By Renee Reese
“ You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
Year after year, I would cringe every time I heard this quote. Deep down, I knew that I didn’t want to be like the majority of the people I surrounded myself with. Even deeper down, I knew that while I was giving my time, heart, and energy to these friendships and romantic relationships, I was doing deep damage to my soul. It may sound harsh, but let me be clear. These people weren’t all truly horrible people, but the relationships were horrible for me. As I began to heal from my past traumas, I realized I had taken a backseat in my own life and just let life happen to me. I never chose who came in and out of my life. I let people break up with me, even if I wanted to break up first. I held on to toxic friendships, because I just didn’t believe I had the strength to get out of them. These relationships were unsafe for me, but I was holding on for dear life.
To live well, we need to both be a safe person and surround ourselves with safe people. Safe relationships are the ones that are healthy and help us to grow. In their book, Safe People, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend identify a safe relationship as one that draws us closer to God, draws us closer to others, and helps us become the real person God created us to be.
The people in your life are critical to your healing, wellness, and joy. Whether you’re aware of it or not, the people in your life are rubbing off on you. There are no neutral friendships. Your friendships are either helping your healing or hindering it. Who you are friends with is one of the most important decisions you will make, but the important thing is you get to choose. You get to choose who’s in your space. You get to choose who’s allowed into your heart.
Where should you start?
1. Start with you
Your journey to healthy friendships starts with you. If you pair an unhealthy person with a healthy person, the relationship will likely still be unhealthy. The unhealthy one may be you. In friendships that went awry, think about exactly where things went wrong. Are you the toxic one in your friendships? Are you contributing to the toxicity in any way? It may be tough to consider, but be honest with yourself, figure out the root cause, and get some healing. If you find yourself surrounded with toxic people, ask yourself why you’re choosing these relationships. Emotionally healthy people tend to make healthier decisions, so start with your own healing.
2. Believe that safe people are out there.
Take some time and get a vision for what healthy friendships and relationships look like. Think about what you want in a friendship. Hold on to the belief that you actually can have healthy friendships and that safe and healthy people do exist.
3. Find friends who show you grace.
These are the friends that you can make mistakes with. You shouldn’t have to hide who you are in your friendships. You should be allowed to be a little weird with those closest to you. You should be allowed to be human, have separate opinions, and be whomever it is that God created you to be. If you constantly feel the need to walk on eggshells, this may be a sign that the relationship isn’t healthy. Have friends you can talk to openly and who make a practice of forgiving.
4. Find friends who tell you the truth in love
You need someone to tell you about yourself sometimes. Someone who can show you where you’re wrong and challenge your weaknesses. But great friends listen, ask questions, and pray. Be wary of those who have a ready-made opinion or agenda they want to inflict upon you, especially if it’s regarding something they’ve never experienced for themselves or something that is not rooted in truth. Some people have a habit of telling you their version of the truth, with no grace attached. They come ready to attack your character and throw your mistakes in your face in the name of “keeping it real.” They immediately see grace as sugar-coating, instead of seeing grace as speaking with humility and maturity. Sugar-coating doesn’t help anyone, but grace tells the truth while still leaving your dignity in tact. While you definitely need to hear the truth, when it’s done without grace, it can be severely damaging. Dr. Henry Cloud says “ And while we need to be confronted of our weaknesses, unsafe people, however, confront us not to forgive us, but to condemn and punish us. They remove their love until we are appropriately chastened.” This is not friendship. That is not about telling you the truth.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, it’s a starting point in cultivating healthy relationships. As you move forward, you’ll find what works for you on this road to healing.