Pruning Not-So-Healthy Relationships

Pruning Not-So-Healthy Relationships

I emphasize the necessity of cultivating nourishing, healthy relationships to support our resilience – a lot. [see Make Sure Good Friends Are Near] All true, very important.

Sometimes, just as important, is the practice of pruning unhealthy relationships from our social circles. (Sometimes, though harder, creating a healthy boundary with unhealthy relationships in our families.)

When we repeatedly interact with people who harshly criticize us, or humiliate us in front of other people, or who ignore our sincere wishes to maintain a healthy connection, those interactions erode our sense of self-worth and our inner secure base of resilience.

When people pull on us, even unconsciously, to join them in the dynamics of the Drama Triangle – becoming a rescuer to their victim or becoming a persecutor if we fail to rescue them, pulling for us to stay in a victim role so they can rescue or persecute us – not only our sense of self diminishes, our skills to relate well with others can diminish.

There are many Skills of Relational Intelligence offered in Resilience to change those interpersonal dynamics. Here’s another tool I teach in my workshops:


This exercise begins with a tool called Mind Mapping – using drawings and symbols rather than words to let insights and new perspectives well up from the default network “mental play space” of the brain. You will choose to focus specifically on you and your social network – people you feel connected to, supported by – whether close in structure – family, or close in common interests and purpose – friends and colleagues. To let the right hemisphere of your brain play without interference with the analysis or logic of the left hemisphere.

Use a very large sheet of blank paper and colored pencils, pens, or markers.

1. Draw a circle or bubble somewhere on the sheet of paper to represent you.

2. Then begin to draw other circles or bubbles (or other shapes) to represent the people in your social network. You can use different colors for different categories – family, friends, co-workers, social. You can space circles on the page to represent inner circle, outer circle, periphery, etc.

3. Don’t think a lot. Let your brain spontaneously draw these shapes representing whoever they represent, and you may be surprised who shows up and who doesn’t.

4. You can draw lines connecting these people to each other if you wish, or lines to indicate how strong or fragile the connection is to you.

5. Stop. Simply look at your map, and notice: who is present and who isn’t; whose bubble is near you in proximity and whose isn’t. Whose bubbles are large and whose are small. How strong or fragile are the connections. Which bubbles are brightly colored, which are dim. Just let your mind play a bit as you notice and reflect. Notice any insights, any surprises, anything you wish were different.

6. Identify one person represented by one of these bubbles on the page, to practice with. Someone you can choose to distance from or prune from your life without too much disruption to your life. Someone you will simply interact less with, if at all.

7. I do think it’s skillful to have a conversation with this person, if possible, honoring the connection that has been rather than “ghosting” someone. Acknowledge the importance and value of this connection at one time, acknowledge that people grow and evolve in different directions over time. It’s your sense this “drifting” has happened here. With many good wishes for separate happy and rewarding lives going forward. Thank you. Be well. Good-bye.

This pruning may happen naturally over time anyway. Bringing conscious awareness to the process releases any energy that might still be tied up in should’s or guilt, and allows you to invest your time more willingly in relationships that are nourishing and resonant. [see Make Sure Good Friends Are Near.]

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