Avoid The Unhappy and Unlucky (and How To Find Awesome Friends)

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“When you suspect you are in the presence of an infector, don’t argue, don’t try to help, don’t pass the person on to your friends, or you will become enmeshed. Flee the infector’s presence or suffer the consequences.” Robert Green (Author of The 48 Laws of Power)

I kinda stole the title to this blog post from the book The 48 Laws of Power. Law 10 is “Infection: Avoid The Unhappy and Unlucky.” I’m now about half way through the book, and I’m a little scared by it. I’m being truthful. I honestly am not sure how I feel about The 48 Laws, but I can’t stop reading.

It’s a little bit serendipitous that I started reading this particular book at this particular time, considering how I ended The Absolute Idiot’s Guide To Inspiration: “If there is someone in your life who brings you down or stifles your creativity, break ties with them immediately. It doesn’t matter who they are. They’re toxic and they don’t deserve you.”

If you’re like me or any other normal person (Did I just call myself normal? Yes, I did!), you probably want to help people who very clearly need help. Whether that’s helping them up off the ground when they fall or giving someone in front of you at the grocery store a dollar because they’re short on change, we all like to do good. But that direct do goodery is not what I’m talking about.

The Bad Kind of Good

At one time or another, we’ve all had a friend who brings us down. We try to help, giving our time and soul, but it’s to no avail. We think we’re “doing good,” but we’re not. Not only does this friend not listen, they complain that whatever you’re offering isn’t going to help.

They do anything they can to keep digging themselves in a hole because then they can be “right.” You know: “Well, I knew that wasn’t going to work out.”

It almost turns into a contest. How many shitty things can they be right about?

You already know I don’t believe in luck: Life Lesson #94: There is no such thing as luck. You either make good things happen or bad things happen. If someone consistently tells themself something bad is going to happen, then something bad is going to happen. And then they can be right! And more bad stuff will happen, because they so, so, so want to be right they’ll do everything they can to keep being right!

It’s almost fun for them (almost) to be right in the wrong way. “I’m right about how much my life sucks and nothing ever goes the way I want it to. Yay!”

Unfortunately, You Get Dragged Down As Well

Yeah, you know what happens.

They bring you along for the ride.

You start feeling like garbage. You begin to feel the same way your friend feels. And when you start feeling worse, your friend goes even further into the pits of despair. It’s a sick sick cycle.

How To Break Ties With Toxic Friends

First, know this: it’s OK to not want to be friends with someone you’re currently friends with.

Second, know this: there is no easy way to break the ties.

It’s going to be difficult. Extraordinarily difficult.

If you’ve already broken the ties with someone like this, you know exactly how difficult.

There are two approaches you can take to getting rid of friends who are bringing you down. First, the direct approach. Second, the indirect approach. Everything falls into one of these two camps.

Let’s break it down.

The Direct Approach To Getting Rid of Unwanted Friends

The direct approach is tough. You basically state that you just don’t want to be friends anymore. It’s just as awkward as breaking up any other relationship. :)

Depending on how you do it, this approach may be too harsh. And if your friend is mentally unstable it may result in dire consequences.

If you’re going to take the direct approach don’t attack or accuse. Bring the fault upon your shoulders.

The Indirect Approach To Getting Rid of Unwanted Friends

This approach isn’t much easier, especially if it’s a friend you talk to/hang out with very regularly. That said, this is the way more friendships end: naturally. They fade away instead of burning out. Only, in this case, you’re actively fading away.

How?

When your toxic friend wants to hang out, have other plans. Ignoring someone is weak so don’t outright ignore them if they contact you. Just don’t go out of your way to hang out with them, knowing they’ll make you feel like shit in the end.

If you do hang out with said friend (considering you’re fading away instead of burning out, this may happen), don’t take the bait. Meaning, when they complain or gossip or do anything to bring themselves and you down, don’t react. Change the subject or state something positive in response. And if it gets really bad, just leave.

What To Do Once You’ve Rid Yourself Of The Toxicity

Now that you got rid of a friend, you might need a new friend. Especially if the toxic friend was someone you were close with and saw on a regular basis.

