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It’s beyond challenging when you are in a relationship that’s unhealthy or toxic. It’s simply heartbreaking because these relationships do more harm than good.
Sometimes, things get so bad that one of the few options you have is to emotionally detach from the person – whether it’s a toxic parent, child, family member, friend, colleague, or employer. You have to choose your sanity and mental health and stop allowing the unsafe person to wreak havoc in your life.
Not everyone knows how to detach from someone, and this means different things depending on your relationship, options, and who you are.
But you can learn how to emotionally detach yourself from the toxic person and find your way back to who you are or want to be. Here’s how.
What Does It Mean to Emotionally Detach from Someone?
Not every person has the same ideas about what it means to emotionally detach from someone. Here’s what it could mean to emotionally detach some a person:
No matter how you see detachment, you put less faith in the person’s behavior, attitude, and feelings toward you. It’s about neutrality and breaking of toxic ties that keep you tethered or attached to toxicity.
Before, it felt like the end of the world when they ignored you or made a rude comment. Now, you see them for who and what they are, you realize how they act is 99.9% about themselves (and not you), and you don’t feel that sting of hurt because of their toxicity, which you’ve detached from.
You ensure that their behavior doesn’t reach you emotionally (or as much as it used to). And you stop taking responsibility for how they act and behave.
While the person you are detaching from or other people may think you are being rude or unfeeling, that isn’t the case at all. Just because you are distancing yourself emotionally from the unsafe person doesn’t mean you don’t care about them or have abandoned them.
You can love and care about them – but from a distance that’s emotionally, physically, and mentally safe for you. With that distance and detachment in place, you now have the emotional space to care for yourself since the toxic person’s drama and problems doesn’t have a negative impact on your physical, emotional, and mental health.
You’ll realize that any tension, anxiety, feelings of panic, headaches, sleep problems, and irritability will lessen when you’ve detached from the unhealthy person in your life.
Reason Why You Need to Emotionally Detach From Someone
There are various reasons you need to emotionally detach from someone, and you’ll also know when it’s the time for you to let go.
Here are the most common reasons you need to let go and detach:
8 Signs That It’s Time to Detach From Someone
Not sure if you need to detach from the unhealthy person in your life? Here are the key signs that it is time to let go:
- You feel emotionally reactive when they are around or overwhelmingly drained.
- You’ve talked to them about their behavior on many occasions, but they don’t listen or care. Or, they make promises and then break them.
- You feel stuck in the relationship, and the same issues keep coming up with no way forward or resolution.
- Your connection with the unhealthy person feels more negative and borders on being obsessive.
- When you are around them, you snap more – at them, at others – and you feel increasingly more anxious and worried. It essentially brings out the worst in you.
- You feel like you are always taking responsibility for their actions and behavior, making you feel exhausted and frustrated.
- You feel completely drained when you focus on the unhealthy person – whether you are around them or just thinking about them.
- You now constantly assume the worst about their interactions with you and how they’ll behave.
13 Ways for How to Detach from Someone
It’s essential to detach yourself from someone who is unhealthy for you. You don’t have to do it with spite, anger, hostility, or resentment. And you don’t have to tell the other person that you are detaching from them in some kind of proclamation or declaration.
Simply detach. It’s also called the quiet quitting phenomenon. In an employee-employer situation, you won’t tell your boss or manager that you are detaching yourself from their negative toxicity or the unhealthy workplace.
You just step back from that place of stress. You do what’s in your job description and no more. You don’t go to happy hour on Friday with your colleagues, and with team-building retreats, you do what’s necessary and nothing extra.
You protect your space, since you may not be able to leave the situation right away (or for a long while) or banish the unsafe person from your life.
Here’s how to detach from someone who shouldn’t be allowed in your safe space:
1. Identify Why You Need to Detach
The first thing you need to do is identify why you want or need to detach from someone. You must have a solid, credible reason.
This reason will keep you going and help ensure you stay detached. We are human, and sometimes we cave in.
