Life Affirming or Life Draining?

As I worked my way through my first bout of cancer, I found a program called Renewing Life put on by Pathways Minneapolis, an organization that brings free alternative health services to people with life threatening illnesses and their support people. Renewing Life is about living fully in the face of trying circumstances, facing fear, and looking closely at how to take care of ourselves, body, mind and spirit. 

Facing a life threatening or chronic illness takes a lot of energy. It’s important to conserve what energy we have and say no to things that drain us. In the relationships module we took a hard look at how our relationships affect our energy.

Renewing Life talks about three kinds of relationships: life affirming, neutral and life draining.

Life affirming relationships are those that fill us. A friend satisfies my soul with delicious conversation. Another one accepts me, warts and all, without judgement. Another loves my sense of humor and shares a good joke. Another supports my inquiring mind without trying to supply the answers. These relationships are like water on a flower.

Life affirming

Neutral relationships don’t touch us as deeply, but they don’t drain us either. My mother, bless her heart, loved to fix me food, especially confetti angel food cake. I longed to know more about her and share more of myself with her, but she wasn’t comfortable with that. Mom cared for me in the way she knew how—with food. Although we loved each other, the energy for me was neutral.

I’ll bet you don’t need to be told what life draining relationships are! Perhaps you can think of one right now that is sticky as a glue trap.

Life draining relationships are the ones that deplete you. You don’t always know what hit you. It can be tough to disengage. You might feel a weird obligation to try harder and redouble your efforts until you're exhausted. Or you might deplete yourself with hypervigilance or use needed energy plotting ways to avoid the person.

Taking stock of my relationships in this way was powerful. I am grateful to be feeling good now. And in the midst of good health I've had an even bigger “aha."  I realized that naming which relationships affirm or drain belongs front and center when I'm well and simply going about my days. Life is too precious to squander on relationships that drain me. 

I marveled at how easy it is to tell when a relationship is life affirming and how fulfilling it is to be around that person. I cringed when I realized how much time I’ve spent juggling draining relationships and how little energy I had left for the nourishing ones. So I’ve done some sorting, some boundary setting and some pruning. It’s an ongoing process, not always comfortable or graceful, but it is life affirming.

And I’ve learned I can let go with love, knowing that the same person who drains me may be life affirming for someone else. I am my own barometer. It is vital to listen to my own truth.

Activity for You – If you dare:

Gather your journal and some colored markers. On separate pages:

  • Draw a symbol of what life affirming looks like to you.
  • Draw a symbol of neutral.
  • Draw a symbol of life draining.
  • Then be brave and write the names of life affirming,neutral and life draining people on the symbol page where they belong.

Extra credit:

  • Pick up the phone, write and send a card or do something else to acknowledge one of your life affirming friends or family members.
  • Set a boundary or disengage completely from one of your life draining relationships. Notice how letting go of that relationship feels in your body.


Lynn Baskfield guides you through rites of passage with storytelling, writing, creative expression, ritual, retreats, nature and very centrally, the wisdom of horses. A lifelong horsewoman, she partners with horses to evoke insights and learning that you cannot get by thinking, reading, or talk coaching only.  If you work with Lynn and her experiential coaching approach, confidence, joy and creative solutions will emerge naturally as you move forward.

Lynn holds an M.A in Human Development and is a certified life coach, transformational educator and the author of two books. As owner of SpiritDance Coaching, she has been coaching, training, and conducting retreats for individuals and groups since 1997. She also trains and mentors equine guided professionals around the world.

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