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Day 29. Distancing & Opting Out

Embracing healthy boundaries is an all-round good thing to do. Not only do you end up feeling good about you but you end up feeling better about your relationships knowing that you are showing up from a place of love, care, trust and respect as well as taking care of your side of the street. 


Boundaries open up your options. You go from suffering in silence/people-pleasing to ‘keep the peace’, going into battle, or cutting off because you don’t want to be vulnerable and deal with the situation, to having the option of engaging from a boundaried place where even if that person isn’t that keen on boundaries, you’re boundaried enough that you don’t let them hijack you or let you get drawn into shenanigans that will leave you feeling drained.


But, depending on who you’re dealing with, you may find that you either need to put a little distance between you or that you need time out, either temporarily or permanently. These are all boundaried options though because your reasons for doing so are entirely different to when you don’t have healthy boundaries and are in some way trying to influence or even control the other party’s behaviour.

So what’s the difference between distance and opting out temporarily or permanently?

When you choose to have a bit of distance, it’s not necessarily something you go and make an announcement about— it’s more an adjustment and recognition of the fact that you need some healthy emotional, mental and physical space between you. It might also be because a bit of distance will mean that you’ve taken protective cover rather than carrying on as if everything is normal and exposing you to something unhealthy. You’re not taking time out— you’re just not spending as much time around this person or engaging at the level that you have previously.


Example: Mandy is married to Mindy’s brother and Mindy, in an effort to be a ‘good’ sister-in-law and doing the whole living up to her picture of what she thinks family ‘should’ be like, has spent a lot of time around Mandy who over time has shown herself to be quite passive-aggressive. Mindy is a pleaser, so instead of stepping back a little or flagging up a concern when Mandy puts her down or is quite bitchy or even plays her off against her own brother, Mindy keeps swallowing her feelings until resentment and hurt starts to feel as if they’re consuming her. 


Mindy finally learns about boundaries and also realises that the situation isn’t going to change if she still keeps approaching it in the same way. She decides that she’s not going to discuss past incidences with Mandy but that she’s going to stop spending so much time with her and focus on her own friendships and work rather than trying to force a closer relationship. She also acknowledges that while Mandy’s behaviour hurts, that a lot of it is not really about her per se; Mandy has her own issues. Now, when she does see her, it’s because she wants to. She makes up her mind that the next time Mandy makes one of her barbed comments, that she’ll ask, What did you mean when you said ________? And if Mandy asks her to meet up or for one of her numerous favours, if she can’t or doesn’t want to, she’ll say so, this way, when she does say yes, it’s authentic.


Distancing yourself from someone isn’t to punish them; it’s to regroup with yourself. It’s a chance to process feelings and gain perspective, as well as to recognise the current limitations of the relationship being highlighted by the gap between reality and your hopes/expectations.


Distance does give objectivity so you might also find that you’re able to articulate the issue and discuss it from a calm place.

You are not stopping engaging altogether with this person when you put a bit of distance between you; you’re stepping back a bit and just not engaging as much. It might mean hanging out less, not getting involved in their dramas, calling once a week instead of every day and basically, being immersed in something other than whatever has preoccupied you about this relationship. Don’t do it from a passive-aggressive place because that’s not being boundaried; do it from a place of recognising your part, no matter how small and recognising that the situation has been sapping you of your energy.


Sometimes having a bit of distance happens naturally say for instance, after you’ve both had a disagreement, but if you both value the relationship and sort your heads out separately, when you reconnect, you will find that you’re both ready to move on and can even laugh about it.


If they do notice the distancing, don’t make out that it’s in their imagination. Instead, explain that you have been caught up in some other stuff, had a lot on your mind etc., and then suggest a time to catch up. Or be frank – e.g. “When you said ________ when I saw/spoke with you last, I realised that I needed to clear my head a bit” and then suggest a time to meet/catch up but make sure it’s not a panicked suggestion where you’re trying to appease. Use the Be Factual Approach. If you don’t want to see them for a few weeks, suggest a date to meet up around then.


When you choose to opt out, whether it’s temporarily or permanently, you’re choosing to stop engaging. You don’t just need to see or engage with that person less than you usually do— you need time out. You won’t be in touch with him/her, and typically, they know that you’re not. It might also be that you both choose to opt out. You might both do it from a relatively healthy place or, assuming that you’re sticking to being boundaried, you’re being boundaried, but they might go off in a blaze of glory.


