Use Emotional Detachment to End a Toxic Relationship

Edited by Donna, Eng, Alma, Mereship

Understanding Why Breaking Up With A Toxic Person is So Hard

Emotionally detaching from a troubled relationship can be rough.


It is the toxic, codependent relationships with alcoholics, addicts, narcissists, and sociopaths are the hardest to end because you have usually invested a lot of time and energy in a person that you have hoped will change. Many people simply don't have the psychological coping strategies or emotional stoicism to simply walk away from a relationship that has been so expensive personally. Even if the other person walks away, the relationship often still endures in your head, because you have no idea how to emotionally and intellectually detach from what just happened.

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It may be difficult for you to end a toxic relationship because:

  • The more you try to make sense of what is happening, the crazier you feel, and all of the confusion create by your toxic partner has you doubting your own gut instincts
  • You feel you have fought, jumped through hoops and done everything you can to hold on to this person and just can't face the fact that all of the emotional energy that you put into the relationship is going to amount to nothing
  • You can't bear the thought of the person being with someone else, reaping the rewards of all your hard work of seeing them through a recovery or nurturing them during a mental illness
  • You may have lent him or her a great deal of money and are hoping to recoup your investment, even if they have returned to old obsessions or addictions or are completely unemployable
  • You think, despite their personal or financial problems, that there is some hope left for the two of you once he or she reaches their artistic or career potential, and that is the when you will be rewarded for all of your devotion
  • You may feel that without your constant rescuing, care and guidance, that his or her life may stray so far off course that they could end up living on the street, overdose or even commit suicide
  • You cannot bear the humiliation of being rejected by someone who you have felt all along should be lucky just to be with you because you have already forgiven him or her for so many transgressions
  • The person may have been blaming you for so long for everything that goes wrong in the relationship that you feel you have something to prove to make him or her love you more
  • You feel that your identity is totally enmeshed with that people and that if he or she leaves you will not feel whole
  • You suffer from low self-esteem and find it easier to believe that everything is your fault, just as your partner claims
  • You fear the individual and how he or she could wreak revenge on you if you leave, by spilling your secrets publicly or even stalking or harming you in some way
  • You feel that breaking up with the person is not only going to be a lot of work, it is going to be really hard to meet someone new because your partner has led you to feel that you are unattractive or unworthy of love

After learning some detachment techniques and putting them into practice, you may find that many of the concerns listed above, that have actually prevented you from leaving, will not apply to you.

How to Let Go of Blame and Shame And Find the Strength to Leave

Do not take all of the blame for the failure of the relationship.


The very first stage of detaching from a toxic relationship is realizing that despite what the other person might want you to believe, you are not to blame for everything that has gone wrong in the relationship.

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In order to accomplish the first stage of detachment you must:

