How To Cut Toxic Relationships Out Of Your Life, In 13 Practical Tips
Sometimes it's necessary to take the big step and cut unhealthy, toxic relationships out of your life completely. Toxic, in this context, doesn't mean "doesn't agree with you" or "disapproves of your smoking habit," or even "doesn't have much in common with you any more". It means that they damage your self-esteem, your health, your happiness and the peace and love you deserve. They could be passive-aggressive, abusive, untrustworthy, addicts, cruel, disruptive, or simply disrespectful and mean, but you don't have to deal with that sh*t. Need to do cut them out? You can.
I have cut three people out of my life in my own way: two close friends and an ex. All three were very different people, and involved radically different strategies, from agonizing break-up talks to abrupt no-contact cut-out-of-life plans. I'm currently planning to radically limit contact with somebody else — and if you're doing the same, a practical guide is going to be your friend. And no, I have no regrets. Not now, anyway.
The key part is to remain honorable, stick to your guns, and be prepared for things to get nasty. It's a rare relationship that can be severed with one blow; you may need to do a lot of untangling first.
1. Remember That Talking Sometimes Doesn't Help
Get an action plan, and be realistic about it. Explaining why you've come to the decision that you shouldn't be in contact any more will likely not go down well. Trust me. I've done it. It can lead to confusion, guilt trips, hysteria, threats, violence, and a return to the cycle you've just left.
If you really need to assuage your conscience and give closure by detailing your action and what led to it, do your best to be kind, even if the other person isn't. Tell them you wish them happiness, but do not let yourself enter into an argument or be swayed.
2. Be Prepared For Vitriol
Being cut out doesn't tend to inspire happiness or cheer in people who've formed toxic attachments to you. The sense of being rejected is unpleasant, and may make them lash out, probably in ways you recognize.
There's no way to prep the ground for this, but I'm an advocate of leaving it behind. If it's an email, I frankly recommend you delete it, and if it's on the phone or in a place you can leave, hang up or get out. Protect yourself and make plans to feel safe.
3. Don't Allow The Opportunity For Control
This is your decision. If it's one that you're fully and utterly reconciled to — and you will need to give this thought before doing it, because full-blown withdrawal of contact is a serious thing — then don't let yourself be pulled back in.
They might wheedle at you. They might remind you of the good times that made you stay. They might get others to persuade on their behalf. If this is your position, you must stick to it, and not allow them the opportunity to start getting their way in again. Do not open the door, answer the phone, or let a conversation get out of bounds.
4. Contact On Your Turf And Terms, At All Times
If you need to have contact — say, because it's a member of your family — maintain control of the situation. Family get-together? Plan outs and specific tasks to keep you apart, and stick to them unless an emergency happens. At work? Know all the details in advance and limit your exposure as much as possible. Become an asserting-boundaries ninja.
5. Manage Mutual Contacts Diplomatically
Not everybody needs to know that this person has been cut out, and it's often not fair to expect that mutual friends or family will do the same. Make sure you keep track of what you tell whom, because it may be relayed back to the person in question. People need to know enough to make sure you're not in the same room, and if they start accusing you of being histrionic or arguing, just say something about your adult right to make decisions about your contacts. Phrased nicely.
6. Don't Expect Anybody To Be On Your Side
This is a bleak one, but cutting someone out is a very big and divisive thing, and people may be furious at you for disrupting the status quo and/or making things "awkward". Even those whom you believe, by right, should be on "your side" may find your decision excessive, and possibly punish you for it.
Cutting out one person can, unfortunately, lead to the loss of others. But it can also lead to unexpected retainments of friendship and family bonds — people who want to keep you around, even if you've permanently removed yourself from somebody they know.
7. Consider A Slow Fade
A giant blow-up and everlasting silence thereafter? Sometimes it works like that. Sometimes, however, it doesn't. If you're in a position to simply let things trail off, and you don't mind that the person in question may never know exactly why you're doing this or what happened, then think about gentle relinquishment as an option. It's less confrontational, but it may also make you feel like a coward. Weigh that one up carefully.
8. Repeat To Yourself Why You're Doing This
If you've got to this point, things must have been very serious. A serious limitation of contact isn't something you do for a sulk. But it can be difficult to hold onto the feelings that made you convinced that this was the right plan — particularly if the results are deeply hurtful, or you're asked convincingly to take it all back.
Keep hold of what you know and how you felt. It is valid. It remains. Write it down, or record it as a voice file. Be brave and hold to your resolve; you are strong enough.
9. Have A Support Network
Hopefully there will be people in your life who know you and only you, and don't have ties to this other person. Get them to rally round. Even if they don't need to know the full details, it's good to have support on board for tough times, and this will likely be pretty tough, though hopefully worthwhile in the end.
10. Change Your Contact Info, If Necessary
Manage your media carefully. Don't blast them on Facebook, but don't keep them around on social media longer than you have to, either. If you need to make a clean break, then changing phone numbers and email addresses may be a good idea, but do remember that it may get passed onto them by a mutual acquaintance anyway. Mass emails are a hazard for this kind of thing.
11. Remember That Contact Is In Your Control
The most important thing for any contact is that it is your choice and under your control. I am assuming that you're making this decision because you can't feel healthy with them around, so tiny amounts of contact may be tricky. Assertiveness and support will be your lifelines here.
Have another person with you to back up limits if necessary, walk out if boundaries are crossed, choose meeting-points and start and end times if you can, don't go anywhere you don't want to go, and practice saying "No thank you" or "I would prefer not to" to yourself. Try to remain polite to help you stay in control.
12. Involve The Law If Absolutely Required
If you've issued an ultimatum and still aren't having your wishes respected, it's probably time to get somebody with more force to intervene. Police or lawyers may have more luck than you do; you have the perfect right to ask a person not to contact you without your consent.
13. Don't Go Back Unless You're Really Ready
You've cut them off. Things are actually OK for a while! You're happy! And you think — maybe they weren't so bad. You're stronger now, you're more together: maybe you could handle a bit of their presence?
Be careful with this instinct. It's a common one, particularly if the person was part of good elements in your life as well as bad. They may not be ready to have you, or they may take your reappearance as a stick with which to beat you for the rest of your days. And if you try to disappear again, it likely won't be taken as seriously.
Images: HBO; Giphy