Spring CleaningSpring is here (in name only because it’s still hella cold here in NYC) and with the arrival of this flower-speckled season, people inevitably go into cleaning and organizing mode.  Winter boots hibernate in storage while strappy stilettos get to some soak in the sunshine, bulky wool coats make way for colorful trenches and ignored clothes from several seasons ago find their way to Salvation Army locations.

But there’s another aspect of life that could perhaps use a little pruning: your group of friends and acquaintances.  Countless books, articles and essays tell us about the importance of getting rid of the “toxic” people in our lives. The toxic people are the ones who seem to only bring drama, the ones who seem to squeeze every bit of energy from you, but yet have somehow become tangled into your network.

I agree that toxic people should be banished from your life. There are few things worse than feeling exhausted from some joy-sucking vampires who couldn’t find happiness in a pile of rainbows and puppies.

However, there’s someone in between toxic and a regular, nurturing pal. Sometimes people who exhibit toxic behaviors are going through a rough patch–a patch that could be days or even years in the making. Sometimes that apparent “toxicity” is just sadness turned outward and that’s when that person needs you the most.

Influence doesn’t just go negative over positive, right? Maybe that seemingly toxic person needs a little bit of your sunshine and guidance. Think of that person as that favorite five-year-old dress that needs some new buttons and a new hemline to make it new again. Maybe that person isn’t the over-sized pair of neon striped Cross Colours shorts that will never ever eva come back in style and needs to be tossed or torn into cleaning rags as soon as possible.

So when you get around to spring cleaning your friends and acquaintances, don’t be so quick to un-friend (in real life) “negative” people. Think about who that person is to you and if their companionship is worth whatever downsides come with it. And if someone is on that long-term bout of negativity, perhaps instead of completely shutting her out, you can put her at arm’s length, on terms you can manage.

When I moved from Detroit to New York City, a few of my relationships with family and friends actually got better.  I didn’t need to cut folks out, I just needed to change the dynamic of the relationship and it worked.

Use those pruning sheers wisely.

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  • “And if someone is on that long-term bout of negativity, perhaps instead of completely shutting her out, you can put her at arm’s length, on terms you can manage.”

    This article is timely for me. I have been thinking on what to do about a friend who has become “toxic”, but whom I do really care for and would like to keep the friendship.

    • JillyBean

      I’m in a similar position. But in my situation, I finally chose to end the friendship. The toxic behaviors were already there, and the storm he was going through only amplified them. Initially I felt guilty about cutting ties because he had so much going on (and because I’m queen of the people pleasers). But sometimes you have to choose self-preservation over an unhealthy friendship.