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     Sort, Classify, And Toss!

The way we RELATE to other people has tremendous power to shape our way of life.  That is true of all humans and most animal species on Earth.  Having said that, we must organize our mental “chart” of relationships before we lose control of the navigational system.

One way to classify relationships is in terms of NEEDS -- yours and the other person’s.  There are basically three types of relationships: 
  • The ones that need you
  • The ones that you need
  • The balanced ones

Let’s make a list of people in each group, according to the type of relationship we share with them.  In the first group, the ones that need you, include those who depend on you emotionally, socially, or spiritually. These are people who feed off you but do not give you anything back.  In the second group, list those who you depend on emotionally, socially, or spiritually.  These are the people you turn to for advice or help when you are in trouble, but they do not turn to you for the same.  Now, in the last group, there is a combination of giving and receiving that creates the magic state:  BALANCE.  This is the list we have to strive to make longer, if possible CHANGING the dynamics from the other groups to fit into this one.  The tricky part now:  If they can’t be changed… gather courage and TOSS.  This is not an easy process and it is often painful, but in the end the results are a happier life and enriching, mutually satisfactory relationships.

There are many other kinds of relationships that can be harmful, as well as beneficial.  What we need to do is recognize each for what it is, its PURPOSE in our lives, and what we can do to change detrimental processes within our minds and actions.  There is a REASON for each relationship we maintain, and as long as we determine this reason and make certain that it serves us -- and the other person -- in a positive way, we can clear the path by shedding those associations which are stagnant, negative or demeaning. 

Overtaking this process can be, as I mentioned earlier, a painful experience.  But it is also one of personal growth and development, and will lead to a fuller life in terms of the continual flow of interactions with other persons. The first step is to recognize the following PATTERNS in our relationships, and I encourage you to write names down in each one you can relate to.

These are people that are in your life and take from you because some time in the distant past they did something for you.  So you feel like you owe them, or they make you feel like you OWE them, and that turning away from them would make you appear UNGRATEFUL.  There is a Dominican saying, which goes more or less like this: “It is better to owe money than favors”.  You owe money, you pay, and that’s the end of it.  You owe anything abstract, and you can never repay.  It is a never-ending cycle that can become burdensome and negative.  Review your relationship and identify the people that belong to this group.  If you have someone like this in your life, start saying to yourself until you are truly convinced that you have done ENOUGH already.  Then just do for or with them only what you really can and want to do.

These are your “socially accepted” acquaintances -- the people you associate with just because that is “the thing to do”.  You find yourself getting together with them and going places with them because “it looks good”.  There is the possibility that you don’t even LIKE some of them, but would die before breaking the relationship.  If you are caught in these social games and are not enjoying yourself, stop and think what it is that you GAIN from being seen with, or hanging out with whoever belongs to this group.

In this type of relationships you are the CAREGIVER, or the provider.  These people depend on you for almost every breath they take.  They can’t do anything by themselves.  They can’t function if you don’t help.  They demand so much (and you give it to them) that they DEPLETE you and absorb your time and energy.  You have one choice:  suggest a therapist and walk away.  This is a very difficult relationship to shake, but do your best to detach yourself before you give up your own life.

This group is bound to be the smallest but the dearest too.  Hang on to your relationships here.  Identify who they are and NURTURE them.  Here there is pleasure, enriching experiences, growth, relaxation, learning, comfort.  Need I say more? 

These people are in your life for a purpose, and that is to enhance or enrich your PROFESSIONAL life.  These are positive relationships you need to care for and use in a mutually beneficial way.  But beware of having a ONE-WAY relationship, where you might be the one giving it all or the one taking it all.  In a healthy association, both parties are equally satisfied and provided for.

Whatever your different liaisons may be, it is important above all that you identify each for what it is and its dynamics and goals.  That will EMPOWER you and give you the tools to achieve personal and professional growth. It will also GIVE those in your life as much (or as little) as is reasonably healthy for all involved.


Ana Popielnicki is a Professional organizer and clinical psychologist. You may contact her at or 860-729-8829.

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