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Protect yourself

It’s not always possible to ban your abuser from your life, even if you’d really want to. Sometimes, minimal contact is required for the sake of your children.

When the abuser is your parent, breaking off all contact often feels too definite. I usually do not recommend to, either, because the guilt or remorse such a decision can cause won’t give you the inner peace you’re looking for. If the abuser is an employer or colleague, quitting your job is often not an option. The danger lies in an increased chance of an eventual burnout, so it’s extremely important that you protect yourself against your abuser as much as possible.

The good news is: you can learn to. By using a relatively simple technique you can learn how to distance yourself from emotionally unhealthy people. If you don’t, it can cost you a lot of energy in the long run and that stress can cause a burnout and other physical and emotional problems. 

To avoid these problems, it’s important to protect yourself. It is often impossible to effectively set boundaries for emotionally unhealthy people, as setting up boundaries triggers emotionally unhealthy people and causes immediate conflict which, in turn, cause more stress.

What types of emotionally unhealthy people could you be surrounded by? Anyone who is or can be overly:

  • Negative 
  • Drama queen types
  • Bullies and sadists
  • Unreasonably demanding
  • People with annoying traits or habits
  • Unorganized, unprepared or shallow 
  • Greedy and/or selfish
  • People users
  • Argumentative
  • Overly competitive
  • Unmotivated and lazy 
  • Entitled 
  • Incompetent 
  • Untrainable, uncoachable with no willingness to learn
  • Talking (about themselves) too much
  • Controlling
  • Overly affectionate
  • Unreliable, untrustworthy 

The core of emotional abuse is that someone continuously crosses a line with you. Its harmful because your boundaries aren’t respected by your abuser.

When you have repeatedly laid out your limits and they are continuously violated, you will begin to recognize a pattern consisting of these four phases: 

  • Denial: ‘Of course not, I’d never do that!’ 
  • Projection: Suddenly, you are the problem, resulting in responses such as ‘Yes, but you…’ 
  • Attack: The abuser gets angry or outraged. ‘How dare you!’ 
  • Victimization: ‘I’m only trying, I can’t help it, I can’t believe people do this to me, I’m always here for everyone! I had no idea, I’ve been through so much..’ 

This pattern shows you how abusers avoid their responsibility for their actions and the consequences thereof. Any of the above conversations will not lead anywhere but to conflict. 

Strategy

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 into our brain and 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’ve learned 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 feelings 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.