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:
- “Friendship can play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from a mental health problem and overcome the isolation that often comes with it.” (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/f/friendship-and-mental-health)
- “Social isolation has long been known as a key trigger for mental illness, while supportive relationships with friends, family and neighbours are beneficial to the mental health of individuals and the population… Adults with no friends are the worst off psychologically. There are significant health cost implications from the impact of this social isolation.” (https://esrc.ukri.org/news-events-and-publications/evidence-briefings/mental-health-and-social-relationships/)
- “It’s well-documented that loneliness can cause depression and have negative effects on health and lifespans, equal to that of smoking.” (http://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/health/health-studies/mental-health/why-friendships-are-vital-your-wellbeing)
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!
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.
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.
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!
https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-other-side-of-cutting-out-the-negative-people A description of how it can feel to be cut out