Scott H Young

How to Escape the Toxic Friends Holding You Back


Do you ever wish your friends and family were more supportive of your goals? I’ve received emails from many people who feel their social group is holding them back. Right when they want to improve their life in some way, their friends abandon them, reacting with hostility.

I experienced this when I decided to switch to a vegetarian diet. I had spent several months researching the diet and was interested in the potential health and energy benefits. But unfortunately, this decision was also accompanied with hostility. I must have received a dozen negative responses to every word of encouragement.

Some people discouraged me from going to live in France. Other people discouraged me from starting an online business. Depending on the goal, how unusual it is, and the impact it has on other people, any new goal can stir up negative reactions.

On the other hand, I’ve had genuinely supportive relationships. Friends that encouraged me when I was trying to get in shape. Friends that were enthusiastic about my business goals. Friends that encouraged me to improve myself. Anyone who has experienced genuine, supportive relationships can probably attest how big an impact it can have on your motivation.

You Can’t Change Other People

The one lesson I’ve learned when dealing with toxic relationships is this: you can’t change other people. You can’t turn an unsupportive friend into your cheerleader.

Sometimes people will turn around. Some may be initially negative, out of fear that the goal will change you or the relationship. That person might later be supportive of you and your goals. Other people simply can’t see why you’re bothering with a goal until you’ve started to be successful in it.

However, whether your toxic friends become neutral or supportive eventually isn’t under your control. You can’t change other people, you can only change yourself.

Toxic Family Members

I think the unfortunate downside of this comes to your family. If you have parents, spouses, children, relatives or extremely close friends that discourage you, this can be difficult to manage. I’ve been lucky that my family hasn’t been hostile towards my goals. However, many people have written to me that they don’t have such luck.

My only suggestion in this situation is to build a stronger base of supportive friends. It may not completely replace an unsupportive family, but at least you won’t have to face your goals alone. You may not be able to pick your relatives, but you can select better friends.

Attracting Supportive Friends and Relationships

I’ll admit right now I’m not the best networker. I’m friendly and outgoing, but I can also be introverted which means my drive to seek out other people isn’t as high. However, I’ve found that if you make a conscious effort you can attract more supportive friends and relationships.

Let People Know Your Goals

No one can support you unless you reach out. This was a big mistake I made early on in my goal setting. After some initial discouragement, I kept most of my goals private. Unfortunately, the side-effect of this is that it also prevents you from finding friends who will be truly supportive.

I don’t think you should shove your ambitions down anyone’s throats. I write about a lot of big ideas and my goals because that’s the purpose of this website. But in casual conversation, it’s more enjoyable to just have fun and relax. Let people know about your goals, but that shouldn’t prevent you from being fun to be around.

Find People Who Share Your Goal

The most supportive people are the ones who have the same goal. The people most supportive of my business goals aren’t my friends or family. They are the other bloggers who are technically my competition. Those bloggers know what it’s like to strive to become full-time writers and entrepreneurs, so they are the most supportive of my goals.

If you’re looking to get in shape, look for people enjoy exercising and are interested in reaching fitness goals. If you’re trying to improve your social skills, seek out people who are also trying to improve their social skills. Find people who are trying to learn another language or become a freelancer.

If someone told me their goal was to become a doctor, I could only offer mild support. I may be excited for the person, but I can’t really relate to that goal. I don’t want to become a doctor, so at some level, any enthusiasm I have for that goal will be forced. However, if you told me you wanted to be an entrepreneur, I could tap into all the enthusiasm I already have for my entrepreneurship goals.

Luckily the internet has made it much easier to find these people. Online forums are a great way to find people who share your interests. Some online relationships can be more satisfying that in-person relationships for this reason. Local clubs and membership groups can be another way to network with like-minded people.

Accept Neutral Friends

I don’t list, “supports my goals,” as a requirement from my friends. I can still enjoy a drink and conversation with people who have completely different goals and motivations in life. If you push away everyone that isn’t your greatest supporter, you cut yourself off from new experiences.

