Breaking up with friends who drain you (again)

In the past few months I’ve made the challenging decision (again) to break up with a friend or two.

At the start of Covid I became really overwhelmed by all the workshops, phone calls, Zoom calls, and voice messages.

At first it was exciting. As an introvert, I was stoked to be able to socialise with so many people without the pressure to actually have to go out and socialise!

But then I overdid it on the Zoom dance parties and Zoom yoga and Zoom wines and Zoom all the things, (see above for a particularly fun night out (in my bedroom) with a few legends.)

Before long I started to find that after big days of talking to hundreds of people in corporate workshops on Zoom (which became an everyday occurrence), I had nothing left in me for socialising.

And then my brain started shutting down.

Neville started pulling down all the shutters in my brain to try and block out all the noise.

Then he lay on the couch and said “Nah”.

To everything.

I couldn’t handle listening to voice messages from my favourite people.

I couldn’t handle Bumble.

I couldn’t handle any news.

I felt too mentally tired for any more input. Like someone had shoved cotton wool behind my eyes and then filled my head with sand.

When my phone rang, I looked at it like it was a bomb and then went to hide under my bed.

I didn’t even want to read or watch Netflix. (Well… until I heard about Normal People, with which I promptly became obsessed)

I decided it was time to retreat. So I told all my mates and family that I’d be hibernating and that they may not hear back from me for a while.

I started focussing only on my corporate workshops and 1:1 clients… literally no one and nothing else.

For 2 weeks.

Day by day my energy started to return and I started reaching out to friends and family again.

Which was when I realised that there were some friends in my life that I COULDN’T WAIT to reconnect with. And some friends that I definitely could.

I was still on low mental energy, and when I looked out at the landscape of my friendships, I realised there were some places where I didn’t have the energy to venture anymore.

These were friends that I could only see when I was full of energy, because I always left those catch ups a bit depleted by their negativity, blaming or complaining.

So now that I was already depleted, I knew I just didn’t have the spare energy to expend on them anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong, I always have energy for my close friendships where we mutually support each other through hard times, just as much as we laugh and play.

I love supporting friends through tough times, and I’m so bloody grateful that despite having been socially inept for a large chunk of my life, I now have beautiful friends who are more than willing to support me right back (with incredible wisdom) when I need it.

Even though I can be as stubborn as a mule at asking for help.

However, there were a couple of friends in my sphere who I felt took a lot out of me, and whom I felt gave me very little in return in the way of empathy, support, encouragement, joy, nor even presence or listening.

And so, thanks to the wake up call that was COVID-19 I chose to end those friendships.

I didn’t make the decisions lightly, and I talked it through with a number of close friends to see whether I was being too selfish or unkind.

It was hard, and definitely not fun.

But ultimately it was one of the most liberating and empowering things I’ve done for a long time.

I have always worried that I was too selfish,

so I had kept up the friendships with these friends even though I knew they drained me, and had been draining me for years. I felt they really valued my support, and that I would be a shit person if I left them alone, as many others had done, to fight their never-ending struggles and frustrations with the world.

Until one day I just didn’t have the energy for it – and I realised I had a choice.

Save my energy for me and my closest family and friends, or give it to people who rarely gave it back.

What happened when I ended these friendships came as a bit of a shock.

Instead of proving to myself that I was selfish and unkind, I instead found myself becoming exponentially more selfless, more giving, and more energised than I have been in years.

My energy started overflowing again, and suddenly, I had a lot to give.

It turns out that being “selfish” (setting boundaries around relationships that were not serving me) freed up my energy to pour it into my other incredible friends.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post called Breaking up with friends. I stand by that post more than ever now.

And as my awesome coach Bruce wisely pointed out,

it is not possible for a relationship to be terrible for one and great for the other – it is always two ways, even if it’s hard to see how exactly.

(And yes, my coach is a motorbike-loving Kiwi bloke with a grey mullet and a handlebar moustache. What a legend.)

I now have faith that these friends are better off without me in their lives also. I’ll write more about my mind-blowing revelations around that another day.

If you have friendships in your life that really aren’t serving you (and haven’t been for a very long time) – consider this:

By maintaining a relationship that you resent and which drains you – what if you are harming them just as much as you think they’re harming you?

Perhaps then you will be willing to make the hard choice, and choose wisely who to spend your most precious resource on.

As one friend pointed out as I talked over my impending decision with her – Brené Brown seems to agree. In her research, she found that the most compassionate people have just one thing in common:

Rock solid boundaries.

They say no to everything that doesn’t work for them.

This seemed counterintuitive, but upon looking deeper, Brené and her team of researchers concluded that their boundaries seemed necessary to free up their energy to be compassionate and generous with everyone and everything that they choose to say yes to.

A no to one person is a yes to another.

Sometimes doing something that feels selfish is the most selfless thing you can do.

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