top of page

Emotional Distancing - How To Protect Yourself From An Unhealthy Relationship

There’s a lot of talk going around about social distancing. In fact, it’s probably the top trending new phrase for the last year and a half.

There are signs plastered on almost every public door you walk through and even stickers and arrows on floors to show you the EXACT spot you need to stand/wait.

Some of the rules have been relaxed (although I’m afraid we are in for a revisitation shortly.) But the idea is simple: keep your physical distance from those around you in a public/social setting.

This barrier serves as a protective field. For you from someone else. And for someone else from you. You each have a safe space.

Today I’m not here to debate the pros/cons of social distancing, but I do want to talk about the benefits of protecting yourself from toxic people in your life. The need to put up a barrier with those who are harmful to your inner peace.

I want to talk about Emotional Distancing.

It Is Ok To Walk Away

Are you a people pleaser? Do you have co-dependency issues? Are you afraid to be alone?

Those are some of the reasons people choose to stay with or around individuals who threaten their self-esteem and overall peace. It is difficult to pull the plug on a relationship where you have become invested. But what is the ultimate cost of that investment?

There are absolutely some relationships worth fighting for. A marriage for one. Or lifelong friends. A disagreement or difference of opinion should not be the catalyst for walking away. There will be ups and downs whenever there are humans involved.

You have to be mature and tuned in enough to recognize a blip on the relationship radar and work through the turbulence.

That being said, there are still times when you must make the hard choice to distance yourself from an ongoing negative force in your life.

Anyone who routinely and purposefully robs you of security and peace does not deserve a place at your table.

But, you may ask, what if they are struggling with issues themselves? Shouldn’t I be supportive of them?

Absolutely. You can support someone who is actively pursuing treatment or healing, but not at the risk of becoming another casualty yourself.

What if they say they love you? Well, they might. In their mind, with their capacity, maybe they do think it’s love. But love doesn’t contaminate. It doesn’t manipulate. It doesn’t tear down. It doesn’t keep score.

But, you may ask, what if they are family?

Well, that’s a very tricky (and sad) question. We are all encouraged and even compelled to stick with family no matter what. And I agree with that statement in most cases. Just remember that love and loyalty go hand in hand in healthy relationships, but sometimes they can’t co-exist.

There are still times when your emotional or physical well-being is in such jeopardy that it is in your best interest to cut even those family ties. This will probably be the hardest thing you ever do. But please understand that there is no justification for abuse, neglect, or being taken advantage of. Don’t let a sense of loyalty diminish who you were meant to be.

There is a famous quote that says people treat you the way you allow them to. And this is true. You teach someone what you are willing to put up with. So when the burden becomes too heavy, walk away.

How To Walk Away

Making the decision to walk away from a toxic person is one thing. Actually taking those first few steps is a different story.

Step One - Be honest. WIth yourself and them. I don’t suggest ghosting them or completely disappearing (unless they are being violent, then of course yes run away fast).

But otherwise, tell them that you need a break from the relationship. Let them know you still care about them (if that is true), but you have decided to make your well-being a priority. Be firm.

Step Two - Define your terms. You get to decide if you walk away completely, or if you are ok with small doses. You can dictate the time/place/type of relationship as you move forward. You must find the strength to follow through. A toxic person is motivated by control. Take theirs away.

Step Three - Avoid feeling sorry for them. There is something to be said for having empathy when someone is hurting. But a toxic person will attempt to make you feel guilty about abandoning them. Do not fall for that. Trust the instinct that told you to walk away, and stick to it.

Step Four - Believe you are worth it. Any fracture of a relationship will cause pain, even if for the right reasons. Believe that you are doing the best thing for yourself. Understand that peace of mind is more important than possessions, position, or outward perception. You only have to answer to yourself for the decision to emotionally distance yourself from a toxic person.

But What If You Can’t Walk Away

Unfortunately, there are times when you simply can’t make a clean break. It could be with a parent/child relationship. A co-worker. Or even certain extended family (aka in-laws).

While this may be a frustrating situation, there are a few things you can do to help.

Establish boundaries. You may have to attend the same meeting or holiday dinner, but you don’t have to engage in the same dead-end arguments or discussions. Refuse to engage. Don’t take the bait.

Have a support system. Enlist the aid of another friend or family member when you know there will be close contact. Have a wingman/woman to keep the conversation light or difficult discussion brief. Bullies like to corner their victims. Don’t make yourself vulnerable by being alone.

Pick your battles. Everything isn’t worth going to war over. Especially when you know it’s a losing one. If this is the 83rd time of having the same argument, vow not to have an 84th. Learn to accept that some people won’t change no matter how logical the facts are.

And if it is a matter of opinion, by all means, let it go. Everyone is entitled to theirs. Even someone who makes your life miserable. You don’t have to explain or defend yours. And let them march happily along with theirs.

Don’t provoke them. This is a difficult lesson. You know you are right. You are feeling strong. Today is the day to stand up for yourself. Until it’s not. Never start a confrontation with a toxic person. Their incentive to win at all costs far exceeds yours.

My Hopefuls, your well-being and peace of mind is a precious commodity. There are many things in this life that will attempt to steal, invade, or defile it. One of your best defenses for protecting it is learning to emotionally distance yourself from the harmful and toxic people in your life.

Don’t allow anyone to mistreat you. Coerce you. Intimidate you. Believe in the power of you. Believe that you have the right to be happy, safe, loved, and accepted.

Anyone who does not contribute to those feelings should be kept at least 6 emotional degrees of separation away. Post a sign if you have to.

And, as always….

Hope With Abandon

Hope Out


bottom of page