When you start to grow and change over the years, you will inevitably find certain people who will be a negative influence on you. They have a low self-esteem and they will, often without consciously even realising – try to keep you down. Not because they’re bad people. It’s just an unconscious protection mechanism. If you get ‘too good’ then they fear that you will look down on them.
The typical kind of friendship where this is likely to become a question for you is when the interaction is parasitic. They get much more out of the friendship than you do. It seems logical to just ‘cut them off’ but doing so is not that simple. For starters, most people lack the confidence in their ability to be assertive enough to just flat-out tell the person that they want to end the friendship. So they go about it in unhelpful ways. One way is to set the other person up to position yourself as the victim. That way you have an ‘excuse’ to be angry with them and can use that as the reason rather than face the truth. The other thing many people do is just stop answering calls or replying to messages and hope the parasite just gets the message and goes away.
Either way however, there is going to be an underlying feeling of guilt that will make this process difficult. And perhaps for good reason. The reality is that you probably played into the parasitic relationship at least a bit. So that guilt comes from the fact that you know you are more responsible than you’d feel comfortable acknowledging. If you acknowledge your part then you risk looking like the bad guy that has just used their friendship when it was convenient for you and now that you don’t need them any more, you simply abandon them.
So the first step is to face the uncomfortable reality that part of this has some truth to it. But that doesn’t mean you are entirely bad. It just makes you’re human. We all do this when we crave the acceptance and connection from people without having the self-confidence to do so in a way that creates healthy boundaries. So you can leave the parasite behind if you wish, but it’s still important to learn healthier boundaries for future friendships. It’s okay to make mistakes but repeating them is not helpful.
The other uncomfortable reality you will need to face in order to grow from the experience is to accept that their parasitic interactions with you is only part of the reason you want to cut them off. The other is that there is a very real probability that they remind you of the parts you don’t like about yourself. So it’s important to acknowledge that your decision to cut them off is not to punish them but to help you grow. The lesson you’ll need to learn however is that if you don’t work on growing your own self-esteem, you’ll just end up repeating the same cycle with other friends.
If you feel too guilty about cutting them off completely, there is another way. And that is to change the way you interact with them.
Let’s say you have a friend who on the surface, pretends to have your best interests at heart. But you start to realise that some of their off-handed comments are actually subtle put downs to keep you down. It’s probably going to feel awkward as hell, but there is no real reason to stop you from saying words to the effect of:
“Look I appreciate your concern, but when you say things like that it feels like a subtle kind of put down. I’m sure you don’t mean it but I’m going to have to insist that you respect my wishes not to speak like that any more. I don’t want to lose your friendship but I need to let you know that I’m only going to continue speaking with you if you respect that.”
That sounds easy but here’s the hardest part.
There’s a good chance that they have held the upper hand by being the more dominant player in the relationship. So standing up to them like this is going to inevitably create tension, and they’re not going to like that. The reality is however that good relationships including good friendships, will withstand this tension. That’s how you create boundaries.
It is however important to be prepared for the inevitable retaliation from them however, which is likely to be “but you’re not saint yourself.”
And there is a good chance this is true. The major hurdle stopping someone from insisting on a more respectful interaction with a friend is the fact that they know they are guilty of similar interactions. Either that or they kind of ‘invite them’. This is why it’s simply easier to just cut them off. Because if you’re going to stand your ground with this new boundary then you have to accept it when they reply by pointing out your own interpersonal flaws. So to remain consistent, you have to step up and accept that if there criticisms of you are true, then you may have to change your interactions with them as well. In other words, you have to give them no excuses by modifying your own behaviours as well. And that’s the hardest part.
If you do this however – you acknowledge your own flaws to them. You work on changing your own behaviour in return for expecting an improvement in their own. Then one of two things are inevitable;
The first is that they will simply cut you off, saving you the guilt from cutting them off. It won’t likely happen easily mind you. They will inevitably complain to your friends and try to turn them against you by telling you that you think you are ‘too good for them now’. Expect this and expect that you may inevitably have to lose both them and other friends in the process.
This is the other hard part. You’re going to feel like your behaviour is under scrutiny and be judged for being unfair if you hold others to standards you are not willing to live up to. They will also attack you for your inconsistency if you allow it or even invite it on some occasions when it’s convenient for you but disallow it when it doesn’t suit you. They won’t take your boundary seriously and you will inevitably end up looking like the bad guy.
But, if you step up. If you’re open and honest about it. If you’re consistent. If you learn to exercise mutual respect. And most importantly, if you acknowledge your own flaws rather than try to prop yourself over the other person as being superior to them. If you do these things then there is a very real possibility that you can actually lead the relationship in a healthier direction.
This will be difficult at first and will feel like two people floundering around in the water trying to rescue themselves without being tempted to grab onto the other person to keep them afloat without pushing their head under at the same time. If you both manage to do this however, then this is by far the best outcome by far.
Once you learn to master this process however, you will not only have made leaps and bounds in your social skills but you’ll have also learned to step up and grow your own limiting immaturity as well. So it’s a win-win.
Again – whilst this is the most ideal outcome, it is difficult to do but learning the skills is well worth the effort. So if this sounds like a goal you’d like to achieve in your own interpersonal relationships, then just remember this.
At the end of the day, the quality of your relationships come down to their communication dynamic. And the quality of communication you have with other people will be most heavily influenced by the quality of intrapersonal communication you have with yourself.