7 reasons not to automatically cut out the negative people

On quite a regular basis I come across advice to cut out the negative people in my life, whether in an illustrated quote on social media, in a book or article, or on a podcast. The gist of the advice is that negative people will drag you down and ruin your attempts at living a ‘positive life’. There is some truth and logic in all this: depression can be a bit catching and presumably there are people out there who enjoy putting others down or making fun of them, and people who anger easily and say mean things. It’s undeniably important to look out for our wellbeing and reflect on how spending time with our current friends and family makes us feel. And I would never suggest anyone stay with an abusive partner/family member, who is violent, controlling, constantly critical, not understanding or manipulative. There probably are some people who you might need to cut out. But today I’m going to talk about why this advice doesn’t seem like great blanket advice, my experiences of it, and what I think a better approach could be.

1. Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues

Friendship can be hugely important for mental health, and depressed or anxious people needs friends too.

Here’s what some sites have to say:

There is a tendency to say that depressed people don’t need friends, they need a therapist. But, in reality, therapists can’t do everything and there can be long waits to see one and between sessions. And therapists tend to encourage depressed people to do more things socially. But that’s going to be difficult if their friends have cut them off because they are not positive enough!

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Friendship is super important for people with mental health issues. Photo by Roberto Nicksong on Unsplash. 

2. Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety

I can definitely testify to this. And depressed people often have an exaggerated view of their bad qualities, with many thinking they are worthless, so losing friends is only going to enhance this. Also, depressed people often avoid socialising even though it is known to help, and if they keep losing friends, that’s going to make them more likely to avoid seeking new ones for fear of yet more rejection and disappointment. Similarly, for those with social anxiety, rejection will feel very significant and will increase the barriers to making social connections.

3. One day it will probably be you who is the negative person

Depressed people can be a bit mopey to be around, they may not have a lot of optimism or jokes, they may be quiet or talk about themselves and their problems a lot. So, yeah, they might not be the people most likely to boost your positivity, but your friendship could mean a great deal to them at this difficult time. Many people experience depression at some point in their lives – one in five according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists – and it’s quite likely that one day you’ll be having a hard time and you’ll want your friends to be there for you even if you’re not all smiles.

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Most of us will be depressed at some point, or have a period of anxiety, and hope that our friends stick by us. Stunning photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash. 

4. A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time

I’ve very rarely turned away someone who wanted to be my friend. This has often been surprising to other people, who wanted nothing to do with the person who was a bit abrupt or talked too much. But I’ve always felt that meeting someone for lunch or a coffee was a small thing to me, and perhaps important to this person who had no other friends. Everyone needs friends.

5. You can feel good about being there for the person

If you really want to see everything in terms of the benefit it brings to you, well, you can feel good about doing something for another person. There is a deeper value in looking out for and caring for other people than in trying to make everything in your life ‘positive’, which, in fact, is an impossible and potentially quite a frustrating aim.

Also, showing a bit of kindness to a person having a tough time could help that person get better, saving the NHS some money, maybe also the benefits system, and reducing the likelihood of very sad, disruptive events such as suicides and drug addiction. Individuality actually often backfires because, ultimately, we all live and work in proximity with others.

6. You might regret cutting people out

I’ve cut out a couple of people. It’s easy to do it hastily in an argument or after they’ve said something you find really offensive, and quite hard to backtrack on. I’d suggest waiting a couple of days before cutting anyone out. You often don’t really miss something until it’s gone, and that can be true of friends. And waiting a couple of days gives you both time to cool off.

I’ve also found that friends with depression or anxiety are often the most loyal and appreciative. The most entertaining, fun friends are often those who won’t stay in touch if you move and may be more prone to dropping you if they get in a relationship or find more convenient or more fun friends elsewhere. And, hopefully, those friends with depression and anxiety won’t always be so anxious or depressed, and will remember how you stuck by them and be there for you when you need it.

7. Learn to develop boundaries and care for yourself

If spending time with someone is leaving you feeling drained, worried or low, this could be a great opportunity to work on your assertiveness and self-care. Figure out how long you can spend with that person without it having much of an adverse effect on you, and then implement it, if you can. If necessary, tell them you need a bit more time apart and feel free to only take calls or look at their messages when convenient to you, if that’s an issue.

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Developing boundaries and assertiveness often removes the feeling of needing to cut someone out completely, and is a great skill. Photo by Paige Muller on Unsplash. 

In the UK, we’re not great at assertiveness and we’re quite prone to avoiding situations that might feel a bit awkward. I’ve come to think that’s not a good thing and I’ve been working on not being so avoidant. Once you learn how to look after your needs and ask others to respect them, you won’t need to ghost people, block people or completely cut people out of your life (except in extreme cases perhaps). And those are great skills to have in the workplace and as a parent, when you simply can’t avoid everyone who causes you irritation or upset.