I’m not an expert at making friends. I would even go so far as to say I’m not really very good at it. But here is what I’ve learned in the past 8 months of traveling and forcing myself to make new friends:

a) Ditch your iPod when you’re out and about. If you’re closed off to the world, the world will close itself off from you. Nobody is going to randomly talk to you if you have headphones on.

b) Say “Hi” and smile a lot, with no expectations. Simple, but not easy. You can make this into a game: see how many people you can say “Hi” to in one hour, one evening, or one day. ~10% of the time it will actually turn into a conversation. And that’s how any relationship begins.

c) Hang out in places where the people you’d like to hang out with already hang out. How many more times could I have used “hang out” in that sentence? At least one more time, but I spared you! You’re welcome. ;) This one is obvious, you wouldn’t try to sell food to someone who just ate, right? I mean, you could try, but you probably wouldn’t be successful. So don’t hang out in places where people you don’t want to attract hang out. Do things you enjoy doing and you will naturally meet other fun people who enjoy the same stuff as you.

d) Start a blog. I’ll write about this more some day, but connecting with people online is a great way to then connect with people offline. If you’ve written a blog for any length of time, I’m willing to bet you’ve met with at least one of your readers or another blogger in the same niche as you.

For additional reading, check out Gala Darling on Negative People. More serendipity? Gala’s issue #8 of Love & Sequins is all about Friendship: http://galadarling.com/article/love-sequins-8

Oh look, it’s your turn!

I’m going to take a page from Havi Brooks, and ask for specifically what I want and don’t want in the comments.

Don’t wants:

- Negativity. That’s obvious, right? :) Truthfully, I don’t even have to state this because you’re awesome and I’ve never had a problem with negative comments. Yay! Thank you for being sweet!

Wants:

- Positive ways to end a negative friendship. Since it’s a touchy subject, and I’m by no means an authority, let’s brainstorm how to make this necessary part of life happen more peacefully.

- Awesome ways to meet fun new people. Again, I’m not an expert, so I’m down for trying any new social experiment. What has worked for you?

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{ 45 comments }

mike

Hi Karol,
Another spot on post.
I moved to a new location (8000 miles away from home) about 18 months ago and have had to make new friends while I have been here (as opposed to continually thinking about the past). The key for me was to get out there and say hello, join groups (the local running club here was very surprised when I phoned them out of the blue and asked if I could join them on their weekly run!) and generally make the effort.
What you say about headphones is so true, I always say hello and smile even if people have headphones on, once they get over the surprise I usually get a hello or smile back :o).

I am due to relocate again in about 5 months and will being repeating the whole process, I enjoy the ‘challenge’ of getting to know new people and locations.

Keep up the good work

mike

Karol

Hey Mike,

Thanks for adding that! Running clubs, or any groups that you’re into, are great.

And that’s awesome you make the effort to talk to people with headphones on. I never do. That will have to change. :)

Karol

Ivana Sendecka

Hi Karol,
let me share with your tribe, my take on your super cool post;

@the bad kind of good:
you cannot help those who doesn’t want to be helped, it is waste of time and energy. those who need your help will seek you out;-)

@getting rid of unwanted friends:
my 1st mentor told me, if you want to be the best you have to learn from the best, so choose your friends accordingly;-)

I told my old time friends,
“guys i really don’t feel like to go out with you anymore, i feel i gotta go my own way. it doesn’t mean that i have forgotten our great times together or that you are not good enough for me, it is just that i gotta serve my best elsewhere now. i will remember and will cherish our memories, but simply our paths of the journey are different,now. anyhow you know where to find me.” >>> they don’t bother to call me out anymore, but in the same time they know i am present, open and reachable, in case they need help.

Realize, that you cannot please everyone and you cannot be liked by everyone.
Surround yourself with inspiring people and rise together.
;-)

cheers,
i.

Karol

Ivana, the way you handled getting rid of toxic friends is so good. It’s just so well put I don’t know what else to say. Thank you for sharing that. :)

Eugene

I recently had a friend fade out of my life. They got really into politics and then conspiracies and would get mad if people didn’t want to listen to them. At a certain point we stopped hanging out as often and now we don’t even talk anymore. In a way it feels good to cut the dead weight from your life. It’s sad to have to do it but it is YOUR life and you need to be responsible for your happiness.

