Whether you’ve read the book, watched the Netflix series, or seen the trend all over social media, there’s no denying that 2019 is the year of Marie Kondo-style purging and decluttering. The basic premise? Get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy. And while, sure, that principle applies when you’re cleaning out drawers of old t-shirts or bins of unused nail polish, it can also be used to help remove toxic people from your life. Ahead, experts weigh in on why it’s important to eliminate the relationships that don’t bring you joy — and exactly how to do so.
What constitutes a toxic relationship?
The definition of this type of detrimental relationship — be it with a partner, friend, family member, or co-worker — is really quite simple. “A toxic relationship makes you feel badly about yourself and your actions. It doesn’t bring out the best in you and can make you feel unsafe, shameful, or degraded,” explains psychotherapist Jason Eric Ross, PhD, LMHC.
It really goes back to that Marie Kondo idea: How does your relationship with this individual make you feel? Do they lift you up, or do they bring you down? Another good indicator of a toxic relationship is assessing if someone lacks gratitude and/or complains often, notes Ross. It’s also worth taking a closer look at yourself and thinking about where you were in your life when you met this person. “Were you in a healthy place, or at least working towards that? If not, you may need to reevaluate your relationship,” says Ross, especially if you feel like you’ve grown and evolved, but the other person hasn’t.
Communication issues are another telltale sign that something is amiss. That’s not to say that you can never disagree or have an argument: “A healthy argument can promote change, but a lack of communication can foster seeds of discontent and allow bad feelings to percolate and simmer,” explains psychotherapist and relationship expert Margena Carter, of Carter Care Therapeutic Services in Los Angeles. If you feel stifled or scared to voice your opinions for fear of rejection or belittling, or if you’re unable to constructively discuss problems or rifts (meaning, in a way in which both parties understand the conflict and there’s forgiveness and resolution), there’s miscommunication happening.
Drama, drama, and more drama is also indicative that it may be time to reassess your relationship. “A toxic person always has to have some kind of drama, disagreement, or issue going on with someone,” points out Carter. “They’ll draw as many people into the conflict and find more ways to aggravate it.” Bottom line: If you feel utterly drained after spending time with someone who is constantly embroiled in some kind of saga, it may be time to move on.
What’s the best way to eliminate the negativity?
If it’s a significant other, family member, or someone whom you really don’t want to cut out of your life, you can try to seek help from a third party, like a mediator or therapist, says Carter. This gives everyone an arena to openly discuss feelings and concerns, and offer constructive criticism and advice.
That being said, if the negative energy, hostility, and bad feelings persist, it’s time to distance yourself from that person, she says. “The best way to totally eliminate toxic relationships is to make the decision to cut ties at some point, whether you do it quickly or slowly. You have to remind yourself that you want positivity and good energy, then make a plan and follow through,” adds Ross. Explaining how you feel is okay, but do so without any expectation of reciprocation or understanding.
If it is a family member you’re trying to cut out, Carter suggests limiting yourself to seeing them only at holidays and family gatherings, establishing boundaries, and keeping conversations light and friendly, without engaging. If it’s a significant other or friendship, the best option is an entirely clean break. “Sometimes, ghosting — that is, stopping all forms of communication — is the best way to end the toxicity altogether. It may seem abrupt and impersonal, but it’s the first step to healing emotional wounds,” she explains. Remember, it’s all about what brings you joy.