If someone often gets angry with you, or says things you find offensive, or says a lot of pessimistic things that make you feel demoralised – try bringing it up and explaining how it’s affecting you. I’ve done this and found it has worked. If someone values your friendship, they will make the effort. If they don’t then, fair enough, cut them out. Likewise, if you know for sure that talking to them about the issue won’t help, or if even minimal contact is going to be too upsetting to you, then that is probably a sign you should cut them out. I’ve actually never met anyone like that, or anyone really manipulative who tries to make me feel bad but I assume they are out there and sure, avoid them.

In summary, here are a few reasons not to automatically cut out the negative people:

  • A small sacrifice on your part could mean a great deal to someone having a hard time
  • Friendship is really important for people with mental health issues
  • One day it will probably be you
  • Losing friends is extra painful when you’re depressed or have anxiety
  • You might regret it later: consider all the good times you’ve had with this person and their good qualities
  • Rationing time with such people can be better than cutting them out completely
  • You can feel good about being there for the person
  • Use it as an opportunity to learn how to develop appropriate boundaries and assertiveness

What are your thoughts? Share below!

Related links

https://byrslf.co/why-im-not-cutting-negative-people-out-of-my-life-in-2018-db043a38b412

https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-other-side-of-cutting-out-the-negative-people A description of how it can feel to be cut out

https://tinybuddha.com/blog/how-to-deal-with-negative-people-or-difficult-people/

 

 

A new religion is growing: belief in the law of attraction and human ‘energies’

For me, whenever I consider any religion, two big questions arise: 1. Is it plausible? and 2. Is it helpful? I think the law of attraction is a new religion that is steadily growing, largely unnoticed, and it’s about time we all had a good look at it. This post will cover ‘Is it plausible?’ and in a future post I will look at the second question.

What is the law of attraction?

The basic principle of the law of attraction is that you tell ‘the universe’ what you want in a specific way, and it will be delivered to you. In their words:

‘Visualize your message as a letter with ‘The Universe‘ printed on its envelope as an address… If you were waiting for new shoes, perhaps you would make space in your shoe rack. Likewise, make space in your life for the order that you have placed with the universe….Speak, walk, talk and breathe as if your reality has already changed for the better, and your original message will be delivered.’ [1]

It falls in a category involving a host of other beliefs such as belief in chakras and ‘energy therapies’.

A new religion

The United Kingdom has, of late, very much become the land of atheists or, at least, those who identify as having no religion (48.5% in 2014, outnumbering the 43.8% who define themselves as Christian). And yet I have become increasingly aware of a new religion, one that many might not call a religion but which I suggest should be seen as one: the law of attraction. It requires faith and something similar to prayer. It offers to its followers rich rewards. And it has a community of followers with their own online and real-life groups where they meet up and talk about using the principles of this ‘law’ in their lives (at the time of writing, on Meetup alone, law of attraction groups have over 1 million members!).

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There are over 1 million people in law of attraction groups on Meetup. Photo by Papaioannou Kostas on Unsplash.

 

‘The Secret’ by Rhonda Byrne is a book on the Law of attraction that is, according to the book’s website, a worldwide best seller available in 50 languages with over 20 million copies in print. [2]

Its followers may well disagree with me and say ‘a religion? Oh no, it’s just another law of the universe like gravity’. But this is not very different to how followers of other religions will also tell you that God is real, a fact. The only difference is that churches don’t necessarily try to convince you God is real by reference to quantum physics (though a few probably do).

I had a message once from someone renting out rooms who thought I might like to live there. Based on me having said meditation is one of my interests, this home-owner told me that he and other persons in the house were law of attraction believers and another person there was a ‘heretic’. A jokey remark, of course, but, I think, hinting at a deeper, and more disturbing, reality.

While most religious people nowadays are aware that others may not believe in God and are usually quite discreet about their beliefs, the same can’t always be said about law of attraction followers. Those who believe that the law of attraction is a real phenomenon can say things such as “I know a great person who can really help with blocked energies”. They don’t realise that the existence of personal energies has not been proven or they assume that for some reason you will share their beliefs (e.g. because you both like meditation). I am constantly coming across law of attraction believers, and it’s time to speak out.

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People often assume that there is evidence that people can send out energies. Photo by Joel Filipe on Unsplash.

 

Scientific?

The essence of the law of attraction is as follows: ‘Whether we are doing it knowingly or unknowingly, every second of our existence, we are acting as human magnets sending out our thoughts and emotions and attracting back more of what we have put out.’ [3] ‘When we fill ourselves with negative energies and emotions such as fear, anger, sadness or general pessimism, our frequency is lowered and the universe can only expand on this, promoting greater negativity in our lives.’[4]

As with all religions, no hint of doubt in the phrasing there. But is this real science?