Karol

Thanks for sharing Eugene. Yeah, it is sad, but it’s also necessary.

Vanessa

I had the work done for me once. I had an unhappy and unlucky, mildly paranoid schizophrenic friend, and he got put in jail. It was rather good timing, because I had my finals starting a week later… I sound so heartless. But I hadn’t even realized how badly he affected my daily mood, and motivation until I hadn’t seen him for a few days.

Karol

Whoa! A jailbird is probably not a good influence. ;) Thanks for sharing Vanessa!

To everybody: Vanessa is a singer/songwriter/awesome person. Check out her youtube: http://www.youtube.com/user/VanessaSurian

Vanessa

Hey wow, thanks for the link love! =D You rock more than a man should =D

Melissa Gorzelanczyk

Hi Karol – Avoiding the unlucky … I’ve had friends that I couldn’t believe how “unlucky” they were. And then I realized they really really loved talking about it. Thinking about it now, I almost wonder if being unlucky made them feel special.

Glad to have moved on and if you stop calling or hanging out, they eventually move on to other people who will listen to their unhappy, unlucky stories.

Karol

Thanks Melissa. Sometimes we don’t even realize what’s going on and how horribly someone is dragging us down.

Kurtis

I try several different approaches to these kind of people. ‘Physic vampires’ I have heard them called. First I call them out on their negativity. Ill call them ‘buzz kill’, or say ‘thanks for ruining my day’. Yesterday someone was saying ‘I’m just being realistic’. I told them ‘I don’t want realistic.’
If all else fails, I take the steps to drop them. Their loss.

ps: great post at a great time in my life.

Karol

Hi Kurtis,

Thanks, but going back at someone with negativity doesn’t help the situation. That’s why I stated “put the fault upon your shoulders.” It’s not cool to tell people they suck or make them feel even more shitty about themselves. That’s not at all what I’m advocating.

Karol

Shannon

I wonder how this applies to family? I’m struggling w/indirectly letting so many family members go because it’s the same toxic effect you describe here with negative friends.

Karol

Thanks Shannon. Great question. It applies the same way, as far as I’m concerned. Obviously since they’re family you will probably have to see them occasionally, but that doesn’t mean you should subject yourself to the torture of their negativity. So, while you can’t “break up” with family, you can distance yourself almost completely.

Lelly

Hey Shannon,
I thought I’d put in my two cents here. I recently had to semi break up with a family member who has a drinking problem. It was super hard because when it’s family you feel kinda like you’re abandoning them, but staying and letting them drag you down is only enabling the situation.
I sat him down and told him I was very concerned about him. I told him how he was affecting my life and the lives of others. Not to make him feel bad, but to help him see that he needs to seek help. I then told him that I didn’t want to watch him travel down that road, that I just couldn’t do it. I told him that I didn’t want him to call me to party anymore, or drunk call me with drama in the middle of the night. I said to him that I love him dearly and will always be here for him if he needs anything and I told him that if he wants to hang out sober he can call me.
I don’t hear from him a whole lot anymore but that’s to be expected. But the weight of trying to save him from himself is gone. I know that whatever he decides to do is his choice.
Good luck dealing with your own family. I hope this helps :)

Liz

I’v had to do this very recently. Twice actually. I normally go for the fadeout approach. I haven’t mastered making ‘good’ friends yet, but you were spot on with the smiling approach.
Smiling makes you more appealing to everyone.
Thanks for the post!

Karol

Thanks for sharing Liz! Sorry you had to do it twice, but congrats on doing what is necessary. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fadeout approach. Although I love what Ivana stated in the comments (above) for a direct approach.

Kristof

I’m lucky I’ve never had one of those really toxic friends I think. There have been friendships that sort of ended because of drifting apart and such but that usually occurred very naturally. I do however actively avoid toxic people that try to become my friend; life’s to short to get into new toxic friendships :).

