Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Barb Rankin, for my 12th birthday, I received a copy of The Emily Post Book of Etiquette for Young People (written by Elizabeth L. Post) from my grandmother, and I believe that if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living. In today’s episode of Stuff I Learned Yesterday I share lessons about severing unhealthy relationships.
Have you ever heard of Dunbar’s number?
Robin Dunbar is a British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist who has theorized that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom each of us can maintain stable social relationships – in other words, how many people can be in your social circle before your brain overloads.
He determined that the number, Dunbar’s number, is between 100 and 250, with a rough average of 150. That is the maximum number of people with whom one can have a genuinely social relationship. He determined this by studying the correlation between primate brain size and their average social group size, and extrapolated the primate brain to human brain results to arrive at the human group comparative size.
This number represents the number of people that we maintain social contact with during a given period of time, and does not include people we know, but with whom we no longer have a relationship, or with whom we have a casual acquaintance.
Now there is quite a bit more anthropological “sciency” information about how Dunbar determined this social number, but more interesting is that his estimate has been used by social software developers in determining the programming for on-line social networks we use today. Other anthropologists have estimated the number to be between 231 and 290 people, however Dunbar’s number is the one that remains the “standard” today, since it was first published in the 1990’s.
What I Learned Yesterday:
Another student was picking on a smaller classmate in the back of the bus. I was only seven years old at the time, but someone told me what was occurring and then asked me to do something about it. So I got up and proclaimed in my strongest, and very childish voice that I would stop it. I did, but it must have been a “set-up” because the “friend” who was sitting next to me on the bus opened my metal lunchbox and threw my Christmas drawings out the window. I got off the bus crying, and my mom, who was right there waiting for me, took me home and pulled out paper and crayons so that I could recreate my Christmas masterpieces which were my present to her. I never sat next to that so called “friend” on the bus again.
I was too young to understand what I had done, but I had severed a relationship because I knew that person had done something deliberately to hurt me and I didn’t like it.
We begin learning as children how to navigate relationships, how to learn to play with siblings, cousins and friends, and our responses can often be childish as we reject our young playmates. We learn about etiquette, polite behavior at home and in public with our peer group. I read the Emily Post book I received from my Granny to get answers on how to behave with other young people my age. Politeness, courtesy, and patience were key, and not emotionally hurting someone else.
As we become adults, we learn to accept faults in others and in ourselves, because we know that none of us is perfect, but we need to draw the line between people who generally are positive for us and those relationships that are unhealthy.
After my divorce, many years ago, my self-esteem sunk to a very low level, and I began hanging out with a crowd of “fun” people – people who partied and carried on, without a care in the world. It was all about them, and therefore, it became all about me. While some of the crowd’s behaviors troubled me from time to time, I told myself that I was getting something out of these relationships. I had company, friends, events to attend, parties – a crutch for dealing with my feelings of low self-worth. One older and well-meaning co-worker asked me bluntly when was I going to grow up, and I laughed her off.
When one of these “friends” moved to another state, I would visit that individual and one time that person asked me to bring her drugs, compliments of someone else in the “crowd” – carry them on the plane. Some members of this crowd used a particular drug, and I didn’t partake – that was a line I wasn’t going to cross. When I refused to bring her the drugs and told her she was out of her mind, she called me a “baby.” Another “friend” began spreading rumors about me, intending to hurt my reputation. All the little behaviors that had been bothering me since I joined the group suddenly felt like a tidal wave. I sat down at my dining room table one evening and asked myself, what I would become if I continued following this crowd, and I didn’t like the answer. It was time to sever these unhealthy relationships. And I did. Face to face and via the telephone.
How do you determine if a relationship is unhealthy? What if that relationship was your main source of social engagement? How do you move forward so that you don’t feel alone?
You need to ask yourself a few questions.
Do I want to spent time with this person or do I feel an obligation to do that?
Does this person make me feel good about myself and give me loving and constructive feedback, or do they tear me down, accentuate my faults, and make me feel like a loser?
Do I like this person, and does this person genuinely like me? If I didn’t know him or her, how would I feel about their behavior?
Is this person trying to get me to do something illegal or behave in a way that contradicts my core values and beliefs? Does this person act in a way that could become dangerous for me or other people? Am I uncomfortable being around this individual?
Do I trust this person?
Will remaining in a relationship with this person help them in some way, or help me? What am I getting out of this relationship? What am I giving in this relationship? Can this relationship be mended if it is broken, and what effort will it require? Are we both willing to make compromises to make this relationship a healthy one?
Has this relationship been unhealthy for a long time, and am I clinging to it because it is familiar?
Is this a positive person? If not, can this person become positive? If not, who are the positive people I know? I want to cultivate healthy relationships with them so that I can move forward with caring individuals – so I can be a caring person to them.
Here’s what I learned.
My mom brought me up to respect myself and other people. She rarely had a cross word for anyone. But I also watched her walk away from people who were not positive and she didn’t let them into our lives.
I want to have positive people around me. I want to have supportive people around me. I want to be a positive and supportive person. I want relationships that flourish and are healthy.
This is an on-going struggle for me. I’ve seen the damage that can occur to relationships through social media, and I’m not just talking about the election.
During the past 3 ½ years, I’ve watched my local community grow ever more divided over a piece of vacant property, which was once a defunct golf course. One side is in favor of developing the property and the other side is in favor of forcing the current owner to turn it back into a golf course. Every single day, there are nasty words, heated exchanges, and rude comments made between neighbors on our neighborhood’s Nextdoor.com website, in the local paper, and in general conversations. One individual posted untruths about me personally and tried to use an old Facebook profile picture to embarrass me. I was angry and it took everything in me to walk away and not respond. I’ve considered several times pulling out of social media altogether, but instead decided to ignore the posts and focus on all the healthy relationships in my social media circles.
I’ve learned to stop, pause, and think about what I’m doing. I’ve learned to take a deep breath and walk away. I’ve reminded myself not to “self-destruct” and engage in behavior of which Emily Post would not have approved – of behaviors of which I would be ashamed. And at times, it is has been very difficult to hold my tongue. But I want to have and to promote healthy relationships – so I need to lead by example.
I’ve learned the hard way that it is okay to walk away and sever ties with people.
I don’t need unhealthy relationships in my life that can’t be changed. Unhealthy relationships drain energy that I can devote toward healthy ones.
Ones that will grow.
Ones that have meaning on this short journey we call life.
Ones that I will cherish.
I’m Barb Rankin and this has been stuff I learned yesterday.
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