Time for a Support System Overhaul—OR are you just running from accountability?

Introduction

In this article, I am going to discuss the impact of how who we associate with can have a significant influence on our attitude, mood, outlook, and perceived self-value.  You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh here we go again…another article explaining the importance of keeping positive people in our lives and eliminating the toxic ones”.  No…this article will help you to decipher who really is a positive influence in your life and who is toxic.  You also might be thinking that the distinctions are clear and obvious.  Let’s see!

I approach writing articles like I approach one-on-one sessions with my clients.  I don’t waste time explaining things that people already know.  I do not see the point in telling the person who smokes that smoking can cause lung cancer and they should stop.  The fact is that I have never met a smoker who doesn’t know how unhealthy smoking is.

Instead, I want to highlight how we (myself included), whether consciously or subconsciously, believe we are adding positive people into our lives while simultaneously eliminating the people we deem as negative or toxic. But in reality we might be doing the exact opposite.

Of course, I realize that there are very negative and toxic people out there and they can be exhausting to be around because of just how pessimistic, gossipy, and untrustworthy they can be.  I do believe that, as a default, we should try to surround ourselves with the most caring and authentic people we can find.  This article is specifically for people who think the best strategy for having a better (or easier) life is to eliminate anyone who will hold you accountable and refuses to tell you how great you are doing when you know it is not true.

There are many times that we think we are adding positive people into our lives but in reality you are just adding someone who won’t call you out on the behaviors you know are either unhealthy, irresponsible, childish, or all of the above.

The process typically goes like this:

You go on Facebook or Twitter to make sure everyone knows that you are doing a complete overhaul of your friends and family.  From the very beginning, you are implying a very clear message: that all of your problems and dissatisfaction with life is everyone else’s fault.  You reassure your Facebook “family”, that you are taking action.  You declare that you deserve happiness and imply that after you eliminate all of these toxic people who keep you down, you will miraculously be armed with the motivation, drive, and confidence that you never had before.

I urge you to be careful with this strategy.  Trying to make changes in your life without accountability will lead you to a dark and lonely place.  Rest assure a reality does exist that is worse than not having the motivation, drive, and confidence to achieve your goals: and that is not having the motivation, drive, and confidence to achieve your goals AND being lonely because you impulsively burned all of the bridges to your only authentic support system.

The whole point of that little Facebook onslaught was to highlight two realities:

  1. Just because people tell us what we want to hear and give us validation doesn’t mean they are positive influences in our life, and…
  2. Just because people call you out on your BS and try to help you; even when you don’t want help (or maybe even deserve it), doesn’t mean they are toxic and negative.
Why This Strategy Usually Backfires?

For starters, you are choosing to spend more time and energy portraying yourself as the person you want people to see you as; rather than just using that energy to actually become the person you want to be.  In order to fuel the justification of our behaviors, we survive on the artificial validation of people telling us how great we are or telling us how amazing of parents we are when they only see how we parent at birthday parties or other social events where we can make sure that we put on a good show. They don’t see you during the week or after work at your house when it’s just you and the kid(s).  That is where reality exists.  And just in case you don’t get all of the comments you were hoping for, you rest assure that since people went way out of their way and clicked a little hand that says like on it, they must really be behind you all the way.  I am a parent and I know that there are times when I get frustrated with our daughter and respond differently at home than I would if we were in public.  IT’S OK!  Stop trying to look like parent of the year and start actually being a good parent.

When Validation Can Be Harmful

When we feel so uncomfortable actually having to face the ugly truth that we are not putting our best foot (or even a mediocre foot) forward, we tend to go into “validation survival mode”.  So instead of trying to make authentic positive changes, we choose instead to eliminate anyone who reminds us; whether directly or indirectly.   Even if the person you are eliminating doesn’t actually voice their opinion or displeasure regarding your behaviors, you might still view them as toxic because anyone who is/appears more successful or better at certain aspects of life than you, they are deemed toxic.

When I ask people how they would describe the most important and influential people in their lives, they typically say: “someone who will tell me the truth even though it might hurt to hear it”.  They realize that a true friend or a worried family member will take the risk that you might dismiss them or avoid them at all costs.  They take this risk because they love and care for you so much that helping raise your awareness of the slippery slope you are going down is worth your disgust with them.  Now you might think that you want honesty, but your reaction to honesty will show your true colors.  Actions always show what your mouth meant to say.

When I think about all of the times that I was making stupid, irresponsible, and childish decisions in my teens and twenties, and some in my 30’s, I had a select few friends and family members that would give it to me straight.

A key principle or mentality that my mother instilled in me is that you can choose to screw up all you want…but don’t cry about it when you have to deal with the consequences. She knew one of the best ways to learn was to screw up, learn your lesson, and do better next time…OR don’t…but you live with that decision either way. That sounded great in theory…until I started making my own mistakes and questionable decisions that put me in a bind; which led to more stupid and childish decisions.  When it was all happening, I thought I wanted someone to tell me everything I am doing is right and for someone to bail me out of these jams I was in.  I felt exactly what it was like to put all of my value and self-worth into what people thought about me.  I was trying to downplay all of those decisions and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was looking for a “poor baby. It’s ok.  You are a good person and are doing your very best”.

But I got what I thought I absolutely didn’t want to hear.  I will not pretend that it is easy to hear the truth; however, it is necessary if we are to truly be accountable and work towards a better version of ourselves.

I was told by a long-time and current friend; along with the very person who gave me life and instilled the mentality in me that “It doesn’t matter what life throws at you.  We don’t give up and that it was my responsibility to adapt to the adversity that either comes my way or that I create myself.  It is not the world’s responsibility to adapt to my bad decisions and tell me my behavior was just justifiable”.

Conclusion

One valuable lesson I learned that I carry with me today is that there is a huge difference between “trying” your best and “doing” your best.  There is a reason why I surround myself with the straight shooters: because I know they will never bullshit me and they will definitely not enable me to continue making immature and reckless decisions by telling me how great I am when my actions clearly don’t warrant that praise.

It is up to you.  You can choose the “positive” people who will give you what you need to justify your behaviors or you can choose the people who actually have your best interest in heart.  You can choose the ones who will tell you want you want to hear or the ones that will tell you the truth. Remember there is more than two categories.  There are the positive people.  There are the negative people.  And there are the “REAL” people.  But just like I was taught: “the choice is yours.  Just be prepared to deal with the consequences of your decision”.