Another problem on the friends front I have though is a friend (definitely not one of my best friends or anything but I do enjoy hanging out with her every once and then) who I never see anymore because her boyfriend doesn’t want her to see other guys alone. Although on one hand I’m fine with that because it’s her own choice if she wants to “obey” her boyfriend on this, on the other I feel this is not really a good guy for her and a bit of a toxic relationship in itself. I guess there’s not much I can do about it though since she’s in love with the guy and if it is in fact a toxic relationship (I might be wrong about this of course), she will have to find out for herself..

Karol

That’s awesome Kristof. Avoidance of toxic people is much easier than having to go through the “break up” process later.

As far as your friend: Yes, it is a toxic, unhealthy relationship. I could understand if it’s an ex-boyfriend he is uncomfortable with her spending alone time with, but otherwise, it’s just straight jealousy. Which is never good.

Srinivas Rao

Karol,

I’m a big fan of the 48 laws of power and I think your ideas in this post are very important for anyone who wants to be successful. One of the hardest things about ditching toxic friends is that they might be long term friends. In college I had some pretty toxic friends and getting them out of my life was a challenge, but ultimately worthwhile. On your “things to do once the toxicity is gone”, saying hello can lead to so much. One of things that fascinates me is how comfortable we are turning and saying hello to somebody in the digital world (i.e. joining a conversation on twitter), but in the physical world our fear and anxiety kicks in. It’s something I’m planning on exploring in greater detail over the next several months. The blog is kind of a no brainer in terms of connecting with people. If you haven’t read Mitch Joel’s book Six Pixels of Separation, I highly recommend it. Great ideas in this post.

Karol

Thanks for your input Srini.

That’s a great point about how easily we’ll say something to someone we don’t know online, but on the street it’s a whole other story. I’ve never really thought about that.

I haven’t heard of Six Pixels of Separation, but I’ll check it out!

Katie

Thanks Karol, great post! I especially enjoyed how you’ve distinguished between the “grocery store nice” and the “chronically absorbing other’s negativity nice”.
Over the years I’ve definitely employed your indirect approach to great success – no hurt feelings (that I know of). It’s taken me a while to understand that all “friends” are not created equal. The flip side of this for me is to make sure that I cultivate my more positive relationships.

Karol

Thank you Katie!

“The flip side of this for me is to make sure that I cultivate my more positive relationships.” This is something we all have to actively work on. Like anything there’s no magic pill and it takes work.

Bonnie

Sometimes the problem with negativity is that it is contagious. Someone says something negative, i.e., I hate my job or I hate my boss. The next thing you know is that the entire group is complaining about their job. The negative person that started the conversation gets validation but everyone else feels worse than when the conversation started. I try to be positive, and say something like, I love my job. That often either stops the conversation or makes others in the group realize that they don’t really hate their job. This has worked for me to drive some of the negativity out of a group of friends by not validating the negative ones.

Karol

Thanks Bonnie, for giving us an example of what I was referring to when I wrote “don’t take the bait.” It’s true that negativity is contagious. But so is positivity! Yesssssssss! :)

Willow

Thanks Karol, I like your post. You are so right, too. It starts with awareness. It is how we are in our own lives too. I have noticed that over the years, as I have gotten rid of toxic relationships, and have worked hard on improving myself as well, I have begun to attract some awesome friends who are positive and inspiring.

Karol

Thanks for commenting Willow. You make a good point. I’ve definitely found that by improving myself I attract more awesome people as well. I think it goes hand in hand. You want to be awesome, then when you start hanging out with awesome people they make you feel more awesome. It’s an awesome cycle! ;)

Andrew

I think that you can still be friendly with everyone, yet only choose to have really awesome friends. I totally agree that you can’t keep yourself around people that bring you down. Selfish to cut ties with them? Maybe, but I think it’s okay.

There’s an interesting thing with people that are in between, those that aren’t really awesome nor toxic. I found that the best way to repel or attract these people and make them awesome is to just keep resonating at your high level. I know that’s a bit newagey, but really, if you just stay strong, everyone else around you will have to raise to your “vibration”. I don’t evangelize or try and convert anyone to be vegetarian, but often times by me just staying strong and not folding to their indirect intimidation, quite a few end up eating healthier as a result of it.

