No matter how much you may want to, it is not always possible to remove someone from your life who is emotionally abusing you. When you share children you sometimes have to maintain minimal contact. When it has to do with your parent, completely breaking contact often feels too final.
Usually, my advice is to not permanently end all contact. The eventual guilt and remorse that such a decision brings, does not give you the inner peace you are searching for. If it involves an employer or colleague, in most cases, you can’t simply quit your job, but the chance is high that you will become extremely distressed. This makes it essential that you protect yourself from the one who is emotionally abusing you.
The good news is that you can learn how to do this. By adopting a fairly simple technique, the ‘Neutral Indifferent Attitude’ you can learn how to keep emotionally unhealthy people at a distance (from your inner self). However, if you fail to learn this, you will eventually be drained of a lot of energy. Chronic energy loss (stress) can cause burnout, physical and mental complaints. Self protection is crucial to insuring that your health and happiness do not further suffer. Generally, it is not possible to establish effective boundaries with emotionally unhealthy people, because setting boundaries then only leads to conflicts. Conflicts then bring on even more stress.
What types of emotionally unhealthy people might you have in your life?
- One who is always negative or helpless
- The drama king/queen
- Bullies and sadists
- Unreasonably demanding people
- People with irritating traits or habits
- Unorganized, unprepared or shallow people
- Greedy, egotistical people
- People who use others
- People who frequently look for fights and arguments
- People who are too competitive
- Unmotivated, lazy people
- People who feel they have a right to everything
- Incompetent people
- People who are untrainable/uncoachable
- People who talk too much (about themselves)
- People who always need to be in control
- People who don’t stick to agreements or break promises
At the core of emotional abuse is the fact the this person crosses your boundaries with his/her behavior and that you suffer when the boundaries that you set are not respected. When someone displays behavior that crosses your boundaries and you have (repeatedly) indicated what they are, you begin to recognize a pattern that tends to follow these 4 phases:
- Denial: ‘No, not at all, why do you think that?’
- Projection: Suddenly, you are the one who is the problem: ‘Yes, but you always…..’
- Attack: Someone becomes angry or offended: ‘How dare you say/do that!’
- Victimization: ‘I’m also doing my best, I can’t do anything about it, others are doing this to me, I’ve always been there for you, I didn’t know that, things have been very rough for me….’
This pattern indicates an avoidance of ‘taking responsibility’ for his/her own behavior and its consequences. Discussions like the above do not lead to a solution, but result in conflict.
When laying out your limits is pointless and respectful dialogue is impossible, you have to start taking control of the situation. To deal with emotionally unhealthy people as easily as possible, let me teach you a strategy. What matters is that you learn to distance yourself from these people emotionally. I call this the ‘Neutral Indifferent Attitude’ (NIA). I cannot stress the attitude part enough: you are acting indifferent even if you really aren’t. You are not showing sympathy or antipathy while keeping your distance. This way, it’s harder to reach or hurt you.
Some people find it very difficult to act indifferent to others. It goes against their nature; they want to be interested, empathetic and genuine. Are you experiencing these feelings? Then it’s important to remember that you aren’t the emotionally unhealthy person doing this to someone. They are causing your behavior. Not you. This person has made it impossible for you to develop a healthy relationship with them. Remember that an emotionally unhealthy person can’t really deal with genuine and empathetic behavior. They simply aren’t cut out for it, meaning they will consider your needs and emotions a sign of weakness. Careful: they will try to take advantage of your kindness.
We (subconsciously) allow this type of abuse because we are susceptible to manipulation, especially through conversation. Words are imbedded in our existence as humans and although we might not realize it, language often speaks to us on more than one level. Understanding, mirroring or reflecting language is often even more automatic than reading it. Manipulative people tend to abuse that instinct. They know how to connect with you through words that may seem meaningful to you. A psychopath, for example, may use big words to say things you wouldn’t just say to anybody – without actually truly feeling anything. Because these words are meaningless to the psychopath, it can be easy for them to say things like, ‘I’m so grateful we met’, only to tell you he never wants to see you again three days later.
By being aware and alert of who you may be dealing with, you can train yourself to stop trying to understand these people. You have to consider that you’re dealing with someone who is mentally ill. Keep reminding yourself that such people don’t understand the weight of their own words. That basic understanding of emotional value is simply not instilled in them. It’s like teaching words to a parrot: it doesn’t know what the words mean, it just knows the sounds it makes provoke a response. It’s like playing Ding Dong Ditch as a child: the manipulator gets a kick out of it. A psychopath is an extreme example because they aren’t attached to language the way you are, meaning they can say whatever they want without truly understanding the feeling those words may provoke. If a situation is painful to you, you will release an energy the psychopath enjoys and they will feed off of it. The NIA is a skill you can learn so that you will not allow it to happen anymore.
However tough it may sound, you have no choice but to put your own mental health first. Your ‘energy leaks’ need to be fixed and you have the responsibility and the right to protect yourself (and your children). Be polite, don’t resort to threats or other forms of violence and always take the honorable way out when you aren’t feeling strong enough to cope for the time being. These rules are applied by law enforcement and child protective services as well; they are the rules on the streets.
It’s possible to learn how to protect yourself with the ‘Neutral Indifferent Attitude’ through specific training. In the practice there’s plenty of opportunity to get familiar with this technique so you can get stronger in connection with people that might want to cross your boundaries.
Making an appointment could be a good first step on your way to solid self protection.