  1. 1
    Stop blaming yourself or your partner for the situation and let go with loving detachment
    .
    The technique for this is to officially recognize that there are limits to your compassion and that you are harming yourself and your partner by not letting go. Decide that you will no longer engage with a person suffering from impulsivity, delusions, fantasies, lying, emotional blackmail, gas lighting, grandiosity, a tendency to isolate, irrational statements, passive-aggressive actions, and sadism. These personality traits are symptoms of a psychological illness and they have nothing to do with you. The only two things you may blame yourself for, but not punish yourself for, are: trying to make the best of an impossible situation because you loved someone and then putting up with any financial, verbal or physical abuse for longer than you should have.
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  2. 2
    Accept the inconceivable, which is that the person does not love or care for you and may not have loved or cared for you in the past
    .
    This is the hardest part of detaching from a toxic relationship because many people enter these relationships with a good heart, a great deal of trust and a lot of faith in that saying that "Love cures all." To many, it is unfathomable that this old saying does not apply to their particular situation or that somehow that they were blind and did not see the person as they really were. Even if there was a point where the relationship was emotionally healthy, the other person may have, for one reason or another that has nothing to do you simply changed and moved forward in another direction. For many, this step in this stage entails the release of grief, as it signifies the end of a glorious dream.
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  3. 3
    Admit that in the past you have been powerless when it comes to this person and that all along it has been you that has been giving him or her control over your life
    .
    Proclaim right here and now that you will not be recognizing this person as an authority about anything in your life and that you will especially not be accepting him or her's opinions about you as the truth. Take your authority and credibility back by not internalizing anything that the person says about you, behind your back or to your face. It is important to repeat this to yourself but it also helps to make it known to others that you are taking steps to get away from this individual and to stop defining yourself through him or her and get away.
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  4. 4
    Adopt a more pragmatic, survivalist view of life and stop thinking in romantic, dramatic terms
    .
    It is time to ask yourself why you are in this relationship and what the payoff is for you. Usually, it is because there is a payoff for you in terms of feeling needed, or you could be addicted to drama or your constant need to nurture or rescue others makes you feel useful or less bored. If this is difficult for you to figure out just by thinking about it, take a piece of paper and make a list of reasons as to why you stay with the person called "What's the Pay Off For Staying In This For Me?" This will help you discover just how facile some of the justifications for staying with a person like this can actually be.
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  5. 5
    Accept what you may have always subconsciously known but been afraid to admit in the past, which is that person is not capable of giving you the healthy relationship that you deserve
    .
    Whether it is due to incapacity due to a bad childhood, emotional coldness due to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or cheating on you, again and again, there is no way you should lower your standards or change your most prized life goals in order to stay in a toxic relationship. After you admit it to yourself, admit it to others. You will find that you have a lot of helpers and people observing that are more than willing to encourage you to leave because they have been standing by and watching you sacrifice yourself in this relationship for a long time.
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  6. 6
    Declare that you will stop keeping this person's secrets for him or her
    .
    Toxic relationships are often built on a foundation of lies and it is your partner's expectation that you will enable him or her by keeping secrets. Your reward for this behavior in the past has been all of that approval you have been craving, sexual attention and sometimes even a financial security. Simply resolving, to be honest, with your partner, everyone else and especially yourself can be a powerful tool of psychological detachment.
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How to Let Go of Anger and Resentment As Prepare to Leave For Good

Do not let yourself be held hostage by the promise of sex.


During this second stage of emotional detachment is a natural emotional evolution of everything that you might have been recognizing or experiencing in stage one, only at this point you might be experiencing a lot of anger or resentment at the partner who has strung you along for so long. It is during this stage that most people manage to physically leave the relationship if they live with the person, but for most codependents, this is not an overnight process.

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You should take the following proactive steps to making the separation a reality in the near future.

  1. 1
    You will resolve to feel anger, and release it, but not express it directly to your partner
    .
    During this stage, you can start to let your partner know, mostly through actions, that you will not be putting up with certain behaviors anymore, but you will not express your feelings directly to him or her, as you know from past experience that is not productive. The best places to express any emotions, such as grief, disappoint or rage are in a self-help group, a twelve-step group or with a therapist.
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  • 2
    You will begin to minimize contact with him or her and decide to practice loving detachment
    .
    It is fine to begin to drift away from your partner by not being there for him or her or not jumping each time you are sent a text, called on the phone or confronted at your door in a public place. You do not have to ignore him or her entirely, but you are not going to engage in any exchanges or actions that you know are adverse to your best interests. You are going to proceed to distance yourself from him or her slowly, while at the same time practicing loving detachment. You are keeping him or her at arm's length so that you are not internalizing the painful things that they do or say to you as they sense that you are taking back control of your life.
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  • 3
    You will establish healthy boundaries by not letting your ex take advantage of you or abuse you in any way
    .
    Your goal during this stage is to start presenting the idea to your soon-to-be-ex that you will be leaving the situation soon. However, this can be tricky as many toxic individuals begin to panic, threaten and harm themselves or you at the slightest suggestion that they are about to be abandoned. On the other hand, some individuals are so self-absorbed or busy with substance abuse, they may not even notice that you are leaving or gone.
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    1. 1
      If your partner tries to lure you into an open conflict about your distant behavior or decision to leave, you will not take the bait
      .
      At this point, your partner might try to get your attention by acting out in any number of ways. You may be pleased with the way you no longer seem to care about the person's tantrums, guilting or emotional blackmailing of you. Your sexual attraction towards your partner will also dissipate. You will also be experiencing a new sense of freedom, as you realize that it is getting a lot easier to not have a conversation with this person at all.
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    2. 2
      If you live with him or her, make a step-by-step plan to leave and follow it through
      .
      Do what you have to strategize your departure. Set a moving date and determine who the individuals are in your life that can help you with this life-changing move. Know that this may not be anyone from his family or your circle of friends. If it is in your best interests to tell him or her about it, as you are leaving, or move out while he or she is at a work then do it. There is no right way to end a relationship when both parties are emotionally healthy, but it is even harder when addiction or emotional illness is part of it as the situation can quickly escalate into violence. If it is your home, then give him or her a firm date on which he has to move out and if he or she does not leave, then call the police.
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    How to Move Forward After Ending A Toxic Relationship

