Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)
Part III. DECLUTTERING YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
Relationship Strategy #4: Let Go of Certain People
Decluttering your relationships sometimes means just that—letting go of people who cause you suffering. Sometimes the only course of action is to say goodbye to those who continue to undermine your mental and emotional health.
Letting go of a relationship is painful, even if it’s draining you, holding you back, blinding you to your true self, or, worse yet, toxic or abusive.
We invest a lot in our friendships, our marriages, our business partners, and our family members.
Quite often, it’s one of these close relationships—a person or people with whom we’ve been intimately and deeply involved for many years—that cause us the most pain and turmoil.
At some point in one of these relationships, you will reach the point where the pain and difficulty outweigh the positives—where the fallout of letting go seems less daunting than the misery of staying put.
For instance, one of the hardest things Steve ever had to do was to cut off all communication with an ex-girlfriend. After an extremely frustrating yearlong relationship, he felt that there was no way he could have her in his life—even as a friend. Their interaction was just too toxic for both people to find any happiness around one another.
So he made the decision to “force” a permanent separation by going to Europe and spending eight months traveling without any access to a cell phone. While it was challenging, Steve knew that the only way to move on was to create a “cold turkey” situation where it would be almost impossible for the two of them to have any sort of conversation.
Now, you don’t have leave your country in order to escape from a bad relationship, but you might want to consider taking a proactive approach to eliminate certain people from your life—and make sure you stick to this plan.
We’ll admit it’s not easy to make this final decision. But, there are some universal themes of discord in any kind of relationship that reveal it’s time to say goodbye. These include:
· Verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
· Consistent dishonesty, disloyalty, or deceit
· Divergent core values or questionable integrity
· General toxicity, negativity, and incompatibility
· Consistent, harmful irresponsibility
· Ongoing immaturity and emotional manipulation
· Unresolved or untreated mental health issues
· Addictions (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, pornography)
· Refusal to communicate, address problems, or invest in the relationship
Beyond these more serious situations, sometimes a relationship simply runs its course. You may find, for reasons you don’t completely understand, that another person diminishes your life more than enlivens it. You may come to a point where you simply don’t wish to deal with the emotional clutter and chaos another person creates in your life.
If the person causing your suffering happens to be your spouse, a parent or family member, or an adult child, you can’t just abandon the relationship without serious repercussions. But you can better manage these relationships and protect your mental health by creating strong boundaries and communicating your boundaries to the person involved. You can learn more about creating relationship boundaries in this post on Barrie’s blog, Live Bold and Bloom .
If you have difficult parents and extended family members who are causing you angst, you can learn how to deal with them in this article ; or, if your marriage is unhappy and you’re considering divorce, you might want to check out this post.
Of course, managing or letting go of any relationship is not a quick proposition. It can take months or years and a lot of heartache to detach from someone who has been a part of your life in any significant way. But we would be remiss if we didn’t include this point as part of your mental declutter options.
Here are some thoughts on how to remove yourself from a draining or painful relationship:
Consider the positives of life without this person.
Letting go of a relationship might feel like you’re giving up or being unkind. You might feel guilty if you step away from this person. But if the relationship is causing you regular discomfort, you are not treating yourself with respect.
If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to end (or contain) the relationship, think about how your life would feel if you didn’t have this person around you. Would you feel relieved? Liberated? Less anxious or stressed?
Ask yourself how your life might change for the better if you didn’t have to cope with the problems and concerns associated with your interactions with this person. Your judgment might be clouded by your feelings of guilt or obligation, but try to honestly weigh the positives of letting go.
Consider the fallout of saying goodbye.
Ending a relationship rarely occurs without some fallout. Your decision will likely impact other people close to you, forcing them to choose sides or at least take some kind of stand—which might not be in your favor. Some people might cut you off as a result.
The person you are saying goodbye to may try to sabotage you, talk behind your back, or wound you in some way. Their reaction may be more dramatic or damaging than you anticipated, causing things to get worse before they get better. You might find the loss of the relationship more painful than you thought it would be, and you second-guess yourself.
It’s valuable to think through all of the possible repercussions before you end the relationship. How will each of these scenarios make your feel? Can you handle the fallout, or do you find it more damaging than maintaining a draining relationship?
Define what “goodbye” really means.
Letting go might mean a permanent end to a relationship where there is no communication or interaction at all. But this isn’t possible or reasonable for all relationships. Goodbye might also mean letting go of the old way of relating to this person and implementing a new, more self-protective way.
Relationships you have with family members, adult children, or a former spouse can’t always be cut off entirely. But you can create boundaries around the time spent with these people and how you communicate with them in order to protect your mental and emotional health.
Decide what “goodbye” means for you exactly. How much time are you willing to spend with this person? How do you wish to communicate with them, and how often? What will you no longer tolerate in your interactions with them? Being proactive about these decisions makes you feel more in control and calm about how to move forward.
Communicate your intentions without blame.
Simply dropping a friend or family member cold turkey, with no explanation or conversation, might be the easy way out—but it isn’t the kindest way. Yes, this person might be draining every last drop of energy and joy out of you, but they are still deserving of an explanation, or at least a head’s up.
You don’t need to get into a long, drawn-out conflict in order to say goodbye or cut back on your interactions. Nor do you need to assign blame or cast aspersions. Try to take the high road and say what you would want to hear if the shoe were on the other foot.
Person-to-person conversations are generally the best way to have this talk, but you know this person best. If you anticipate a lot of drama or anger, then maybe a letter or phone call is better than meeting in person. Either way, try to keep it short and focus on your own feelings rather than their faults .
You might say something like, “I need a break from our friendship because I feel like we are out of sync, and it’s causing me distress. I care about you, but I need to step away. I didn’t want to back off without saying something first.”
Create a plan for a negative reaction.
No matter how kindly you end a relationship, the other person (and perhaps others you are both associated with) will react badly. It’s hard to anticipate how someone might react when they are hurt or angry.
Try to prepare for this potential fallout in advance. This might mean you ask a support person to be with you when you communicate your intentions, as well as after the difficult conversation.
You might need to talk personally about your plan to end this relationship with friends and family who know the other person. Try to explain your need to end the relationship without bad-mouthing the other person if possible.
Depending on the intensity and longevity of the relationship you are ending, you might need the help of a therapist so you can navigate your own feelings of loss and pain.
Accept that it can be a process.
For some relationships, letting go is a slow backing away over time. Or it might be an ending followed by a period of reconciliation, only to result in a more permanent ending.
Sometimes guilt, confusion, or loneliness can make you second-guess your decision to let go. It takes going back to the relationship to cement your determination to finally end it.
Recognize that letting go of someone who was once close to you is rarely easy or pain-free. Give yourself permission to do it slowly if that’s the best way for you.
Allow yourself to grieve.
The ending of a relationship that was once close or that you hoped would someday work out is painful. Yes, you may feel relief that you don’t have to deal with the difficult aspects of the relationship. You may have more emotional energy and fewer daily frustrations. However, grief has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it. Any process of letting go can create a pocket of grief that needs time to heal.
Don’t try to talk yourself out of your grief or second-guess your decision because your grief is confusing. If you view grief as a normal part of the process of letting go, it will pass through you more quickly, allowing you to regain the peace of mind and joy that was diminished during the relationship.
As you can see, eliminating people from your life can be challenging, but also rewarding because it frees you up to spend time with the people who truly matter.
In the next section, we’ll go over the fourth area that you can declutter in order to reduce stress, anxiety, and a feeling overwhelming your life.
Let’s get to it….