This post is from staff writer April Dykman.
Do you have someone in your life who is a bad influence when it comes to your financial or career goals?
I've known a people like that. Typically this happens when you're trying to make new, positive changes in your life. For example, when I decided to not buy a new car for awhile, one friend gave me a hard time about it, making fun of my choice to save money before buying another vehicle. “I don't get it — what exactly are you saving for?” she asked.
Toxic people undermine your success
I hate to label people as “toxic”, but I can't think of a better word for people who tease you, make fun of your positive life choices, and don't support your goals or respect the time and effort you spend to achieve them.
In my experience, it's not that these people are cruel and out to get you. The real issue is that your success signals their failure.
You've heard the story (or maybe experienced it yourself) of the person who tries to lose weight, and their overweight friend undermines their success by tempting them with food or making fun of how much time they spend at the gym. Likewise, if you've decided to eat at restaurants less so you can build an emergency fund, a toxic friend might complain that you're “cheap” or “no fun” because really, he knows his own finances are a mess and doesn't want to address it!
But the problem with having toxic people in your life is that it can affect your attitude and your ability to reach your goals. When the people around you are constantly making negative remarks about your new, positive habits, it can start to get to you.
If, for example, you go the extra mile at work and a coworker makes fun of you for being a perfectionist, it can be tough to take. Or if you're excited about moving into a smaller home so you can save for retirement and your friend makes fun of your house, it stings.
At best, it's hurtful. At worst, it can undermine your financial and career success.
Are you loyal to a fault?
The real problem with toxic relationships is that we tend to stick with them. According to a joint survey conducted by TODAY.com and SELF magazine, 83% of those polled said they held onto a friendship longer than was healthy because it was so hard to break things off with a friend.
Why is that? Friendships, even negative ones, feel familiar, which makes them difficult to end, even if your “friend” is making fun of your efforts to save for retirement and pay off the mortgage. Also, there's the guilt factor. Despite how selfish or cruel someone is being (or maybe because of it, if you realize it stems from their insecurity), you feel guilty for acting in your own best interest.
Finally, sometimes we stick around because we don't have a choice. It's not easy to cut ties with a family member, coworker, or neighbor, because you still have them in your life in some capacity.
Extracting yourself from toxic relationships
If you suspect that a person in your life is undermining your goals, first, identify how they lead you astray.
Does this person routinely criticize or undermine the positive goals you've set, making you feel like they're dumb or not worthwhile? Do they encourage you to spend beyond your budget, even after you've shared your goals?
If the relationship is harmful, then you have to decide what's to be done about it.
You could do one of two things:
- End the friendship. This is a pretty straightforward approach — you cut off communication and the relationship is over.
- Learn how to handle the person. If it's your mom insisting you “deserve” to buy yourself a $300 pair of shoes or a coworker teasing you for “sucking up” when you're only trying to do a good job, you can't cut off contact so easily. (Well, maybe you can try, but in most cases the fallout will make things worse!)
So let's say that you've decided (or you're forced) to continue to deal with this person. How can you handle them so that your success isn't derailed? Here are a few options:
- Be straightforward and inclusive. Be upfront about your financial goals, and try inviting them to participate with you. “I've been trying to save an emergency fund, would you be interested in joining me so we can do it together?”
- Spend less energy on the relationship. If honesty and a “team” approach don't work, you might need to pull away from the friendship. This might mean hiding their Facebook status updates, hanging out less often, or slowly reducing your lunch dates from three times a week to once a month.
- Focus on the good. Is there an activity that brings the two of you together in a positive way? Maybe when you do things as a part of a group, your friend doesn't make negative comments. Or maybe when you go for a run together, he or she is too out-of-breath to make dismissive comments! Do more of those things and drop the kinds of social activities where your friend is more prone to undermine and criticize.
Finally, don't forget you can expand your social circle! Find more like-minded friends who share your goals, take a successful coworker to lunch, or seek out a mentor to keep you motivated and on the right track.
I'm sure everyone has their own stories about toxic friendships, so let's share in the comments! How did you deal with it? What lessons did you learn?