There are some things in life that are just both a blessing and curse, and there’s no way around that. For me, it’s my tendency to be overly empathetic. On the one hand, it helps me to create close and deep connections with others and allows me to be in touch with my own emotions on a consistent basis. On the other hand, others have time and time again taken advantage of and walked all over me. This dichotomy has resulted in me celebrating the empathetic part of my personality in some moments, and wishing it didn’t exist in others. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s not my empathy that changes from scenario to scenario, it’s the different people I’m interacting with. Some people will see this trait and see someone who is capable of being loyal, trustworthy, and a good friend. They desire me to be in their lives for those reasons. Other people, however, see empathy and view that as an opportunity to get things out of someone with a level of ease. They desire me to be in their lives for what I can offer to them, and what they know I will offer to them. I’m learning as I get older to choose only the people who cherish my empathy for the right reasons. Maybe you can relate?
That being said, I’ve started to downsize my circle, specifically in the friends department. I’ve unfollowed a whole bunch of people on social media across platforms, and I’ve kept the people I talk to consistently at a minimum. I’ve only been in contact with those who make the effort to match my energy. And? It feels great. It began when I started asking several questions regarding who I was allowing to walk through the door of my life:
Does my circle have…
- people who choose to be there?
- people who reciprocate my effort?
- people I can count on?
- people who desire to see me better myself?
OR does it have…
- people I have to try to keep in my life?
- people I have to make excuses for?
- people who claim they’re always “too busy” for me while I keep reaching out?
Through asking myself these things, I’ve come to a key realization: my need to make others’ lives easier can’t outweigh my need to hold them accountable. It’s also worth noting here, though, that I am most certainly not perfect in my friendships or relationships in general. Therefore, as I assess the behavior of those in my life, I need to also assess my own to make sure I’m meeting the standards to treat my loved ones well. Maintaining self-awareness is helping me see how the people around me affect me, but also how I affect them in turn.
After asking the questions and making the tough choice to distance myself from certain people (no pun intended, there, I promise), I found myself sometimes buying into their excuses when they noticed me pulling away. Because there are always excuses. *It’s here I must note that everyone has tough seasons of life in which they must take more than they give in friendships. That happens, and I’m not talking about those instances. I’m talking about times when our friends take more than they give as a repeated pattern of behavior over time with life remaining rather typical* I had to get intentional about keeping my view as objective as possible. There were a few things I found that would sometimes cloud my view when it came to what I would allow in my relationships:
- Length of the friendship. By letting this dictate whether I stay or not, I end up wasting a lot more time.
- Words without actions. People say many pretty things with their persuasive rhetoric, but we need words with actions.
- Accepting the bare minimum. When we miss someone, it can be so easy to accept whatever they offer for time when we’re so used to nothing. But it’s often still much less than we deserve.
In my last post, I talked about how it’s so easy to let fear control me. The same can be true of friendships when I feel like I’m being left behind. Suddenly, it can feel like the other person maintains full control of the relationship in general, but that is only true so long as I allow it.
When it comes to our relationships, it really is about what we ourselves choose to accept. We can choose the people around us, our attitude toward them, and our boundaries with them. We can’t control how people treat us, but we can control whether or not they perpetuate that treatment, because it becomes reduced to what we allow. The prospect of losing someone from your life as they continue to be present in the lives of others can seem heartbreaking. And in some ways, it is. But think about what else you’ll lose with their exit: stress, anxiety, anger, and self-questioning. I got sick of feeling like I wasn’t enough for someone who used to enrich my life but no longer does. I got so caught up in getting back to where we were in the past that I completely pushed aside what was happening in the present moment. And the truth is, if they had treated me this way from the start, I wouldn’t have been friends with them at all.
But that’s the thing about these long journeys that we’re all on: not everyone has the endurance to handle them alongside us. Maybe they have their own journey that can no longer intertwine with ours, or maybe they simply no longer care enough to walk it with us. The point is, there are people in our lives who are keen on being a part of our entire book; they want to take on both of the intertwined paths together. They want to be a main character in our story while others are content being a secondary character who goes as quickly as they come. We need all kinds of characters to create the story, but everyone’s timeline at our side is very different. It’s okay to let people go even if we thought we never would.
For so long, I’ve forced myself to stick it out in negative friendships because I saw all the potential they held to be a great friend. I gave the benefit of the doubt too often, and looked past too many instances of problematic behavior. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t have to tolerate it, and this is your reminder that you don’t, either. Here’s to healthy, life-giving friendships!
Much Love, Quinn
Crazy cat lady. Exploratory writer. Much love.