    Do not be tempted to contact your toxic ex.


    At this point, you have ended the relationship and are not having much to do with your ex. This part of leaving a toxic relationship becomes all about self-care and not succumbing to guilt or nostalgic feelings about your ex.

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    Here are some things you can do to keep moving forward and leave that toxic relationship and all of its difficulties behind you.

    1. 1
      Once the relationship is over, establish a firm rule of absolutely no contact
      .
      Do not be tempted to call or check up on your ex to see how he is doing. After some of your anger and resentment has dissipated, you might feel compelled to contact him or her. The reason you may have this urge is because you are a long-term codependent and caretaker of that individual and you may be missing playing that role. Tell yourself that whatever you hear is likely to be a lie or a manipulation designed to make you very jealous or very sorry that you left in the first place. You can also be pretty much assured that he or she is not sitting there, all alone, pining over you, which is a blow to the ego, but true.
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    2. 2
      Sit down and make a list of all the things that you would like to accomplish in the next three months, then next three months after that and the next six months after that
      .
      Setting new goals helps take your mind off of the past and helps take your focus off of what your ex is doing and put it back on you.
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    3. 3
      Write a letter expressing all of your grief, anger and other feelings to your ex and do not send it
      .
      This is a healing exercise that will help you vent any pent-up emotions. It is best to devote one single day to this rather than extending writing the letter over several days, at that means you will be spending far too much time focusing on him instead of you.
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    4. 4
      If you feel tempted to get back with your toxic ex, sit down with a piece of paper and write down all of the reasons that you left him in the first place
      .
      When you have an ex with an emotional or addiction issue, you will find that you start feeling less and less nostalgic by the time to you get to the fourth or fifth thing that he or she has done to you.
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    5. 5
      Spend your time with supportive emotionally like-minded people
      .
      Consider joining a support group that helps codependents deal emotionally and detach from toxic partners such as Al-Anon or ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics.) You can also meet new people by joining clubs or pursuing a hobby that you enjoy.
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    Tips and Tricks

    Sex with your toxic ex after you have broken up is a bad idea.
    • When practicing loving detachment from your partner, you will not allow him or her to have any type of sex or physical intimacy as you as that establishes a pattern where your "no means yes."
    • If your partner is abusive, sadistic or dangerous, call the police for assistance and take appropriate measures later to get therapy for what you have been put through
    • As much as it is easy to blame your partner for everything that has gone wrong in the relationship, it is also important for you to be accountable for enabling an abusive or uncomfortable situation to exist, but do not beat yourself up for it
    • It is a given that there will always be people around who are more supportive of your ex than you so be prepared not to take what they say or do personally
    • Practice doing the right thing, no matter what the situation, and you will discover that another right thing always happens
    • Keep in mind that ending a relationship rarely happens overnight and it might be part of a very long process that takes a couple of months
    • Be aware that after a traumatic breakup, that you are going to have days where you might feel very depressed as you process some of the things that happened to you while you were in the toxic relationship, but realize that this is part of your healing

    Questions and Answers

    Am I trying to let go of my toxic relationship, but I find myself worried that he will find someone else and suddenly be a better person and happy with them. How should I handle these thoughts and feelings?

    I have been in a toxic relationship for almost 2 years, off and on. He is quick tempered and often reacts and yells at me at the slightest problem. He has cussed at me and called me names many times. We have not gone more than 5 days without a flight. I want to end it but I'm having a hard time letting him go and thinking someone else with get the best part of him and not so many of the bad things. How do I change this mindset?

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    Categories : Relationships

    Recent edits by: Alma, Eng, Donna

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