Accept that some of your friends won’t support your goals. That’s okay. Don’t make the relationship about your ambitions. Some friends may support some goals and be neutral about others. That’s okay too. Especially if you have an eclectic mix of interests, finding perfectly compatible friends is difficult. It makes more sense to create different relationships with people who share different ambitions.

Go It Alone

If you’re surrounded by toxic people, go it alone. I did this before when I was making major changes in my life, virtually all of my friends drifted away. I don’t think this is the ideal option, but for many people it’s the right choice. Fire the toxic friends from your life so you have room to find people who will support you. With over 6 billion people in the world, there are plenty.


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26 Responses to “How to Escape the Toxic Friends Holding You Back”

  1. Hi Scott.

    There are many statements here that I see as being right on point.

    It does seem to be the case that, relating to time and effort, it isn’t worth it to try to keep working with the same people that provide a hindrance upon your efforts. After 10 or 20 times of the same person not helping or supporting your efforts, you realize that you might as well have left them alone earlier.

    That point about finding people that share the same goal is the great way to go. Us writers of a certain topic of material would have a different routine and support system than C++ programmers, or another set of individuals. We have partially chosen a group to be part of, and that we agree with in various aspects.

    Going it alone sure does turn out to be the way it has to be at times, when others are not of the same thinking, so they are not likely to support all your decisions, since they wouldn’t understand their basis. It is like me judging a wall street investor for some stock they decided to get rid of, when I am not with him all day long buying and selling. It wouldn’t make sense or help him.

  2. Nice post, Scott. Though it’s much harder to achieve your goals without support around you, it’s far from impossible. An even better goal is to work towards achieving a “stand alone spirit” where you only rely on your own determination and nothing else to win. Besides that, seeking out others who share your goals, as Armen above suggested, seems like the second-best strategy to me. When family members actively try to discourage you–that’s a tough one. In a sense, becoming an independent adult means learning to live your own life even when people you love and who love you want to you behave differently. I actually wrote a post about this that relates called, “The Good Guy Contract.” Your readers might find it interesting.

  3. Spesh says:

    Have you ever deliberated over how to handle your relationship with a friend that you have deemed to be “toxic”? Have you struggled with whether you should be loyal to your friendship or whether it is better to create some distance? I just had a conversation about this topic and asked my friend if she has ever had to deal with friends that have become difficult, angry, destructive and how she handled those friendships. I think there is benefit and virtue to commitment in friendships but I have difficulty in deciding when it is a good time to pull back or stay close. Distancing ourselves is usually the easy thing but maybe not always the right/good thing. I say this while completely agreeing with your observations about how discouraging people can be.

  4. Enrique S says:

    My wife has several relatives that she’s not on speaking terms with because of their toxicity. My in-laws pressure her into making amends, with arguments that include “what are you going to do, talk to nobody?” Her answer is “yes, I’d rather be alone than in the company of these petty, negative people.” It’s hard to go against your family’s wishes, but you need to live your own life. I’d say she’s made the right choice.

  5. “You can’t turn an unsupportive friend into your cheerleader.” Nicely said.

    I too have been on the unfortunate end of some nasty criticism lately from my family members. Hmm. Let’s say that the first thing I hear in the mornings is enough to drain out energy for the rest of the day.

    Life still goes on. Let’s see how we can make this day better. :)

  6. Illuminating post, Scott. Personally, I don’t tell people about my goals and this stems from fears. Fear of being laughed at, fear of not accomplishing the goals I’ve spoke about, fear of this and fear of that. But, we can’t let fears rule our life, can we?

    Luckily, I have learned to better accept my fears and co-exist with them now, without letting them run my life too much. But, there’s definitely more room for improvement.

    Like you, I’m not a good networker and I have to make conscious efforts to connect with other people. Yes, the Internet has helped to make this less daunting and I really appreciate the vast options available out there. But, alas, the many choices also cause confusion and helplessness! Ha ha…that’s life.