So I would say if you know people that are just in the middle, to turn up your personality and awesome juices to polarize them into awesome and toxic – who wants mediocre friends? Sort them sooner rather than 3 years later when you realize they’re not a good match.

This was a bit common sense for me, but thanks again for saying it how it is Karol!

Caleb

I have also had trouble with jobs. A couple years ago I had a great job working at a summer camp kind of thing teaching video journalism to high school kids in the city. I was paired up with a woman who had recently graduated college to lead our group of high-schoolers, and although she was a fun person with lots of interesting stories, she was also full of negativity. She would always complain about our boss (who although he was yes, incompetent, he was really nice) and I got sucked into complaining too. We created a really negative environment after a few weeks, and the high school kids got sucked into it as well. It wasn’t until it was too late and the camp was nearly over that I realized how wrong that was. That was easily the best job I have ever had the chance to do, and I let a negative person cloud the experience. Not something I am proud of.

Then, last summer I got a job working at a movie theater. It seemed like it would be fun at first, but it quickly began to wear on me. In the break room the employees would mostly sit around and talk about how the job sucked, and I let myself become part of that again. To be fair the job really is awful and I would not recommend it to anyone, but still the negativity wasn’t helpful.

Since I am only going to be able to work for one month this summer, rather than apply for another job I called the theater and they agreed to have me come back. I start on Saturday. Hopefully I can avoid negative attitudes long enough to get through it. After this though I am going to get a better job. No sense in sticking around a place that drags you down.

Great article Karol. :)

Mara

How about one from a toxic person’s point of view? Well, I may or may not still be toxic, but I know that I was for many years. These days I can easily be found by old friends, but not many have come forward. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t take a chance on me, either! Quite a lot has changed over the past decade, though, and I protect myself from toxic people, situations, and choices. It works.

Alyse

I was wondering the same thing myself. But how does a toxic person change? (That is, if he/she realizes they are the toxic one and desires change.)

Karol

Hi Alyse,

That is a great question and might constitute a whole blog post on its own.

A good start is to apologize and be mindful when you’re being toxic. When I say apologize I mean talk to whoever you’ve been toxic to and straight up say “Listen, I know I’ve been a drag for a really long time. I’m changing that now. I want to apologize for bringing you down.” And other good stuff like that.

Karol

petal

I did this last year with a couple of toxic people. I didn’t do it right; I finally had had enough and cut ties with the group. The fall out was awful. Now it’s been almost a year and I have to say my life is much better for it, albeit I wish it had ended differently. I like them being gone, I just don’t like the attitude I get when I run into them. I’m going to have to be more diligent about not letting myself get sucked into another similar situation. It’s not worth the trade off in quality of life.

Kathy Jerzak

Great post – something I know about but thanks for the reminder.

Jeanie Witcraft

I’ve been using positivity in my work as a clinical therapist quite a lot recently. I call people out on their shit/excuses and (gently of course) force them to look in the psychic mirror at themselves much more than I had been previously.
I’m seeing an amazing amount of change and self sufficiency in even my most resistant/stuck clients. Awesome :)

As far as meeting people-I tend to focus on stuff that I like about people and GO FOR IT. My best pickup line EVER is- “Hi, I’m Jeanie. Whatcha reading?” I spend the next 6 hours getting their life story and I have a newfound friend, male or female. I made many good friends in Washington DC by living next door to a bar, getting into “the scene” and using Livejournal. Also-being that I’m hearing impaired it really really helps my focus on the person. Makes ‘em feel special that I’m watching them closely and genuinely interested in them. Feel free to steal my tip.

I am fairly serious about coming to meet you and other awesome people that I know. :) You intrigued me with your no holds barred attitude. The ability to effectively communicate is relatively rare, and I’m curious as to how well it translates backend to the person. ha!

Also-from watching certain TV shows-international, cosmopolitan people are fairly forgiving and much more positive as a whole than monolocators. I wonder if the expanded paradigm of different cultures, surviving “hassles” of travel are part of why? What are your thoughts on this phenomenon?

