Do You Need a Friendship Cleanse?

How to step away from the people who bring out your worst.

Posted Mar 05, 2015

doglikehorse/Shutterstock
Source: doglikehorse/Shutterstock

There have been stories in the news recently about celebrities doing a “relationship cleanse," usually following one of those media-saturated meltdowns lending proof to the fact that staying sober, clean, or just emotionally together is a challenge whether you are rich or poor, famous or not.

What's a relationship cleanse?

Basically, it's an opportunity to clean up your social network by letting go of friends who bring you down, lead you astray, or otherwise get in the way of your efforts to live the best life you possibly can. Sometimes, you’ve got to let go of a relationship entirely; sometimes you might just need to integrate an attitude change and a behavioral shift. Making a fresh start sometimes requires dropping someone from your social life, Facebook account, Twitter feed, or speed dial. Other times, all it takes is letting a friend know that you are shaping up and trying to make better choices.

When is it time for a cleanse?

Often, we don’t realize our friendscapes are in need of an overhaul until we find ourselves at the edge of a metaphorical cliff—or facing the fallout from an episode that was significantly detrimental to our well-being. For some celebrities, this may mean getting the second or third DUI—the one that sends them to jail—or ending up in rehab again, or having a sex tape made public, or making headlines that are otherwise career-killing but, shamefully, still true. For you, it might just be something along the lines of spending too much time goofing off, getting drunk, or cutting down others to build yourself up.

The friendships assessment

  1. Get honest with yourself and acknowledge which behaviors no longer have any place in your life. Are you waking up hung over too often? Are you using other substances that are sucking away your time and money, or placing your well-being at risk? Do you find yourself feeling worse, rather than better, after hanging out with certain people you had considered to be your friends?
     
  2. After you have decided which behaviors no longer have a place in your life, make a list of those people who allow, enable, or support those behaviors. Then, ask yourself the following three questions about each person. Place a written or mental X by the person’s name for each yes answer:

a) Does this person ignore/accept my _____? (Fill in the blank with the behavior you want to eliminate—drinking, drug use, belittling of others, feeling sorry for myself, beating up on myself, etc.)

b) Does this person join me in my _____?

c) Do I only enjoy this person’s company if I am _____?

If you have friends who don’t get a single mark, these are the type of people who should survive your cleanse. If, at the other end of the scale, you have any friends with three “X” marks, you'd probably benefit by being cleansed of the relationship. (Of course, the value of anyone who gets a yes to question the third question should be very much in doubt.

If friends earn a “yes” to questions "a" and “b,” but you feel the relationship is worth saving and you are ready to tackle the task of cleaning it up, initiate a serious conversation about the changes you are making to your own behaviors. Being the “designated driver," saying no to negative self-talk, or asking others to change their ways is not natural for everyone, and when triggers are hard for you to resist, these friends may not be able to support you in your new choices. Be aware of how much energy you are willing to invest in renovating a relationship before letting it go.

Your relationships with people whose only yes answer is in response to the first question might be ripe for preserving, if you can get them on board with your new way of living. If you don’t feel that ending the friendship will contribute to your literal or emotional detox, see if you can instead cleanse the friendship of any unwitting temptations or open tolerance for bad behaviors when together.

We all need a cleanse sometime

As the seasons change, we are often motivated to “spring clean” our homes. It's also a good time to “cleanse” our lives of people and behaviors that weigh us down. Research shows that friendships that bring us down or create conflict are worse for our well-being than having fewer friendships in total. Make the choice to cleanse your life of toxic friends who support poor behaviors and let go of the people who encourage you to stay down with them.

If the people in your friendscape reflect how you see yourself, what does your choice of friends say about who you are?

Order your copy of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friends who Break Them