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Ideas for identifying toxic vs. nurturing relationships

Curate relationships for quality, for growth, and for the health of your mind and body.

This week in the Creating Margin series, we’re going to talk about relationships. Specifically, how to curate relationships so that they have room or margin, to become inspiring, nurturing, loving lifelines with other people instead of anchors that weigh you down, stress you out and cause drama.

“You are the average of the five people you most associate with.” – Tim Ferris

The Why

Are You Really the Average of the Five People You Spend Most Time With?

There are multiple articles out there articulating the reason you should surround yourself with people who you admire, for one reason or other. Spending time with people who will challenge you in positive ways will edge you out of your comfort zone so you can grow in a positive direction. In the opposite vein, if you are surrounding yourself with people who make bad choices, you’re lowering your own growth potential.

Renowned businessman Jim Rohn once said “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” He was speaking from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Surrounding yourself with smart, creative people, ideally smarter than you, will lift you up and teach you things. Tim Ferriss has advised cultivating relationships in a similar way, ostensibly inspired by Jim Rohn (who mentored Tony Robbins) in his book, Tools of Titans.

Now, I think they’re right, to a point. If you surround yourself with positive people, who are on an upward trajectory, you too are likely to grow with them. I’m not talking about an upward monetary trajectory, but rather, they’re people who are focused on self-growth, business growth, career growth, people who put other people first. If you surround yourself with people who are compassionate, kind and loving, that’s a relationship treasure trove that is going to support you throughout the ups-and-downs of your life.

A Deeper Look

Before we start delving into the actual relationships you have right now, take a few minutes with me. Let’s reflect on ourselves for a moment.

What are your goals for yourself?

What kind of person do you want to be?

When you spend time with someone, how do you want to feel afterwards?

Okay, now that you’ve got those answers in your mind, let’s examine the relationships.

Toxic vs. Nurturing

For the next month or so, take note of how you feel when you’re with one of your friends, one of your family. Whoever you are spending your time with.

What is a toxic relationship?

A toxic relationship is one that stresses you out, makes you feel bad about yourself or anxious. If you leave with the impression that you’re not good enough, that should be a clue.

Example: I once had this friend. Every time we would hang out, I would leave the encounter feeling like I was fat, like I was not pretty, like I was a very dull person who should be very luck to have any friends at all. It took me a while to realize this was not a healthy relationship. As all relationships go, I had emotions tied up into it and felt like I owed that person loyalty (feeling loyalty is obviously not a bad thing) for things she had helped me with in the past.

However, over time I realized that I was not very happy after our time spent together. I would go home and spend time reflecting over the outing and find that gosh, she had said she doesn’t like my significant other, that she preferred my previous significant other who treated me like crap because we, as a group, had such fun together. A true friend wouldn’t be making statements like that.

Now, take a moment. Is anyone in your life popping out at you after my example? If so, take careful note over the next month or so about how you feel when you are with that person. Journal about it. Think on it. Compare the answers to the questions in A Deeper Look and see how this relationship holds up. Is it perhaps time to lessen the amount of time you spend with that person?

What is a nurturing relationship?

Psychology Today has some thoughts on that.

As for me, I pay attention to how I feel when I’m with that person. Do I feel good about myself? Can I share my dreams and hopes and plans for the future with this person? Do they laugh at me? Or tell me “You can’t do that”? Do they offer support and ideas on how I can move forward?

Does this person make me aspire to be a better person? Do I learn something when I’m with them? Am I looking forward to seeing them again? Do we do a little of what we each want to do – or it always their way or the highway?


Now that you’ve taken some time to think about the relationships in your life, put more love into the relationships that make you feel good about yourself and channel you into a positive direction.

Your relationships should challenge you, allow you to be open to new experiences and adventures. Don’t be afraid to seek out other people who are smarter than you, more successful than you, who are giving people so that you can learn from them and grow as a person.


Don’t forget – you get out of a relationship what you put into a relationship. Kindness, compassion, understanding, love all go a long way. It’s a two-way street.


How do you cultivate relationships so they are positive and rewarding?

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