Strangely, we often choose to remain in an environment or a relationship that is toxic to us even though it can bring unwanted drama and trauma. Sometimes we choose to stay because it seems fixable—we feel we can make the person or situation better or that, perhaps, we are the problem.
If you are an eternal optimist, it makes walking away or throwing in the proverbial towel that much harder. Nobody wants to be called a quitter! However, in the end, we only harm ourselves when we engage in a futile endeavor like trying to change someone else.
When we do this in any relationship—when we compromise ourselves, when we make ourselves small—we diminish the unique qualities that make us the loving, lovable, irreplaceable beings that we are. And then slowly, over time, our life force is snuffed out, either by someone's careless breath of negativity or by our own hand as we extinguish our flame—pinching off our confidence and joy—to please or placate someone else.
Difficult as it may be, there comes a time to break free of those relationships, to cut the bowlines and escape the current of negativity pulling us further and further off our own intended path. What are these relationships in your life? You probably know or, at the very least, have an inkling. The Relationship Gauge consists of questions to help you assess whether or not that difficult relationship comes at too high a cost for you. Picture the person in your mind and then answer the following questions:
1. Overall, does this person bring you a sense of ease or anxiety?
2. Does interacting with this person leave you energized or exhausted?
3. Does this person take responsibility for personal issues or blame others, perhaps even you?
4. How frequently does this person reach out to see how you are? Often or hardly ever?
5. When was the last time this person made a positive contribution to your life? Recently or quite a while ago?
6. Does being around this person bring out your best self or your worst self?
7. How do you speak of this person to others, positively or negatively?
8. After interacting with this person, do you tend to be grateful for having spent time together or regretful?
9. How many character traits does this person possess that you admire? Several or very few?
10. If you were to meet this person for the first time today, would you want this person in your community or would you steer clear?
11. Does this person challenge you in a positive way, sparking change or personal evolution? Or does this person challenge you in a way that leaves you questioning your self-worth or capabilities?
If more than five of your answers landed on the negative side of the spectrum, then this is a toxic relationship—a relationship that is a source of negativity or one that contributes very little positivity. I want to be clear that toxic relationships aren't due to "bad" people. We can't judge another's character or know their past or how that may impact their ability to engage in a way that feels like love and care. Toxic relationships occur when the alchemy created between two or more people creates unhealthy results. And in those cases it's OK, and important, to let go.
We forget that relationships are often transient. They are as impermanent as life itself. Only a very precious few stay with us throughout our journey. The rest—the majority—are momentary collisions in time meant to teach us something or give us something we need. These collisions can be insanely positive, insanely gut-wrenching, or somewhere in between. The purpose could be the same: to challenge or inspire us to break through whatever is holding us back. And perhaps in many cases, the purpose is for us to serve as a catalyst for them.
Instead, focus on influence; assess that. Is the influence a relationship is having on your life right now positive or negative? That is absolutely a call you can make without apology. You are the captain of your life; you are ultimately responsible for how you choose to spend this lifetime. There is no prize for stoicism or for allowing yourself to become distracted or be taken advantage of. And we should take care to lose shame or timidity when it is clear we are in a harmful dynamic. If a relationship is consistently taking a toll, then no matter the reason, we should feel free to say a brief or final farewell. It's important to surround ourselves with influences that promote and inspire growth.
If we allow toxic relationships to create deficiencies in our soil, our foundation will be compromised. We will never be able to reach our full potential by allowing the situation to remain as it is. I know this. I have lived this. If you can't give yourself permission, please accept mine.