Please don't take this title seriously.
I don't know what I'm doing half the time.
But I'm definitely figuring it out.
This is a post that I started writing about a month ago but hesitated to complete for a multitude of reasons including, "Who the hell am I to talk about this?" and "Maybe I am the problem?".
Then a close childhood friend of mine, A, stood up to her own family. To people who'd been bullying her for over three decades. People who formed a part of her identity, people she thought she'd never be able to cut out of her life.
A is the least confrontational person I know. She makes friends for life, has the brightest smile, loves unconditionally, and gives everyone a rope long enough to hang themselves with.
And when someone like her brushes off questions like "Maybe I am the problem?" and bravely stands up for her own mental wellbeing, you'd be a fool not to pull out a notebook and take some notes.
The list below compiles lessons from my own personal experiences (mostly) and those of people I admire in my life. Take what you like and leave the rest, but let me know in the comments if there's anything you'd like to add to this list.
"Am I the problem?"
Let's start there. Look inwards first. My mum always says that when you point your index finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing right back at you.
I follow this rule to the level of paranoia and self-doubt and my advice to you is to never go that far. Try to identify exactly what it is about a person that makes you want to cut them out of your life and maybe take those reasons to some of your constants - people who've been in your life for a long time and don't shy away from calling out your own bullshit. Do not go to your yes-men and women during this time. And try to be systematic and logical rather than emotional when you talk about what's bothering you.
"Am I being rash?"
Did you give them the benefit of the doubt? Did you try talking to them about what's bothering you? Did you maybe even try to support them in their attempts to rectify their behaviour? Or is it a fundamental mismatch of values (no saving that relationship, I'm afraid)?
I'll be the first one to admit that I've been rash in the past. Cowardly, even. I've shrunk away from confrontation, been passive-aggressive, and hinted at my displeasure without coming out and saying it. From my experience, all this does is prolong the torture. You will waste weeks, months and even years of your life getting constantly triggered and being miserable. And when the last straw breaks your back, you will have an extreme reaction to something moderately douchy from their part. Something they'd try to pass off as a "joke". This then gives the douchebag ammunition to label you as "crazy" and "sensitive" and "emotional".
Ideally, you don't want your douchebags to be left with ammo against you but it's still okay if they do (more on that in the next point). What's not okay is any shame you may feel for not walking away from this problem in a manner that would make you respect yourself the most.
Take it from someone who's felt this shame in the past and go straight for the kill. It'll be the scariest, most uncomfortable thing you'll do for a long time but with the long-term joys of not having a toxic person in your life, you'll also be able to revel in the pride of having done it in a way that keeps your conscience clear.
You can't control their narrative
No matter how clearly you articulate to them that "your words and actions are hurting me", sometimes, all they'll hear is "I'm irrational and enjoy kicking up a storm with perfect human beings like you".
To be fair, if they were interested in listening to constructive criticism in the first place, you wouldn't be cutting them out of your life.
In the past, immediately after taking that big step with someone, I've found myself being drawn back into conversations about them after hearing that they were spreading lies or talking shit behind my back.
As much as you'd want to react under these circumstances, just try to remind yourself of the reasons why you wanted them out of your life in the first place. And yes, them twisting the narrative is a part of it.
You can't control what they'll say about you. And their narrative has nothing to do with you. All that matters at the end of the day is that they're out, and you're life's better for it.
An unfortunate by-product of cutting ties with someone is having to deal with the collateral damage. And by that, I mean other people who will be affected by this rift. These could be people you might end up losing as a result and you need to make sure you're comfortable with that.
For instance, if it's a toxic uncle in your family, chances are, his spouse and children (his emotional and financial dependents) will never speak to you again. Maybe this will affect your parents' and siblings' relationship with this family too. This is where it's ideal to come clean with your own people and rationally explain what's going on. Set the expectation that you're not looking for them to pick sides. Hopefully, they'd be more cognizant of how you're being triggered and when (if) shit hits the fan, the people who matter the most to you will understand why this step was necessary.
Personally, I'm open to forgiving someone once. I genuinely believe that people are capable of change and if anything, I want to encourage those who put in the effort. But I'm not a fan of getting scathed more than twice.
In my opinion, people who say things like "a leopard never changes its spots" when talking about themselves, are lazy and egoistic. You won't find those people putting in the effort to form genuine, long-lasting relationships with others.
But if someone does show you that they have a conscience and the grace to apologise in the pursuit of a better relationship with you, give them that chance.
I have had both positive and negative experiences from having people back in my life. Let me know what your opinion is on this.
Plan for the future
No joke, sit down and create an action plan for the future. Shane thinks this is a bit extreme but hear me out - if you have this plan in place from the beginning, you end up saving a lot of time and emotional investment in the future.
What I mean by an action plan is planning for inevitable future scenarios like, say, death. What happens if they die? What happens if someone close to you dies and they show up? What happens if they're diagnosed with a terminal illness? What if it's you that gets diagnosed?
There will be weddings, funerals, parties, calamities, births and pandemics in the future. I find it really helpful to (if not have a plan set in stone then to) at least have an idea of what I'd do under the circumstances and where I stand.
Write down this plan, share it with someone you trust and enlist them to remind you where you stand with somebody.
This is particularly helpful for me because I'm a champion at doubting myself and my past decisions. Moreover, when I cut someone out, I do it so thoroughly that with time, I genuinely forget what they look like and what they'd done to upset me all those years ago. If you're like me, your action plan and the people you trust can serve to remind you to not go burning your fingers yet again.
I'm sure I've just scratched the surface of this topic with this post and I'm sure some might say that you should always try to mend relationships with people instead of cutting them out, but I respectfully and wholeheartedly disagree. It took a while for me to get to a stage where I genuinely love and respect the person I am becoming. I look around myself and appreciate all the people who enrich my life in a multitude of ways and share the same values as I do.
There's no space for any soul-sucky vampires in this life and I'm going to cherish that feeling of relief I get when I know I'll never have to hear back from someone who was just wrong for me.
Stay safe and stay sane, everyone! And let me know in the comments what you'd add to this post.
Photo by Kevin Ramdhun on Unsplash