Two people are sitting next to each other on a bench. The one has their hands up and is spewing toxic smoke from their words. The other person looks uncomfortable and upset.

Toxic Relationships: Work It Out or Kick Them Out?

A large part of life is made up of the many relationships you have with all the different people you interact with. Significant others, family members, friends, coworkers, your doctors, and so on. You might have excellent relationships with some of these people, but you might also have some not-so-great relationships with others. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your circumstances in life may be; the quality of your relationships will greatly affect you.

The impact of your relationships

A positive relationship can leave you feeling good about yourself, motivated, inspired, hopeful, gracious, and loved. In contrast, a negative relationship can leave you feeling poorly about yourself, stressed out, pessimistic, unmotivated, and even unloved. While this concept definitely applies to every human being on this planet, it is especially crucial for people living with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS) as the feelings that the people in your life leave you with can directly affect your health and the decisions you make about it.

Multiple sclerosis was really new to me

Something I learned very early on in my journey with MS was that some people, even those who I considered to be really good friends, actually had a relatively negative impact on how I felt. At the time, the whole MS thing was obviously really new to me, and so I felt like my world was inside a giant snow globe that my diagnosis had vigorously shaken up. My life had suddenly plunged into a confusing mess of swirling mayhem where nothing made any sense, and I now had to learn to adapt to it all. Even though it seems obvious now, I didn’t realize that many of the relationships in my life were now taking more of a toll on me than I could handle. I just didn’t have the energy to deal with all the drama anymore.

MS drained my energy to cope with certain relationships

No one is perfect. I know I’m certainly not. Not then, and not now. Everyone has their flaws, but part of a good relationship, especially among friends and loved ones, is learning to work with those flaws. Give and take. But unbeknownst to me, MS was slowly draining me of the energy I had at my disposal to be as flexible with people as I once was. Things that had never bothered me before, like a friend who liked to argue with every little thing I said, were starting to really get on my nerves. I remember telling them this (in very different words, ahem), but considering the fact that I myself didn’t even know why I was now feeling this way about some of the things they did, I’m sure it seemed really unusual to them.

Pulling away from stressful relationships

So, at first, I just started blocking people out of my life. Not because I had sat down and really measured the pros and cons of my relationships with them, but because I was just trying to “make it stop” as quickly as possible. Kind of like how your body reacts to touching a hot pan; without even thinking about it, you pull back as fast as you can. I was trying to get away from any source of unnecessary stress that I could because stress seemed to make me feel terrible. Some of my symptoms would immediately get worse, and sometimes new ones would appear! I didn’t fully understand why this was, but I understood that it was bad, and I needed to pull away before I got burned.

Thinking it through before burning bridges

If only I could go back in time and share what I know now with myself. I would know that what I really needed to do was stop, take a deep breath in, slowly let it out, and think. Think about what it was specifically that was getting to me and, more importantly, why it was getting to me. Then I would have known that what I really needed to talk to people about was not what I had actually brought up with them. If they, as well as I, had actually known what was going on with me, maybe things would have worked out differently. Perhaps we could have mended bridges instead of burning them down. We could have strengthened our relationships instead of ending them.

Some people can't accept the changes

But then again, maybe things would have turned out the same way regardless of how I handled the situation. I’ve talked with enough people who are also living with MS to know that life is full of people who just can’t, or won’t, even try to recognize that something has changed. They either don’t make an effort to work with you or they, for whatever reason, start to treat you worse! Maybe it’s like how some little kids start to act out when a new sibling is brought into the family? They are jealous over how much attention this strange new change is getting because it’s attention that would have previously gone to them? I have no idea. I don’t feel like I’ve ever dealt with the latter regarding my MS. I’ve only ever really dealt with people who can’t seem to recognize that something about me has changed and that I have new limitations we all needed to learn to work with.

Taking care of yourself first

This is when I would say that cutting ties with someone is the right thing to do. You have to take care of yourself before you can try to take care of someone else, especially when that someone else is actively causing you stress (or in the case of MS, harm). And especially if they aren’t doing anything to try to work with you. I was watching a self-help video (I wish I could remember how I came across it), and it touched on this exact situation. The video talked about how if you sat down at a bench, and then someone else sat down next to you and started smoking, even after you asked them not to, you would probably get up and move, wouldn’t you? Well, same thing: if you have talked to someone about how something they do is negatively affecting you, but they won’t make any adjustments? Perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is move.

Relationships are two-sided

I don’t mean to say that after you are diagnosed with something like MS, everyone should start making changes for you. What I’m trying to say is that change in this situation needs to be mutual. Give and take. Adjustments need to be made on both sides, so everyone is happy. You can’t expect everyone else to put extra work into your relationship if you’re not. At least that’s how I see it. Going above and beyond is awesome and all, but realistically, not everyone even knows how to do that, so you probably shouldn’t expect it lest you be disappointed.

Understanding your feelings

Regardless of what your own personal criteria is for when it’s time to cut ties with someone, I think the best piece of advice I can give you (as a place to start) is to really try to take a step back from it all and figure out what it is you are feeling and why you are feeling that way. You have to understand yourself before you can try to help someone else understand you. Nothing is going to get done if no one even knows what’s going on in the first place.

Tell us about your relationships

What has your experience been when it comes to the relationships in your life after your diagnosis? Have you had to kick people out of your life? Is this something you really struggle with? How do you decide when it’s time? Share in the comments below!

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