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How to Distance Yourself Without Hurting Feelings

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

You can form relationships with people who create a toxic environment as significantly unhealthy as a physically toxic environment or a diet of unhealthy food, according to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., author of "High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout." A 2007 study published in “JAMA Internal Medicine” reported that having negative people in your life can increase your risk of heart disease. Distancing yourself from emotionally unhealthy situations takes tact, patience and healthy boundaries.

Express Yourself

One way to distance yourself from someone who is toxic to you without hurting her feelings is to tell her how you feel. You might say, “When I’m around you, I feel…” sad, depressed, unhappy, taken advantage of, or however you truly feel, suggests Carter. Clarify why you feel that way, such as her constantly finding fault with your ideas, always having to have the last word, or insisting that you always pay the tab. Suggest something that she could do to make that feeling more positive. Make it a constructive collaboration, rather than a fault-finding session. Explain that you will give her time to develop some new habits and decide whether you can let her get close to you again.

Enforce Boundaries

When you decide you are worthy of being treated well, you can distance that person from you. Explain that you will not tolerate being mistreated and suggest that the individual consider more appropriate behavior. Whenever he repeats the mistreatment, calmly tell him that you are leaving until he can treat you more appropriately. Follow through with your decision without another word. The individual might not realize that he has returned to his old habits, and could quickly move to rectify the situation with an apology and more appropriate behavior. Each time you feel mistreated, turn and walk away, saying you will return when he can treat you more appropriately.

Change Your Habits

You can pursue interests that take you out of this person’s immediate vicinity. Choose a different time to work out at the gym or change classes. Put some physical distance between you and the toxic individual, but in a way that doesn’t seem like a snub. You might say that your schedule has changed or that you have found a new favorite activity. Spend less time in situations where you may run into her, such as only showing up for the family Christmas party, and spending Thanksgiving helping out at the church community dinner. You might not have to spend much time explaining that you are distancing yourself because of her behavior.

In a Crowd

If you can’t adequately remove yourself from this person’s vicinity, spend time with him only with the buffer of a crowd. Invite other friends to join you in your gym class or to your study group. Visit a toxic parent only when other members of the family can come, so that the parent is less likely to behave inappropriately or other people can support you in positive ways.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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