college graduates will put you in the midst of people who will understand when you struggle, and be able to give advice. These are good friends to have.
Do your friends encourage you? I have had far too many friends (and, sadly, family) who were quick to tell me what I cannot do. I’ve actually had ideas and know-how to start several companies based on product ideas through the years only to have friends talk me out. Sadly, several of these ideas were introduced several years later, making a huge splash in the news. The best friends will help you to identify potential problems, and brainstorm ways to address them while encouraging you.
Do your friends understand your resource situation and respect it? Some friends are all too happy to be around you when you are buying, or when you spend inordinate amounts of time with them. But, if you tell them that your money is short, or that you have something important to do, they’re not really friends if they still wait for you to pay or expect you to put off that homework to go out with them.
Do your friends help you achieve your goal? I cannot begin to tell you how many people I have known throughout the years who have tried to give up a habit like smoking, only to be with friends who continue the habit. If your friend doesn’t want to kick the habit, that’s their choice, but do they continue to smoke around you? If you are expecting, do they continue to partake in alcohol or caffeine in your presence?
Do your friends lift you up or drag you down? If you want to learn more about art or opera, do your friends accompany you to museums or performances, or do they continue to insist that you hang out with them in bars?
Do your friends let you try to lift them up or insist on trying to drag you down? I think that we have all had those friends that we have wanted to help out of their situations. This is not a bad thing, but we must be careful to remember that we can only help those who want to be helped. Those with chemical dependencies are famous for this type of situation. I have friends who are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, and I am proud to say that they have pulled themselves out of their abyss. Those who said they wanted help, but insisted on borrowing money or trying to get me involved instead. I even had a friend who went so far as to try to threaten me into driving him to a park to meet with his dealer. My heart goes out to these friends, and I hope things have worked out for the best for them, but I really don’t know. The friends with whom I have kept in touch are the ones who allowed me to help them out.
This feels like a heartless post, but I’ve known people who have never before thought about those people in their lives. Some of the friends that I have helped out I helped by providing advice like this post. My heart goes to any reader who finds themselves in a position of leaving an old and beloved friend behind, but if it has to happen, you’ll be better off for it, and frankly, so will they since your lifestyles and goals no longer match.