Many self-development experts say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
When starting down the path of improving yourself and getting your life together, you might start noticing that some of the people you spend time with are not that positive or supportive. This post will discuss some reasons for why this is the case, and how to properly eliminate negative influences from your life so you can craft a social environment that supports your growth rather than hinders it.
Getting started down the path of self-improvement can be very difficult if you have been thinking and acting in the same ways for many years. This process can be even more difficult if the people closest to you are not supportive.
The people you surround yourself with have a major influence on your thoughts and behaviors, since emotions are contagious. If you are shy and socially anxious, chances are that many of your friends are. Like attracts like.
When you start taking actions to improve yourself, the people around you may become alarmed and try to sabotage you. Generally, their discouragement will take the form of mocking or making fun, pessimism, criticism, berating, etc. Some might tell you that you’re trying too hard. Others might consider self-improvement to be a cult that is full of lies and bullshit.
Why People Discourage You From Changing
There are several possible explanations as to why people might discourage you from improving yourself and becoming the person you want to be.
In a social group, your friends will see you changing as a threat to the power balance of the group. They might worry about losing you as a friend, so they will discourage you from taking action.
Most of the people closest to you, including your family, friends, colleagues, and mentors, generally have good intentions. Discouragement is simply their way of trying to protect you from getting hurt or being disappointed. Often, they are simply projecting their insecurities onto your situation.
Occasionally, someone close to you may maliciously discourage you and try to bring you down, although this is more likely to happen with strangers or acquaintances. These negative people might not want to see you succeed because they have been failing their whole lives, or they’re too scared to take action themselves, and seeing you succeed would magnify their feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
On the other hand, people who are naturally successful may not see you as being able to or worthy of reaching their level, so they will take it as a hit to their ego and will try to discourage or undermine you as a way of “reducing the competition.” This is also an expression of insecurity and inadequacy, just from a different perspective.
Now that you understand some of the logic behind sabotage, it’s important to learn how to respond to and if necessary, eliminate negative influences in a way that will not cause it to backfire on you!
Negativity from your family can be the most difficult to deal with, especially if you live with them. However, you have to keep in mind that once you are a legal adult, it’s your responsibility to take charge of your life, and no one has the right to hinder you. Don’t use your family as an excuse not to get your shit together.
One good strategy is to become aware of conversation topics that lead to negativity, and steer clear of them. If you are living at home with your parents, for example, keep busy with hobbies and minimize your time at home by going out and socializing more.
If you’re a student, go away to college. Dorming on campus is also a great way to become more independent and build your social network. If you’ve already graduated, assuming you have a solid job or business venture, move out and get your own place, or share an apartment with some roommates to save on rent and other expenses.
Friends & Social Circle
In my experience, there are basically two types of negative friends: those who are generally nice but are usually negative and depressing to hang out with, and those who are maliciously negative and discourage you through criticism and berating.
For the first type, you can reduce contact with, but not necessarily cut them out completely. Many of my old friends were similar to me in that they were shy, unadventurous, and unsuccessful with women. A typical night out would involve us going to a bar, sitting at a table getting wasted and talking about sports, politics, and other random topics.
Once I discovered self-improvement and wanted to start going out to build my social skills, suddenly hanging out with these guys wasn’t enjoyable anymore. I had a hard enough time approaching girls when I went out with positive and motivating wingmen, but with negative or shy people it was basically impossible to get the motivation to approach.
Not everyone is going to be interested in cold approach, so it’s important not to force your friends into it. You can still hang out with these guys to grab lunch, see movies, and watch or play sports, but don’t go out with them to bars and clubs when you are trying to meet girls. Going out with them in these settings will just cause frustration and resentment, and they will negatively affect your social value and interactions.
Now we turn to how to handle the “friends” who are maliciously negative. Hopefully many of you won’t have to deal with such negative influences. I had one friend who was like this, constantly criticizing every little thing I said and did, misinterpreting my intentions, putting words in my mouth, and trying to shame me into submission. Conversations would lead to arguments, leaving me feeling angry, agitated, and unheard.
The distress associated with the whole situation lasted many months because I didn’t know how to properly address it. Instead of being honest and open with how I felt in the moment, I cut off contact with him and hoped that he would get the message. Internally, all the negative feelings I had towards him built up, to the point where I was thinking about it everyday.
Six months after I cut off contact, he tried to get in touch with me a few times, at which point I couldn’t hold my feelings in anymore, and sent a long message explaining why I didn’t want to associate with him. This decision proceeded to blow up in my face, sparking a day-long argument through Facebook messenger that left both of us feeling terrible.
The important lesson here is to not simply cut off contact with a friend without addressing the issue, because you will hang on to anger and resentment, and it will build up and potentially lead to bigger arguments and fights down the road. If someone close to you offends you, speak up right away and make it clear that you will not accept that person’s behavior, and that you will end the friendship if it continues.
Strangers & Acquaintances
Dealing with negativity from strangers or acquaintances should be the least troublesome compared to friends or family, since you won’t have any strong emotional ties to them. As mentioned in my article on the Two Stages of Overcoming Social Anxiety, realize that people’s thoughts and opinions are a reflection of their own perceptions, experiences, and insecurities.
In dealing with any negative influence, don’t waste your time and energy criticizing them or trying to argue with them and make them see things from your side. This will only cause them to become defensive, incurring further arguments, and spreading negative energy around.
The point here is to let go of trying to prove yourself to the negative influences in your life. Simply focus on taking action to improve yourself, and maybe one day these people will see things from a different perspective. But if not, that’s still okay.