The Cost of Surrounding Yourself with Negative People

Hollis and Osteen teach that we need to reject and avoid people who cause us to feel negative emotions or think negative thoughts.

According to the principles of positive thinking, our thoughts are the power that change and shape the world around us. To get ahead in life we need to get rid of anyone who holds us back. I am convinced this principle is abhorrent and will offer three reasons why.


recently read Rachel Hollis’s runaway bestseller Girl, Wash Your Face, and in my review pointed out a number of concerns with the author’s understanding of what it means to live a good life. Her conviction is that the good life is a happy life, and every woman is responsible for pursuing happiness. What stands in the way is lies, and the very first lie Hollis exposes is that “something else will make me happy.” She believes women are prone to believe that their happiness depends on someone or something else—another person or another set of circumstances. Yet Hollis is convinced, “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”

In the book’s opening chapter she offers a list of practical tips that helped her become a happy and self-satisfied person—one who is confidently the “hero of her own story,” whom other people look to and conclude, “Your life seems so perfect.” Here is one of those tips:

I surround myself with positivity. I cringe even writing that because it sounds like a poster you’d see taped to the wall of your eighth-grade gym class—but cheesy or not, it’s gospel. You become who you surround yourself with. You become what you consume. If you find yourself in a slump or feel as though you’re living in a negative space, take a good hard look at who and what you see every day.

Hollis insists that a key to a successful life is deliberately avoiding people and places that generate negative feelings or attitudes. When she says, “it’s gospel,” I don’t think she means, “It’s the good news of hope for humanity,” but rather, “It’s a crucial principle for a successful life.” She is hardly the first person to make this claim, as it’s a well-worn mantra of the New Thought or Positive Thinking movements. Joel Osteen says it like this: “Life is too short to waste your valuable time with the wrong people. To reach your highest potential, you have to surround yourself with eagles, with people that push you forward, people that make you better, people that help you to soar.” The point is clear: If we want to become successful, we need to surround ourselves with successful people. If we are unsuccessful or “in a negative space,” we ought to evaluate the people around us and remove or avoid any who are holding us back.

There is an element of truth to this. The Apostle Paul warns, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33), while Solomon counsels, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). We are responsible to guard ourselves against certain negative influences. But even a brief analysis shows that the Bible’s warnings do not concern people who may put us into “a negative space” or keep us from soaring like eagles, but people determined to lead us into sin. If we do not have the convictions or maturity to stand firm against temptation, we need to avoid situations and even people who may tempt us into sin.

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