Whether it’s a complicated romantic relationship or a toxic one with family, there are times you just have to let go.
We’ve all experienced relationships that felt too involved or emotionally draining. These unhealthy relationships can be draining both mentally and physically.
Sometimes, detaching from them is the best way to take care of your mental health and well-being.
There are several reasons you may need to detach from a relationship.
If there’s physical or verbal abuse, if the relationship is causing you undue stress and anxiety, if you’ve noticed a change in your mood when around that person — these are just some of the reasons why it may be time to consider detaching yourself emotionally from that relationship.
But whatever the reason, understanding why you need to detach and how to do it can help you move on in a way that’s best for you.
What is detachment?
There are a couple of ways to think about detachment.
It can mean avoiding certain people or situations that are causing you stress or anxiety, which can sometimes lead to “emotional numbing,” or the dampening of emotions.
Or, it can mean building and maintaining boundaries to preserve your mental health. By setting clear boundaries in your relationships, you can avoid the feelings of stress, anger, resentment, and disappointment that often build up when limits are pushed or ignored.
Now that you have a better idea of what emotional detachment is, it’s also a good idea to understand what detachment is not.
It doesn’t mean that you aren’t able to feel or that you lack emotions, nor does it mean you lack empathy. While emotional detachment can be a symptom of depression, voluntary detachment isn’t an indication that you have depression.
Rather, it’s about building healthy boundaries to make your expectations clear and establish what behavior is comfortable for you and what is not.
While some people view voluntary detachment as “rude” or “unfeeling,” that’s rarely the intention of the person detaching from the relationship.
What causes emotional detachment?
There are several reasons why people may feel they need to emotionally detach from a relationship — whether that’s an intimate relationship or a complicated family one.
Some of those reasons include:
- past experiences (neglect, abuse, or trauma)
- personal choice
- medication use, such as antidepressants
- other mental health conditions, such as PTSD, depression, or a personality disorder
When deciding whether to detach from a relationship, identifying your reasons for detaching can be helpful in your decision-making.
If you can’t figure out why you’re detaching, consider reaching out to a healthcare or mental health professional. Talking with someone may help you determine why you’re doing it and how to do it in a way that’s best for you.
When to let go
Detaching from a relationship doesn’t mean you’re abandoning that person or that you’ve stopped caring about them.
It can mean taking a step back to evaluate how that relationship is affecting you and your mental health.
Do you obsessively worry about that person all the time? Do you try to rescue them from making choices you don’t feel are healthy?
Do you feel that you have to tell them what to do all the time? Does that person do the same to you?
Taking responsibility for another person’s actions and behaviors can be tiring and overwhelming at times. In the same way, having another person trying to tell you how to act and behave can be equally frustrating.
Detaching can give you the emotional space you need to take care of yourself. Sometimes, caring too much about another person’s life and problems can hurt your own emotional and physical health.
You may start to have headaches, lose sleep, or be more irritable. Excessive worry can lead to anxiety, fear, or panic.
So, when do you know it’s time to let go?
When your health depends on someone else’s actions and behaviors, it may be time to consider letting them go.
How to let go of someone you love
Now that you’ve decided that it’s time to let someone go, how do you do it? Here are some things you can try.
Identify the reason
Ask yourself why you’re now deciding to detach from the relationship. Having a solid reason to let go is important.
Without a strong reason, you may cave in and stay in the relationship. When identifying the reason you want to get out of the relationship, try to focus on the things that are progressive, rather than one-off issues.
For example, try to focus on the fact that your feelings for that person have changed over time, not that you got in your first fight.
Release your emotions
Releasing the emotion you feel about getting out of a difficult relationship is an important step in the process.
Whether you choose to cry, dance, or take a kickboxing class, it’s a good idea to release these emotions rather than bottle them up. By having an outlet for these emotions, you’ll be able to release the tension and avoid saying something you’ll regret.
Don’t react, respond
When leaving a relationship, there will inevitably be a difficult conversation.
During that conversation, the other person may say something that causes you to react. Reaction is a split-second decision and often can lead to regret.
Instead, take a deep breath and respond thoughtfully. By allowing the other person some space in the conversation and letting yourself take a moment to think more clearly, it’ll be a more productive conversation.
Just like smoking, quitting a relationship cold turkey can be painful and a shock to your system.
In some cases, you might consider starting small, slowly removing yourself a little at a time.
For example, start by one day deleting pictures of the two of you. Another day, delete their old messages. As you gently let go, your emotions will stay in check.
In other cases — like if the relationship is traumatic or involves domestic abuse or mistreatment — moving slowly may make things worse and cause more distress. Consider talking about the next steps with a professional who specializes in these types of relationships.
Keep a journal
As you let go of a relationship, you’ll feel some big emotions. While it can be difficult to talk about them with other people, it can be helpful to work through your emotions in some way.
A journal can be a great way to process your feelings in a healthy, cathartic way.
Meditating can train your awareness and attention, which can be especially helpful during a highly emotional break-up.
Meditation can also increase your focus, reduce your stress, encourage calm, and help reduce negative feelings.
Be patient with yourself
Walking away from a relationship that was important to you can be challenging. So, try to give yourself some grace and patience to move on.
Remember that you can learn how to have healthy attachments. It’s all a process, and you can enjoy the journey along the way.
If you’re focused on looking at what your relationship used to be like, it will be increasingly difficult to walk away from it. It’s natural to look back and see only the best in a person or a relationship.
But looking back will leave you stuck in the relationship.
Instead, look to the future. Think about your future happiness, rather than glorify the past.
Tips for detaching from a toxic relationship
If you’re in an unhealthy romantic relationship that involves abuse or mistreatment, there are some additional steps you may want to take.
Try to avoid sexual contact
Try to stop all sexual contact with the person you’re leaving. Sexual contact can strengthen your attachment and make it nearly impossible to successfully leave the relationship.
Try to stay away from alcohol or drugs
As tempting as it might be to temporarily forget about the pain and work of leaving a relationship, alcohol, and drugs provide only temporary forgetfulness of the problem.
They won’t solve the issues and can be more harmful, as they can contribute to your attachment to the relationship.
Instead of looking for an escape in alcohol or drugs, try to face your feelings and the relationship head-on.
Consider joining a support group
Remember that you’re not alone. There are support groups available where you can share your experiences with others who’ve been in your shoes.
By joining a support group, you’ll connect with a group of people who know what it’s like to escape these types of relationships and can offer guidance and support during your journey.
If an in-person support group is too overwhelming for you, consider a virtual one.
Consider asking for help
Having the support of loved ones can play a role in you successfully leaving an unhealthy or harmful relationship.
Consider asking people you trust for their support and love during this challenging time. Explain that you might need them more during the coming months and communicate your challenges.
Remember: They love you and want to help.
If you’ve experienced an unhealthy relationship that involves abuse or mistreatment, seeking help from a licensed mental health professional can be beneficial to your mental health.
It will allow you to process your experience and come out the other side stronger and more able to form healthy attachments in the future.
If you find yourself in an unhealthy relationship, consider that it may be time to let that relationship go.
This, of course, is easier said than done. Sometimes it’s hard to leave because you’re so entwined with that person, and sometimes it’s hard to leave because the other person doesn’t want to let you go.
Remember that detaching doesn’t mean you’re cruel or selfish.
When it comes to your emotional health, taking care of yourself is the best thing you can do for your overall well-being.