The art of saying no and letting go of toxic people

Growing up, we are always taught that the decent thing to do is forgive and forget. Those words have been repeated for generations, drilled into our minds with other basic moral teachings like saying “please” and “thank you.” But now, far away from those elementary classrooms where teachers taught us originally “forgive and forget,” I can’t help but think about how that phrase needs to be forgotten. 

Okay, maybe not entirely. It’s useless to hold onto grudges when someone wrongs you because ultimately it only hurts you and keeps you from moving on. I completely agree with that. However, I don’t think that forgiving someone for wronging you necessarily means you should keep them in your life. That’s the hard part though: knowing when to forget what they did and how they made you feel, and when to just forget that person.

I’ve always been someone who forgives extremely easily. Even if I don’t exactly forgive them, I let them get away with it. In high school I had this friend who used to just never have anything nice to say to me. Ever. She’d criticize my hair, my clothes and even aspects of my personality. 

Yet I stuck around. I considered her a friend and always seemed to be there for her when she needed help with a personal problem or to listen to her cry about a boyfriend. Looking back now, I feel as if the only reason I didn’t tell her to take a hike was because I believed the things she said about me. 

Seven years later I look back at that and regret being there for someone who so obviously was a toxic person in my life who gave me a lot of insecurities in high school. All the times I did favors, I should have just said no. It’s a learning process though, right?

Now I come across similar people. People who will knock someone down to build themselves up. The truth of the matter is these people are trying to make others feel as badly as they feel about themselves. They’re not happy and if anything they need your compassion and help. That said, it doesn’t mean they deserve it. 

There’s a children’s book called “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and it perfectly sums up the way a negative friend affects your life. That mouse kept asking for more and more, making a mess of the kid’s house and giving nothing in return. It’s a silly example, but I think it works.

No one should ever settle for the company of someone who tears them down. It’s important to realize that. We’re not obligated to keep people in our lives; isn’t that why we break up with the people we date? We know we deserve more. I think that it shouldn’t be so different with a negative friend; sometimes you need to break up with the ones who don’t treat you the way you should be treated. 

I don’t mean for this to be pessimistic, and I’m not necessarily giving advice because this is a concept that even I currently struggle with. What I am trying to say is that life is too short to spend it with people who don’t value you. Even if they do care, sometimes their own emotional baggage doesn’t allow them to express it. That’s still unhealthy. The best way for these types of people to grow and realize that their behavior is wrong is to be left alone. 

So, cut ties. Burn bridges. At the end of the day, someone else’s happiness and emotional well-being is not as important as your own.