I have been unable to find any genuine, qualified scientist supporting the proposition that we send out different vibrations according to how we feel. And, even were that the case, it would need to be proven that such vibrations attract things to us such as new jobs, new partners, money, illness, etc.

Some refer to experiments on water: however, these are by no means accepted by the scientific community, may not have followed scientific methods, and the ‘scientist’ who carried them out is not well qualified or widely respected [5]. It is also unclear how these ‘experiments’ (where people acted in various ways towards water: really!) could prove the idea that we can send out ‘positive vibrations’ to bring us what we want.

While most of us rely on Google as our main signpost to sources of knowledge, this is not necessarily wise. The top links resulting from a Google search are, presumably, usually companies who have hired a search engine optimisation firm to get them there. Life coaches and energy medicine practitioners need you to find them in a Google search and, as a result, if you search for ‘human energies’ or such, you will find material from those who rely on such pseudoscience to make money.

Really the only major balance to all of them is https://sciencebasedmedicine.org, which clearly states ‘Scientists can detect and measure minute energies down to the subatomic level, but they have never detected a “human energy field.”’ [6] This website contains articles written by qualified scientists who expose the pseudoscience so commonly used by practitioners of ‘energy medicine’ such as reiki. While believers of the law of attraction may not also believe in energy medicine and vice versa, there is often an overlap and ultimately both rely on similar claims (e.g. that energy can be purposely sent out from our body to do things like order us new shoes or heal someone’s bad back).

Writers at the New York Times, Psychology Today and some other sources have also refuted the law of attraction [7].

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No qualified scientists support the existence of the law of attraction. Photo by Sidney Perry on Unsplash. 

 

But what about anecdotes where it has ‘worked’?

The law of attraction and the philosophy around it share some similarities with common sense psychology, and so may sometimes appear to work. Psychological studies have long acknowledged the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ whereby, for example, someone who is always told they are bad at maths may indeed do badly in maths exams due to their poor self-confidence [8]. Likewise those with good self-confidence will probably achieve most in life due to their willingness to try new things and their belief that their endeavours are worthwhile and will pay off. There is nothing radical about this. Believing goals are attainable is crucial to keep us motivated and determined, and believers of the law of attraction are likely to have such a belief.

Elements of the law of attraction are backed up by fact or simply obvious, such as this statement taken from thelawofattraction.com home page:

A key part of the Law of Attraction is understanding that where you place your focus can have an intense impact on what happens to you. If you spend your days wallowing in regrets about the past or fears of the future, you’ll likely see more negativity appearing, but if you look for the silver lining in every experience then you’ll soon start to see positivity surrounding you every day.

People who want to see positive change in their lives don’t need to consult the law of attraction website, books or groups. There are plenty of other sources that can help people and which don’t rely on fake science. Not only that, but there are sources of help that have been tested by eminent psychologists (such as Martin Seligman, Rick Hanson and others), unlike the law of attraction. The law of attraction can actually lead people to worse mental health, as will be discussed in my next post.

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It is useful to be confident of our abilities but we don’t need the law of attraction for that. Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash.

 

As for ‘energy medicine’, it can work by causing relaxation and stress relief and due to the placebo effect. So, yes, it may help but it may also cost people a lot of money and cause them to fail to pursue more useful (and more scientific) remedies.

What next?

Left unchallenged, these beliefs will spread. After centuries of truth-seeking and moving away from believing the earth is flat and lightning is God’s wrath, we are at risk of slipping back into superstition and investing great time and money in such beliefs. Google isn’t helping. The internet is awash with support for this theory and proper analysis is hard to find. The same is true for energy medicine. Next time you meet someone who assumes you are a believer, please show you aren’t. Please share this post, or one in the related links below, and help us keep on the path of truth and wisdom.

References

[1] http://www.thelawofattraction.com

[2] http://www.thesecret.tv/about/rhonda-byrnes-biography

[3] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/what-is-the-law-of-attraction

[4] http://www.thelawofattraction.com/how-to-raise-your-law-of-attraction-frequency/

[5] https://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/a_grain_of_truth_recreating_dr._emotos_rice_experiment (an amusing read)

[6] https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/therapeutic-touch-pseudoscience-the-tooth-fairy-strikes-again

[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/26/books/review/Chabris-t.html?_r=0

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-blame-game/201609/the-truth-about-the-law-attraction

http://guardianlv.com/2014/02/the-secret-law-of-attraction-doesnt-work-heres-proof

[8]  http://users.ox.ac.uk/~sfos0060/prophecies.shtml

Related links

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/energy-medicine-noise-based-pseudoscience/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/therapeutic-touch-pseudoscience-the-tooth-fairy-strikes-again/

https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/full-of-energy/

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/complementary-alternative-medicine/Pages/complementary-alternative-medicines.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/complementary-alternative-medicine/Pages/placebo-effect.aspx

http://www.nhs.uk/news/Pages/Howtoreadarticlesabouthealthandhealthcare.aspx