Kris

I was in a friendship that was like this about a year ago. The sad thing was, it was also a business partner, and I was having trouble separating the business side of it, and friendship. I thought it was the work that was bad, when it turns out it’s the person.

When the business dissolved, the friendship also ended, and rather badly. I told a few friends of mine, who weren’t her friends, that she was just unhappy and unlucky. Their first reaction was to tell me that people may be unhappy, but you can’t be so unlucky that you act a lot like a bad luck charm. (They haven’t had the chance to get to know REALLY toxic friends.)

A few months ago, she tried to extend some sort of olive branch, since she was trying to be a “good person”. Forgive, she said, as God had called us to forgive. I thought it was nice, and since I hate burning bridges, I went to a reunion she organized with friends. After the party though, I brought up the subject of some lose ends in our business, she just went bezerko. Got abusive, cursed, and took back the apology. Guess even though she was called by God to forgive, she wasn’t quite ready to give that freely.

So here I am now, a bit wiser. I learned that: you should take a long, HARD look before you get in business with a friend. Look at their past histories. My friend had a history of bad exits with all her jobs, but since I only knew her as a friend, I was more understanding. You may be friends, but sometimes, a resume speaks for itself.

Another, is that a person doesn’t need to be the dour critic in order to bring you down. My friend was very supportive in some endeavors, and tried to point out my best qualities. But she was also mentally unstable, and just all around SAD. All her high points were bittersweet, and her low points were bordering on suicidal. She was witty, and funny, but she was a drag. And that kind of heaviness is infectious, and can stifle creativity. I think I stayed, because I felt guilty abandoning a person whom I thought was drowning. But at the end of the day, you have to also save yourself. You won’t be much help to anyone if you’re both sinking.

Last, if the person hasn’t changed, then don’t come back. Don’t try to repair bridges unless they are genuine in their intentions. It doesn’t matter if they owe you money, or bully you into thinking that you’ve abandoned them. Cut your losses and go.

And if you have common friends, do not talk smack about it. Say the friendship ended, and unless they really want to know, do not say anything more. To keep complaining about the situation, you will have to talk about your toxic friend, and mentioning them over and over is a lot like being around them even when they’re not there. So unless it’s specifically asked, no more talking. Don’t get sucked back into the vortex. Just walk away.

Terry

If you want to meet people go outside and ask people about what they are doing. People love to talk about themselves and their work or hobbies.

Kristin Brown

Hey Karol,

Nice post! Dropping friends can definitely be awkward and I much prefer the fading away method.

As for making friends, I often do that by being friendly and approachable (I smile at most anyone if they happen to look me in the eyes), and then I start a conversation. Most people love nothing more than to talk about themselves, so the key is asking open-ended questions to get them started. It’s also helpful if you can hang out somewhere that involves doing something together. For example, I love to read and I’m at the bookstore quite a bit, but reading isn’t much of a group activity. On the other hand, I’m a rock climber too, and I meet a lot of people at the climbing gym since we’re all trying to work on various problems together, offer encouragement to each other, etc. If there’s a shared goal (in this case, getting up the route), it always makes for more conversation. :-)

Karol

Oohhh rock climbing is fun. I’ve only done it once, and indoors, but had a blast.

Thanks for sharing your insights Kristin!

Mike Roosa

I recently broke ties with one of my life long friends. It was difficult for sure but I had to do it. I just couldn’t sit back and watch him do the things to the people around him that he was doing. Great insights!

Jonny | thelifething.com

48 Laws? Lol, how am I gonna remember all them.

Karol

it’s not easy :)

shannon

Does this go for family too? I have broken ties with negative people the indirect way, and it pissed them off, they just can’t stop talking about me, but now family, my aunt and cousin, are doing more harm than good. I want them out of my life immediately. I’m tired of always having that negative energy lurk around because of them. I don’t want to do the direct approach because all that does is cause more issues, so is the indirect approach okay? Or how would you handle this?

Karol

Hi Shannon, yes it does go for family too. Unfortunately, every situation is different and I don’t know how I would handle yours. The truth is, anybody who is negatively impacting your life on a regular basis needs to be removed from your life.

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