We need to end this, it’s not you, it’s me. Is it time to clean out your relationship-closet?

Let’s start off by getting personal. At the end of last year, I had what I like to refer to as ‘my first real wobbly’ in nearly 45 years. Due to a number of physical symptoms (including migraines, tummy aches, insomnia), I ended up at my GP who immediately recognised that I had a serious bout of anxiety. To address, these issues a mental-health week was prescribed where I spent time with other professionals delving into what lifestyle changes needed to be made to address the causes instead of just the physical symptoms of our anxiety.

Best investment I have ever made in myself.

If I’m honest, just writing this down makes me a little anxious because what will people say or think. After all, I facilitate and coach people on stress management and emotional wellbeing, have a background in psychology, and have learnt from a very young age that when times are tough, the tough get tougher. I could also hear my dearly departed grandmother – repeatedly saying, “Just get your big girl pants on Binx and get over it”.

Fortunately after my little excursion of delving into the depths of my soul to find what triggered my anxiety, I realise the focus on what people say or think of me, has absolutely nothing to do with who I am and quite a bit to do with why I landed up falling over in the first place.  Another important discovery I made, during that week of self-discovery, was that I had made a number of bad choices when it came to who I surrounded myself with in terms of relationships and I needed to take a hard look at my relationship-closet.

Being someone that does not believe in reinventing the wheel, I took a look at some of my books and decided that the most practical piece of advice to start making decisions on tidying up my life and specifically separating what I need and don’t need when it comes to relationships is in Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. The book actually provides practical advice on how to create a permanently tidy, clutter-free space. Granted, it is not about relationships but there is one particular chapter, that gives this indispensable piece of advice: “Discard anything that doesn’t give you joy”.  This may seem a little harsh but if you think about a relationship and it doesn’t spark joy, but you can’t bring yourself to end it, you need to ask yourself this: Am I having trouble ending the relationship because of an attachment to the past or because of my fear for the future?’

Personally, I found that I battled with both of these areas. I had some relationships (work and personal) that had become seriously dysfunctional (toxic and very draining) yet because of the length of the relationship, I chose to maintain them. There was also the fear that my future-life would look so different without these relationships in it. Once I started questioning this fear, I realised that some of the changes would actually benefit my future-self and the fear slowly started subsiding.

When I had gone through the first stage of tidying-up my relationship-closet (thankfully the closet was not empty) I went to the decision-making phase. I made the decision to actively work on my existing productive relationships and develop new relationships. To ensure that I don’t end up in the same types of dysfunctional relationships again I needed a guideline on which relationships I will grow and strengthen, and to develop criteria for the types of relationships I would like to add to my friendship-closet. For this I used John Maxwell’s wisdom on adders, subtractors, dividers and multipliers:

  • Adders

    are people who add value, enhance relationships and improve team performance. People who add value also serve others. They work with others, not through them.

  • Subtractors

    only see the negative and are quick to point out what’s wrong with the situation or what’s wrong with you. Usually being negative is not their intent, but it happens by default.

  • Dividers

    are similar to subtractors but they are intentional and self-serving. They end up poisoning families, teams, and cultures.

  • Multipliers

    are people who grow relationships and teach others how to do the same. Their positive influence results in change and growth even when they are not around.

It is a given that my focus should be on putting my energy into relationships with colleagues and friends that are adders and multipliers. However, as the old saying goes, ‘birds of a feather, flock together’. This means that I will have to make a personal commitment to being an Adder and Multiplier myself. Obviously, this is going to take some honest self-reflection and awareness. This will be followed by effort and growth in certain areas and it won’t always be easy. In the end though, will it spark my joy? Do I deserve joy? Absolutely on both counts and so do YOU.

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