How To Identify and Eliminate Self-destructive Relationships

August 27, 2018 / BY Josh Cearbaugh

The point of this blog post isn’t to cause you to analyze all of your current friends and decide whether or not you should eliminate anyone. That would be reactionary and honestly a bit foolish. The goal is to help you become more aware of the kind of relationships that you’re engaging in and whether or not some of those relationships are counter productive for you to become fully alive.

We tend to gravitate toward people who we’re most comfortable, which is fine unless that similarity is our brokenness. They may not be exactly the same, but they’re normally an enabler for our dysfunction. It’s rare to find a friend that will challenge your current beliefs to move you forward. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m simply saying that as human beings our tendency is to risk intimacy with people that are most similar to where we are in life.

Jim Rohn famously said, “you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with.” His point was a word of caution for the importance of choosing your friends wisely. Another way of looking at this principle is within King David’s life. He surrounded himself with mighty men and was able to accomplish incredible feats. Yes, God was on his side and he was anointed to lead, but it would have been much harder to accomplish all he did without a close group of men that helped him move on the Lord’s commands.

Those two examples show the importance of being able to identify and eliminate relationships that are counterproductive to you moving towards your calling.

Over time you will become like the people you surround yourself with. There’s no getting around that reality. So it’s crucial for you to be able to identify relationships that aren’t proactively moving towards health or creating safety for you. Once you’ve realized who they are it’s up to you to challenge the status quo and provoke change.

First, let’s work through some key ways to identify if some of your relationships are self-destructive.

1. Has that relationship become codependent?

What exactly does that mean? It means the relationship has reached a place where you literally can’t do life without each other. Where it feels somewhat devastating to picture how to navigate the challenges you face without their input. These are the people you put in your God spot… which means you’ve come to trust your friend’s input more than God’s. This isn’t exclusively limited to male and female relationships. It could be a close girl-friend or guy-friend that you’ve known for years.

That relationship becomes destructive when it moves from a close intimate and safe relationship to a codependent one. Remaining in codependence with one another is a lot like trying to get a ship to a particular destination without raising the anchor. You can do it, but it’s just a heck of a lot harder than if you raise the anchor or cut it off entirely. The point is for you to grow, that relationship needs to change.

2. Does the relationship allow you to escape on a regular basis?

I had a friend that I recently said to him out of sarcasm “you’re just my addiction buddy.” When I said that I realized that allowing the relationship to stay the same would come with allowing something really unhealthy in my life. It doesn’t mean I completely cut my relationship off with him, but after identifying and realizing that my tendency to escape was connected to things I did with him it was up to me to be proactive.

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What did that look like? It meant going through a list of things I did with him that felt good at the moment but I knew was counterproductive to where I needed to go in my life. So I went to him and said I was no longer going to engage with him around certain areas that I identified. I took ownership for my side of things, but it required a change in our relationship if he was going to be apart of my world. He responded really well and it forced us to identify some healthy alternatives to connect around. Our relationship has continued to be strong since we were both willing to change.

3. Does that relationship enable you to hide or remain stuck in life?

Another way of putting it is, does that relationship allow you to stay where you’re at and not move forward? In the past, I’ve sarcastically said that I’m continually upgrading my friends. That’s half true. What I mean by this is I surround myself with people who are moving towards health and life. It doesn’t mean that they or I have arrived, but it does mean that as a group none of us are standing still.

What does it look like when you have friendships that don’t move forward in life? Just think about all of your high school friends that are still doing similar things even though they graduated some  2, 5, 10, or 30 years ago.

The friends that have remained in my life are people that have lovingly pushed me and are willing to let me do the same.

4. Is the relationship one-sided?

I’m not talking about a friend that is going through a hard time and needs you. We’ve all been there before. I’m talking about the friends who are supposed to be “in the trenches” with you.  If these relationships remain one-sided for an extended period of time, they’ll become destructive.   