You might think your abusive husband isn’t so bad just because for one moment he was actually kind and loving toward you (but was he, or did he have an agenda?). It’s so easy to give in and become attached again and wonder if it really was that bad or are you just exaggerating things in your mind?
Or, the person may notice there’s something different (you emotionally detaching from them) and try everything to win you back because they miss manipulating, gaslighting, or controlling you.
So during the detaching process (and even afterward), remember why you are letting go. Remember all the issues and dramas and toxicity. Remember how it brought out the worst in you and made you into a person you don’t like, don’t recognize, and don’t want to be.
2. Feel and Let Go of Your Emotions
It’s essential to feel what you feel. Be angry, disappointed, and sad. You put in a lot of effort to make that relationship work, and you continued to give, and give, and give.
You may think that denying your feelings will make things easier, but in fact, you’ll just think about them that much longer.
So take the time to grieve. It didn’t work out and the relationship is dead.
Then let go of your emotions (remember, you can love them from a distance) so you don’t feel like you’re hit by a bus or knocked off balance when you talk about them, talk to them, or hear about them. Reframe the connection as you quit quietly.
And find a healthy outlet for your feelings as you let them go. Take an exercise class, cry, or find a character in a movie or TV show you can relate to. These outlets will also help you when you have to face the unhealthy person so you don’t do or say something you’ll regret.
3. Respond; Don’t React
Learn to respond and not react. That goes for those good moments that may still happen (if you can’t just cast the person aside and properly move on) and those bad moments when they act abusively and thoughtlessly.
You don’t want them to trigger you and set you back in the progress you’ve made to detach.
When you react, it’s an instant action that often leads to regret. But when you choose to respond, you make sure to pause, breathe, and think carefully before you act, giving you the time needed to do what’s healthy for you.
4. Take It Slow and Start Small
There are times when you need to detach and quit a relationship cold turkey. But that isn’t always possible or realistic.
You may need to start slow and take it slow. Like building a healthy habit, you need to work on detaching from your partner, your friend, or your colleague and take it one step at a time to remove yourself from their lives or just emotionally remove yourself from becoming and being so invested in them.
If it’s your friend you need to detach from, start by not immediately replying to calls or responding to texts. Reply when it suits you, and keep it brief. Then learn to set boundaries to keep yourself safe and protected from their toxicity. Say no to outings and coffee.
Quietly fade away until you are but a memory.
When you handle a big project in life, it’s often best to have a clear plan you can follow to help you make decisions. With careful planning comes recording your thoughts, feelings, and memories.
A journal is the best format for reflection and guidance.
Start keeping a journal, letting yourself write, reflect, and plan your path through the toxic relationships in your life you need to let go. Use your journal to release the anger, tension, and pain that has been inflicted on you.
This process can be painful, but it can also be cathartic, drawing the splinter that has caused serious injury from you when you let go of the emotional investment you had.
When the world is too busy, it’s really difficult to know what to think, feel, or do. Quiet things down with regular meditation sessions so your mind can begin to regain focus again.
Use the power of meditation to guide your thoughts to see problems from new angles, let go of harmful relationships and the negative anger these bring.
When you are less stressed and more at ease in your mind, you will be better prepared to make decisions and find a course of action that will remove the person you need to disentangle from out of your life.
7. Be Patient – With Yourself
Detangling is not easy. It probably won’t happen overnight, but you have to practice self-tolerance, self-kindness, and self-patience to make a success of detaching from someone who has dug into your life and who is ruining your life.
Don’t beat yourself up for falling down and letting a harmful person creep closer again. That person is likely beating you up enough already. Instead, use your emotions to shield, nurture, and understand yourself.
When you love yourself, you will be more likely to want better for yourself, which will help you build better and more lasting relationships. These new and healthy relationships will help you crowd out damaging ones and disentangle yourself because you are ready to mesh with healthy company.
8. Put Up Barriers
A precursor to having healthy boundaries is to have an absolute barrier. Using barriers is about keeping harmful people out of your space, not reacting at all.
These are non-negotiation situations, such as refusing to let your boss threaten you at work or consciously avoiding a colleague at work after you laid a sexual harassment charge against them with the HR department because they acted inappropriately to you.