  7. Scott Young says:

    Spesh,

    I’d first see if I can get the person to become neutral. If I can make our friendship not about the goals I have, then you can stay friends without the toxicity. But if that’s impossible, I’d leave them.

    Loyalty is an overrated virtue.

    -Scott

  8. […] think of such things as bad habits, poor diet, etc.  but it can also apply to our friends as well. Scott Young recently wrote about how to deal with this difficult situation. I’m sure we’ve all had […]

  9. Spesh says:

    Scott,

    Why do you say loyalty is overrated? I think loyalty in the form of codependency is overrated and will stunt the participants growth. How else would a relationship like marriage work unless there was loyalty/commitment. I think loyalty is a rare attribute these days but maybe an important one. I don’t have respect for people that are only friends with others that are useful to them and then dispose of them when they are no longer useful.

    Spesh

  10. asj says:

    I find that most of your posts are strikingly similar to Steve Pavlina’s.

  11. Diego says:

    Scott,

    During the last few months, I open your blog only to find you’ve been sharing my brain. In the case of toxic relationships I felt I finally ought to tell you thank you for writing about what apparently lots of us have been experiencing.

  12. Scott Young says:

    asj,

    Yes. Steve Pavlina has had a big influence on my life philosophy and writing style.

    Spesh,

    I don’t think loyalty is unimportant. But it can be a misused virtue, when applied to some situations.

    -Scott

  13. Good pointers. Associating with supportive friends is always important, but I think especially in youth when we’re less fully formed and may be more easily led in unhelpful directions.

  14. Aaron says:

    Hello Scott,

    Very much enjoyed the article and shared it with my positive friends. Right now I feel like I’m in the category of having a toxic family. Not that they don’t love me. It’s just they don’t like that I’m a 22 year old entrepreneur. They think I should just focus on work and stick with a company. So lately I have been trying to meet more positive people and spread my positivity to the eWorld. Thanks for the post and check us out at youngwellnow.com.

  15. Scott Young says:

    Aaron,

    My parents were skeptical of my entrepreneurial ambitions. But after earning a higher income from this website last year, I think they were warmed to the idea.

    -Scott

  16. Hi Scott,

    that was really a nice piece of article. I agree with most of the points. Positive people around us tend to provide a positive energy which gives us a boost towards our goals. I feel it is an absolute necessary to have such people around you in life.

    – Gary

  17. […] important to meet like-minded people, who share your goals and can support you towards them. But what if everyone you know is, […]

  18. m.o.v says:

    hi everyone, firstly scott nice article. For me the best thing about this article is amount of concious responses that you have been able to create, thanks again scott for the start and thanks for eveyone elses thoughts(nice reading).

    If i could however put this thought out there in the hope that a broad problem can be narrowed down a to some key points or indicators of sorts.

    When is it that we decide if an acquitance is being negative or a realist. As aspiring people we first look forward to what we plan to acheive. A; build a we
    bsite or b; build a castle in the sky(for argument sake only).

    If our goal was ‘a’ then with a good opinion and even without any computer skills but with the desire to learn then this should be encouraged, all other factors aside.

    Target b; well, what cloud to pick for a start and more on my question. Is it a negative for a friend to discourage this ambition even if it might result in a more positive outcome. Resources saved from trying to achieve the impractical (reluctant to say but maybe impossible).

  19. Susan says:

    I completely agree with getting rid of the toxic people in your life. Life is way to short to not achieve all that you want and to celebrate life with people who love….negativity is simply debilitating.

  20. […] you have the room to find people who will support you. No need to feel sorry about the purge, as you can’t change other people. There are plenty of people in the world (over 6 billion, in fact) to include in your support […]

  21. Melanie says:

    Hi Scott,

    Just dropped by, excellent overview of surviving socially in our world today. Unfortunately, I have a caustic family, and they show no interest in my academia or hobbies. Potential friends usually turn out to be a dissapointment. When I decided to go back to school I was basically told I would fall flat on my face. Now I am almost a college graduate, and will most likely graduate summa cum laude. It has been a long, arduous path doing it alone, but quite an experience. I feel that I can survive almost anything.

