Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.

— Oprah Winfrey

A very common and sound piece of advice given by those helping people live positive lives is only surround yourself with positive people. This makes perfect sense, at least in theory. As humans we respond to our environment and the people in it. If those people we connect with have good character traits it is safe to say we will feel happy being around them.

But what about those people in your life who, well, are kind of a drag? They bring you down, talk behind people’s backs or maybe are insulting and mean. They might be in your family, or in the schoolyard. They might be a co-worker or even a friend. What should we do when these people are entwined in our lives?

I have definitely spent the last several years fine-tuning who I give my time to. I truly feel the benefits of having a circle of people around me who lift me up instead of pull me down. But there are folks in my life who continue to be pessimistic, unconstructive and even harmful to me. Here are some steps I use to ensure that these negative people do not hold too much power in my life. 


identify who they are

Make sure you take the time to take stock of who you are spending time with. Often we stay in relationships because of habit or obligation. Evaluate who you are giving your time to and then ask yourself “is this person adding to or depleting my energy stores?” 

It might be hard to recognize at first who you should be spending your time with (especially if you’ve surrounded yourself with people who drain your energy). So look for signs: do you feel tired after spending time with them? Do you feel badly or put down when they speak to you? Do you avoid their calls when they phone? Check in with your gut and trust your instincts…if it feels negative to be with them it likely is a negative relationship. 


drop them 

This may seem harsh but it is the best advice I have gotten about relationships. Let go of people who make you feel badly about yourself as soon as possible, if you can. Period. You don’t have to be mean about it but don’t hang on to a bad relationship with someone just to avoid hurting their feelings. 


limit time with them

And if you cannot drop them then limit the amount of time and energy you give them. Let their call go to voice mail and then return their call when you feel up to talking. Socialize when you have other people around who you feel supported by. Script specific time to see or speak to the them by having a clear beginning and ending point for you to stop. In other words create clear boundaries with them that give you a sense of control when dealing with them.


enjoy your own company

Letting people go can cause a pretty empty void in the friendship department and it can feel lonely at times. You begin to question whether spending time with people who make you feel bad is better than spending time by yourself.


But I say, take this opportunity to start hanging out with yourself. Go to a movie or eat dinner out solo. Start a hobby or take a class that you have been putting off. Whatever it is you do to fill that time make sure it feels positive and uplifting to you. Getting to love and respect yourself definitely helps you to have clearer judgment about who you want to spend your time with. As you feel you are deserving of better treatment you begin picking more wisely.


find compassion for them

Last, but maybe most importantly, remember these people who are impacting your life in a negative way are doing so out of their own unhappiness and suffering. If you can find compassion and empathy in your heart for them it will be easier for you to separate their nastiness from your worth as a friend. 


I am not suggesting we have to be pushovers or allow bad behaviour in order to be kind to others. I am just saying with forgiveness there is so much more love in our hearts…love for ourselves and for these people in our lives. Living from this place makes their lack much more manageable and a lot less damaging.


So definitely look to build strong bonds with those who make you feel wonderful inside. Choose to nourish yourself with loving and kind people. And when you have to be with those who are difficult remember to draw on all the goodness in your life, be grateful for the lessons you can learn not to do and know with practice their effect on you will be minimal.