Using barriers, you can build up defenses you will need when you start to relax and use boundaries to control how much you interact with the toxic people in your life. When you are a recovering alcoholic, you don’t try to drink less – you stop drinking entirely.
Likewise, when you have a truly destructive person in your life, you have to banish them entirely to protect yourself and learn what life is like without them.
9. Focus on What You Can Control
Realizing you can control yourself and any information you share about yourself is an important step in detaching yourself from people who have a toxic power over you.
Often, we are manipulated by people who don’t have our best interests at heart. These people may try to control you and get information out of you that you aren’t comfortable sharing, which can lead you into difficulty, trauma, and stress.
You have the power to control what you share, how you let people interact with you, and what you tolerate. Set boundaries, refocusing on what you are comfortable allowing in your life and how you open up to others.
Try using affirmations to tell yourself that you are in control and nobody can make you do something that is toxic or dangerous for you. An example of this is to say: “I am the one who decides what I share and with whom. My life, my rules.”
10. Reset Your Expectations and Be Realistic
When you’ve been holding out for something that you realize you won’t be getting, you finally reach the point where you fold up your tents and move on. There is no point in hanging around in the friend-zone with a toxic girlfriend who is just using you or waiting on that promotion on work from your manipulative boss, only to realize you won’t get it.
So it’s time to reset your expectations and look at the situation or relationship and see it for what it is – a toxic and failed mess. But you can detach if you let yourself see this situation with brutal honesty.
You need to decide what works for you, what is holding you back, and by resetting your expectations and holding yourself accountable to achieve those expectations, you can move ahead.
11. Love Them From Afar
It’s especially difficult to let go of family members or loved ones who are toxic. You may also not be able to fully remove them from your life, so you’ll have to find a way to balance your love with what’s healthy for you.
A better option is to love them from afar. Let them go, keep them out of your inner circle, wish them well, allow yourself to love them, BUT also remember to protect yourself from them. These people are toxic, and as much as you love them, they are dangerous to your mental and emotional health.
You may find that once you give yourself permission not to spend time with them, you can actually love them without the burden of being invested in them.
12. Reconnect With What Makes You Happy
Toxic and emotionally draining people can cause you to neglect the most important person in your life – you. Instead of doing what makes you happy and what fulfills you, these people have caused you to spend your time, energy, money, and mental efforts on them, neglecting yourself.
Use the opportunity to reconnect with yourself when you start to detach from those who don’t bring you happiness.
You may not even know what you like or who you are after involvement in a lengthy toxic relationship.
Now you can get to know yourself again, find out what you hope for, love, and enjoy spending time on. Go on a meditation retreat, hike solo across a mountain, or take a road trip on your own, but find out about yourself and what makes you happy.
13. Focus on the Future
Stop clinging to the past and the happiness you had with the person you need to detangle from. Chances are that whatever you had is now gone and the relationship is more toxic than healthy.
Redirect your focus to the future. Do you want to continue with that toxic relationship?
Then let go and focus forward, seeing a new future, a future for you where you are healthy and looked after.
Final Thoughts on How to Emotionally Detach from Someone
Letting go and detaching from a toxic or unhealthy partner, child, family member, friend, or work situation or person is hard and it takes hard work. But it is worth it when you realize how important it is to protect yourself – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Start investing less in the toxic person, becoming less emotionally entangled in their drama. It’s simply not worth it.
Remember why you are detaching, learn to respond, journal, meditate, be patient and loving toward yourself, put up barriers, love them from a distance, and look toward the future.
There are many pros to ending an unhealthy relationship, so read our guide about the 7 life-saving benefits to ending a toxic relationship to help remind you why you need to detach and leave.
And if you're looking for more articles about relationships, be sure to check out these blog posts:
- 11 Steps to Deal with an Emotionally Unavailable Man
- 23 Emotional Abuse Red Flags in Your Relationship
- 7 Signs Someone Has Unhealthy Attachment Issues in a Relationship