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Firing Your Friends

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

No, we’re not talking about a work situation where you need to fire your best friend (though that can be quite a task as well!). We’re talking about eliminating negative and toxic relationships from your life. Read on as Dev Goswami & Sara Shah tell you more

Have you ever thought, “My life would be so much better if (insert name of a toxic friend) wasn’t part of it!?” If you’re honest with yourself, you will probably be able to recount at least one such episode. The deep attachments that friendship comes with can make you oblivious to the negative effects that your friends can sometimes have on you. And, if you’ve been wondering why we are talking about a subject like this in our Health & Fitness issue, you, like most people, probably take your emotional well-being for granted.

At the risk of sounding preachy, we should tell you that being healthy is about more than just eating right and exercising periodically. Your emotional state is just as important. Being stressed out, filled with negative emotions or having a lack of self-esteem can impact the quality of the life you lead. A toxic relationship can contribute to these factors, making them worse. Today, we’re telling you more about this — from the benefits of friendship and the misconceptions about caring for someone to when it’s a good idea to cut someone out of your life. Read on to find out how to handle negativity and keep your emotional state from ruining your health.

Why all the brouhaha?
Of course, we know that you’re smart enough to realise when someone is negatively impacting your life. In fact, as Dr. Rashi Ahuja, a counselling psychologist from ePsyClinic.com, tells us that negativity doesn’t play a significant role in our lives. She explains, “When it comes to adults, the effects that negative friends have on us is quite limited.” The problem arises, she adds, when you’re overly attached to a negative friend. She tells us, “For example, if your friend is judgmental in his/ her thinking, it’s very likely that you may also get influenced by their thought process.” Still doubtful about how negativity affects you? Remember that there is a direct connection between negativity and your stress levels. And stress levels have for long been shown to lead to several physiological problems, most of which are centred around your heart. If you’re thinking that linking negative thoughts to physical ailments is a stretch, read our section on the nocebo effect to find out more about the well-documented manner in which negativity can affect you.

Benefits of friendship
Having good friends goes beyond having people with whom you can spend both good and bad times. Friends lend support, which is crucial to your emotional balance. And even studies have shown this — one Australian study, for example, proved that those with a big group of friends outlived people who had fewer friend by 22%. Dr. Rashi adds, “I firmly believe that friendships are important in shaping your personality. It obviously isn’t as important or necessary as food and oxygen, but friendships are important to maintain your emotional stability. Not only are friends good companions, but they also provide you with a support system.”

Taking things to far
Your emotions can affect your health to such an extent that toxic relationships can be quite harmful for you. However, cutting too many people out and avoiding conflict can make it worse. Dr. Rashi tells us that this depends on how attached you are to your friend. The word toxic itself often gets used for a number of things in our life, making it difficult to understand which friends are actually bad for you. Someone who is difficult to deal with or is demanding (for example a friend who is never on time or keeps asking you for favours) may be annoying to deal with but does that mean that you need to cut them out from your life? No! Think of it this way — a friend you’ve known for years, who complains about how you don’t spend time with him/ her isn’t someone who’s having a negative impact on your life.

But, an ex who uses their emotions to manipulate your thoughts and actions is definitely someone you need to let go of. Dr. Rashi adds, “The fact that you can recognise which of your friends are not good for you, is the first sign that something may be wrong. However, don’t jump to conclusions. Take time to analyse how this friend affects your life before you make a decision.”  

Is it okay to care too much?
It’s human nature to get attached to people or to a certain object in the long run. And, when we’re forcefully detached from that someone or something, it can take a toll on us emotionally. When people are emotionally sensitive, they are often labeled as “weak” by others around them because of their vulnerability and the habit they have of expressing their emotions. We all may have come across someone who is unable to contain themselves in situations where their emotions are put to the test. But, doesn’t mean that caring for someone makes you emotionally vulnerable or weak. Dr. Rashi believes that, while caring for someone might add stress to your life, it doesn’t make you weak. “It isn’t weakness to care too much. In fact, it is healthy to let your emotions out, rather than keeping them bottled up,” she tells us.

So, negative friends – keep them or dump them?
How does it help?
Whether they’re bad for you or not, cutting ties with your friends can be difficult, especially if you’re attached to them. However, everyone goes through tough times in their lives, so remember that if you make the wrong decision, you will have to deal with the same impact that a toxic relationship can have on your life. Dr. Rashi explains that cutting out toxic friends from your life definitely brings a positive change. She says, “Change is the only constant in our lives and any change is likely to affect us in some way or another. Obviously, if your friend had toxic habits that rubbed off on you, cutting them out would definitely bring a positive change. You won’t have deal with problems other than your own.” But, is it enough to cut ties with them?

Some repercussions
Every action is bound to have some reaction. And even cutting out negative people from your life can affect you. “Cutting out people can negatively affect you, especially if it was someone you were deeply attached to. It is likely that your mood will be affected by it for a while. For example, if you were betrayed by your friend, it would lead to depression (depending on the level of attachment) or even trust issues,” explains Dr. Rashi.

The Nocebo Effect
You’ve probably heard about the placebo effect — a phenomenon where a person starts recuperating from a certain disease because they believe that they’ve been given an effective treatment, which in reality isn’t real. The placebo effect has a mysterious cousin — the nocebo effect. If we were to give you a tablet and explain to you that the side-effects include nausea, you will feel nauseous after you consume the medication. But, in reality, the tablet is fake, and has absolutely no side effects! Scientists believe that this shows how negative thoughts can sometimes result in physiological problems. There is also a theory that if, before a surgery, a person is certain that he might pass away during the operation, his chances of dying are higher than others who are simply scared of undergoing the surgery. This, of course, is largely unverified and we are sceptical about the theory ourselves, but it shows us that negativity isn’t as innocent as it seems.

When the going gets tough
When things get difficult to handle, we usually have two common ways to deal with the situation — we shut ourselves off emotionally or distance ourselves from the problem. The former is an unhealthy tendency that will ultimately lead to stress. Dr. Rashi explains, “Shutting yourself off is a defence mechanism and is a sign of trust issues.” She adds that it won’t really affect you immediately, but in the long run, bottled up emotions can cause resentment, which is not an ideal emotional state to be in. She suggests, “It is always good to let in good people who can support you emotionally. You should always think of unfortunate incidents as learning experiences instead of shutting down.” The other response — cutting out any friend who pose a threat to you (imagined or actual) — can lead to a bad pattern of running away from situations that you think you cannot handle. Apart from the obvious impact of leaving you without any emotional support, it also makes you incapable of handling such situations. Dr. Rashi explains it perfectly,  “Our struggles are what make us stronger and give us the resistance and strength to fight. Being constantly betrayed by people, especially your friends, can turn you into a flight risk, which in turn results in you shutting people out, affecting your emotional health.”

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