If you read my blog post about building community, you’ll see that there’s a time for you to be the one pursuing and investing, which means you’ll be giving more to the relationship at first. At some point, it should transition to where it’s going both ways. When it remains one-sided, it becomes emotionally draining and is taking up internal bandwidth that you should apply to the relationships that are life-giving.

(As a side note, if that relationship is a mentee and your role is to pour into them you should expect to invest more than you receive.)

5. Are they causing you to have a negative outlook on life?

You’ve heard the phrase “misery loves company.” While that is true, it’s also very destructive. It’s up to you to challenge a friend that is always finding something negative to focus on. When you allow it, or even worse feed into it, you’re actually partnering with a very self-destructive approach to life. It will cause you to grow slower because your approach to anything is tainted.

You’ll either find something negative in a situation, or sabotage decisions to justify your negative approach. Then you turn to your friend (who is also negative), and you’re back to square one. Why would you want that person to have so much influence in your world?? If you know of someone like this, it’s time for you to put a stop to it.  

So now that you’ve identified those relationships… What do you do about it?

The bottom line is that relationship either needs to change or be eliminated from your life. I guess there’s a third option… you can stay where you’re at… but it will come at a high cost.

1. Forcing change that needs to happen.

There are several ways that this can happen. Change can look like both of you committing to moving towards health. Practically, it means both of you identify areas that are destructive and put together a plan for what it will look like to eliminate them over time.

If you’re not both ready for that kind of change, then it’s up to ‘you’ to take ownership of what changes need to happen. You’re essentially extending a hand saying “I’d love to stay in the relationship with you, but I can no longer let it stay the same.” You’re causing them to make a decision. They can accept your hand and adjust, or they may choose to stay where they’re at. If they choose the later, you probably don’t want to run with them long-term. It’s better to flush out those people sooner than later.

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2. It’s time to remove them from your life.

When I say “removing them from your life” I’m referring to removing the self-destructive cycles that connect you. This doesn’t mean that you need to eliminate your relationships and start from scratch. It means you need to remove their influence in your life slowly. That may look like spending less time together, but really time is less of a factor than the equity you give their voice in your heart.

It won’t be long before they have to accept the changes or find someone else to enable their dysfunction.

No-one is perfect

This is a word of caution to everyone that tends to be “all or nothing.” PLEASE don’t read this and make a knee jerk reaction in your relationships. We all have imperfections and struggles, myself included. You’re setting yourself up for a lot of pain and disappointment IF you take this post and begin seeking out the “perfect friend”… they don’t exist. The point is to provoke you into changing aspects of your relationships that are preventing you from feeling fully alive.

Over time you’ll get stuck in life if you don’t proactively provoke the relationships around you to improve. As you do that, you’ll begin to be a catalyst for health within your friend group. Either that or you’ll start to get unsettled with the relationships that you have and start to gravitate to people that are healthy. You have to remember that no one is responsible for you moving forward in life except you.

The Challenge:

Take some time to think about the five people that are closest to you. Then ask yourself these questions. Are there areas of my relationship with X that are enabling me to hide? Do I tend to do things I later regret when I’m around them? What, if any, are the things that I can change about this relationship that will move us towards a healthier place?

Once you’ve answered these questions, it’s time to risk. The risk comes when you actually have to confront the reality of change. That often looks like some hard conversations followed by some even more hard decisions.

I never said this post/challenge would be easy, but few things in life that are worth fighting for are.


This post originally appeared on Josh’s blog. Used with permission.

Josh Cearbaugh is a life consultant with a unique ability to lead people through transformation. Through a combination of consulting techniques, he helps individuals to identify, and then dismantle, the crippling cycles where the majority of us find ourselves stuck. He has a passion for connecting people to their heart and helping them create practical strategies to change their lives. Most Recently, Josh’s consulting practice has been located in Austin, Texas. He met Danielle, his wife of ten years, in Mozambique while attending Iris Harvest School. They currently have two boys an one beautiful girl.

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Website: Joshcearbaugh.com

Facebook: facebook.com/joshcearbaugh

E-course: jumpstartyourlife.com

blog: blog.jumpstartyourlife.com

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