Opting out, whether it’s temporarily or permanently, is the option to go for when you’ve tried engaging from a boundaried place and putting some distance between you, and it’s become clear that this is not going to work. It’s also the option to go for when the person’s behaviour is so over the line, and they lack remorse, that the safe thing to do is to remove yourself. Same for when you realise that you’ve been submerged in a very toxic situation with this person for some time.


Sometimes opting out, whether it’s temporarily or permanently, happens because you love that person (and they you), but their way of living and their expectations of you, are very toxic and it becomes clear that the only role you can have with them is one of codependency where they keep trying to make you responsible for their feelings and behaviour.


If a person is unreasonable or even abusive and they seem as if they’re committed to continuing, opting out, especially for the latter, is going to be highly likely. You might also find that opting out temporarily and then switching to a distanced relationship might work – this is more appropriate for a family member rather than say, a romantic partner though.


Opting out needn’t be your default option.

Some people misuse opting out, preferring to do it because it’s better than being vulnerable and having to be seen, having to engage and try to find resolution and yes, better than hearing what the other person has to say or dealing with the tension.


Opting out temporarily allows you to get grounded and to take care of you. When you encounter boundary issues with someone, it can do quite a number on your self-esteem if the situation is quite destructive or you’ve spent time blaming you and/or trying to please them. You get to grieve your feelings and gain perspective without having to continue to engage in what has become a toxic situation. You are No Contact – you’re not available to them and vice versa. You use the time to put some much-needed boundaries into the situation, and when you re-engage, it has to be from a more boundaried place. Again, just like when you distance, you need to acknowledge what you need to do in order not to be open to being in that same space again.


Permanently opting out isn’t a decision to take lightly, but sometimes it’s essential. It doesn’t have to be in a blaze of glory; sometimes you quietly reach the conclusion that you’re done, finito — you just can’t take anymore and are not willing to sacrifice your wellbeing for even another moment in a toxic situation. Permanently opting out can also be the quiet but often painful acceptance that whatever you want that person to be, not only are they not that person but who they are just isn’t going to work. You know that you cannot have a mutually respectful relationship and that marks the end of the road. You will need to grieve the loss of the relationship, including your hopes and expectations for it – Unsent Letters as well as other forms of therapy including one-to-one sessions with a therapist/counsellor or support groups.

 

The TAKEAWAY

  • You have three options when you’re considering space – engaging with them from a more boundaried place and including some distance, opting out temporarily and opting out permanently.
  • Putting some distance between you both helps you to make decisions about how you want to feel and act going forward.
  • You’d be surprised: when you put distance between you and another person after things have been strained and even quite forced, it can be quite a relief on both sides.
  • Sometimes opting out permanently does happen straight out of a big blow-up but I would caution you on making a decision in temper because even though anger can galvanise us into action, sometimes when we calm down, we realise that it doesn’t necessarily have to be to this level but then feel too embarrassed to go back, so make sure you reaffirm your decision from a calm place.
  • Distance isn’t easy, but sometimes it’s necessary – you can’t hold yourself hostage to a situation (or have them do it).
  • Don’t beat yourself up for having to take time out or to opt out – it’s better than letting stress consume you and destroy your wellbeing.
  • Not everyone will get your decision, and that’s OK. People often project their own, for instance, views of their own family on to others so of course they cannot imagine stepping away, but they’re not in your situation.
  • Unless they’re being abusive or have consistently demonstrated that they’re boundary-intolerant, try engaging from a more boundaried place first, and that way you can have deeper trust in your decision.
  • Avoid passive-aggression by not using it as a way of hinting at your feelings and trying to get the person to do what you want. Distancing and opting out is about choosing what you do and don’t want to participate in and taking responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
  • While you might feel angry initially when you opt out, if you grieve and get perspective on things, you will find that opting out is about living and let live, not judging.
  • A word of caution: keeping all of your exes in your phone and messaging them can end up leaving you open to having your boundaries tapped on. It is good to have endings and close doors to open others. Yes, remain in touch with genuine friends but anyone else, it’s time to opt out.

JOURNALING: What feelings come up for you when you think about distancing and opting out? If you’ve had very negative experiences of these, explore these and add in some fresh perspective. How are past experiences influencing any resistance to having these as an option? Are you able to differentiate between the past and the present or someone else’s way of distancing/opting out and yours?

TASK: Look at your people pleasing / bad boundaries entourage. Which of these can you engage with more boundaries and which can you do that but also need to add a bit of distance? Which, if any, do you need to take time out from temporarily? Which, if any, do you need to have a permanent time out from? Do you have exes or faux friends that you keep in touch with more out of guilt or fear that they’ll spontaneously combust into a better person as soon as you stop engaging? Get them off WhatsApp, etc., and clear the decks!

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