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$Monday: Get Out of the Bucket and Into the Sea

Don't ever settle down in a bucket of crabs. The people we keep around us have considerable power to motivate, inspire, and support us--or to drag us down when we try to reach higher. If you ever find yourself trapped in a crab bucket of dragger-downers, remember that there are plenty of fish in the sea--and yes, some fish really are friends; this is not just a completely silly metaphor. Everybody needs healthy relationships to succeed in life. So come on in, the water's fine!

As a person who struggles with anxiety, I know that when the world seems limited and small and stingy and lonely, it's a trick of the mind keeping me isolated from all the limitless possibilities my life has to offer. The world is full of people who are ready to love you and everything that you love, given the opportunity. And on the open sea, there's also space to float in blissful solitude when you need it. Sometimes we need to get away--from the negative voices in our heads or from the crab bucket mentality of those crowding around us--before we can find a healthy way to connect with others and our dreams again.

Our friends can be our greatest inspirations and motivators, and they can also be our greatest obstacles when they don't share our values and goals and don't want to see us succeed at achieving our dreams. Jealousy, fear, and insecurity can turn best friends into full-on antagonists.

I am a very introverted person who doesn't go out and see friends very often, and yet I am a hoarder of friendships that aren't working. There is nobody outside of my family that I hang out with just for fun more than once or twice a month, but I feel very deeply and strongly about my friends, and when we do see each other--even if years have passed while we've been living in different states or countries--it's like we've never been apart. I tend to form intense bonds quickly and care a lot about the people I love, even if we rarely occupy the same room.

So it's very hard for me to let go of friendships that have gone toxic. I hate the thought of "giving up" on a person I have loved so much. It fills me with feelings of guilt and grief. Fortunately, I've learned by now that there usually isn't any need to go through an actual "breakup," and that allowing time and space to act as a balm on the wounds of a failing friendship is neither unkind nor a barrier to reconnecting later, if things change in a way that make a positive relationship possible in the future. Sometimes all you have to do is to back away slowly. Put less and less effort into reaching out or responding until the crab in your life quits paying attention long enough for you to slip discreetly over the lip of that bucket and onto the warm sands of freedom.

All human relationships have ups and downs, and nobody is a perfect friend every day. Healthy friendships take goodwill and forgiveness and generosity to last. So how do you know whether to stick it out or make a run for it? Here's your sign that you're in a bucket:

They tell you over and over again that they're jealous of you. This seems obvious, but the communication is often obscured by backhanded compliments and apparent jokes. A little zing of jealousy or healthy competition among friends is natural and can even be motivating, but if a friend has a habit of pointing out your "luck" or their jealousy as an excuse for why they can't rise to your level, get ready to run. People who say things like "You're so lucky" are suggesting that all the happiness and joy in your life are undeserved and have nothing to do with your efforts. They are using your "luck" and their lack thereof as an excuse for not putting their own effort into achieving whatever you have that they want.

If someone giggles and says "I hate you" or "I'm so jealous" as a joke, take heed. Those kinds of jokes might not be jokes. Envy and the fear of being left behind are not motivating to deeply insecure people; those emotions are more likely to encourage those people to take down others rather than pull themselves up. Don't spend another minute around anyone who cares more about destroying your happiness than creating their own. Not only will they never support you, but your presence actually inspires them to hate themselves more, so you can never help them either, not even by crabbing yourself up and pretending to be smaller and less wonderful than you are. Nobody should shrink or disguise themselves for the sake of a supposed friend's ego. For both of your sakes, get out of there. Best case scenario: left with nothing else to do, your crabby friend will follow your example and find their own way out of the bucket too.

It is a sad fact of life that sometimes your circle of best-friends-for-years-and-years becomes a crab bucket. It doesn't matter how fortunate your friends are or how fortunate you are. It's all relative and psychological. Your friends can appear successful but still find some reason to be jealous of you. You can be a humble person who is just chugging along doing okay, with no glittering trophies on your shelves, and a pity-princess can be ferociously jealous of you for simply not being as miserable as she is. That person is not your friend, even if she used to be when you were younger. Even if you still love her. Sad but true.

Sometimes a support group can become a crab bucket. Despite the hopes and dreams and good intentions that may have gone into the formation of a support or networking group, any system can fall apart and devolve into a backstabbing, bitter, hostile bucket of crabs. It sucks, but one person's effort cannot fix it. Your only hope is to get out and try again with a different group of people.

Losing friends and partners and support communities is devastating, even if you know you'll be better off without them, so don't beat yourself up if you can't just hop out and move on, unscathed and ready to rock. Take some time in solitude if you need to. Allow yourself to grieve for the hopes you had for your friendship and for your suffering loved one(s). And then, as the song goes, "Let it go."

Sing the whole song. Seriously. Crank it up and belt that showtune. Get it stuck in your head until you want to puke. It's your jam until you get your groove back.

Don't hide away too long and turn into a hermit crab (my personal tendency).

When I realize I have to let go of a close friendship or a group effort, it can take me weeks or months to process the loss and get excited about my goals again. But I always do. Haters gon' hate and crabs gon' crab, but outside of all the buckets, the sun rises every day on an endless sea of possibility. Don't use other people's successes or failures as a reason to give up. If you find yourself bogged down in envy or guilt from comparing yourself to those closest to you, that's how you know you've ended up in a bucket. Your only hope is to wiggle on out of there and make a run for it. Surf's up.

 me with a mega-inspiring friend who literally drags my pasty butt to the beach once in a while


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