  22. J says:

    What if they’re toxic for you, but you’re good for them?

  23. Conundrum says:

    Nice positive blog here. I’m just not so sure how to pursue a goal that is perceived as being illegal on a Federal level (but not illegal in every state). It’s something that’s not even morally wrong that would directly hurt others – in fact, it’s used to help the sick in both mental and physical ways. Hundreds of millions of people out there share a similar goal despite being labeled by society as the “wrong crowd”. For the most part, the goal has to be on the very down-low or never mentioned at all – for fear of absurd levels of legal punishment. I won’t bother to mention what the goal is, but I’m sure those well aware will know what I’m talking about. It’s only natural… and organic ;)

    I shouldn’t have to flee my home and birthplace to seek refuge elsewhere in the United States; all US citizens should have the same rights despite which state they’re in. I like to believe my family would think differently if we were living in one of those lucky states but even a law reversal can’t shake the lies that have brainwashed them from childhood.

    I failed miserably on my first attempt to get away and now my family uses that as leverage against me to keep me here, to live only a life that they approve of. After all, they didn’t make sacrifices to raise a loser or so-called criminal. Such a great society we have here, with negative reinforcement paving the way to a bigger and brighter future.

    I have 4 options:
    #1 – Stay here and let them continue to live vicariously through me because they “love” me and want what’s in their minds is best for me.
    #2 – Leave home to pursue my goals and sever all lines of communication with them, and in doing so will mean I can never return.
    #3 – Go to live in prison indefinitely, by any means necessary, since they all say it’s where I’ll end up if I pursue my goals or…
    #4 – suicide, because I’d end up dead anyways too.

    Options 3 and 4 are the most feasible; they’re both lose/lose scenarios; nobody wins. If I can’t do what I want then I won’t let them control what I do either. They painted me into this corner.

    It’s astounding how hostile someone can be towards a small goal of simply wanting to bring a little joy into the world… as if THEY are stuck in a crappy life cycle, they want ME to be crappy just the same. Misery loves company, eh? To be selfless or selfish… Or F it all. Which would you choose?

  24. Karen says:

    I like your post about toxic friends! I just found it when I finally googled “unsupportive friends.”

    I am an extreme introvert and often don’t seek friends or network very well, though I am surprisingly engaging when I do meet people. I have (had?) a few good people in my life and was happy like that. I just went through a bizarre divorce and lost my job. My friends were GREAT through the divorce, listened to my problems, let me cry. Now I have gone through a reinvention of myself, especially professionally. I was trying for a long time to raise money for a business. My friends were cheerleaders and happily helped me brainstorm ideas, told me (enthusiastically) “you can do it!”, etc.

    Then I actually raised the money. Oops. Turns out most of them just thought it was a pipe dream, but now that I am making it happen they don’t want to hear about it. Literally. When I called my BFF to tell her the good news, she said (unenthusiastically): “So are you going to do it?” and started immediately to tell me about her company’s restructuring plan. So I am moving forward without “friends” right now–I’m nice enough, LOVE the people at my part time job, but no longer feel the need to share my successes with “friends.” Life is calm and I am cultivating friendships with people in my life who seem to believe in me for real. And my kids have been great! I think I have what I need for now. And I also have more time to focus on the business:-).

    Good luck to all of you out there sorting through your friends and finding support where you need it!

  25. […] How to escape the toxic friends holding you back – Scott H Young […]

  26. Amber says:

    This article is so inspiring to me. I’ve been going through similar circumstances. Ever since weight loss, perusing my dreams and attending/graduating culinary school, it seems as if I’ve lost most of my friends. I feel it to be so difficult at times to share good news like, the release of a published cook book I cooked for or a new venture because if blogging, etc. because of the lack of support.

    I think what hurts is the fact that I’m the biggest cheerleader when somebody decides to live their best life. Maybe I was wrong for having expectations of support, but it certainly has been a life lesson thus far.

    Thank you for such a wonderful post.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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