cutting someone out.
April 5, 2014 6:17 AM   Subscribe

I have someone in my life who I've come to realize can no longer be there. This person is an ex. We haven't seen each other but we've stayed in touch. Tried to be 'friends.' But it always ends up with hurtful messages and it's no longer a good situation for me. Probably also not for her. The relationship was long and it's been hard to let go. Complicating this: she has a serious mental illness and seems to be getting progressively worse. Which makes all of this worse. She pushes people away and has no immediate family. It makes me sad to think of her alone, but sadder to think about dealing with this for any indefinite period of time. I literally cannot handle it anymore. I'm done. So.. do I just ignore her? Tell her I can't talk to her anymore? We have gone a few weeks without talking but that's been the longest in over a year since we've been broken up. Anyone have experiences with cutting out someone with a mental illness? How did you get through?
posted by anad487 to Human Relations (12 answers total)
I think that no matter the mental situation, you need to be honest, direct and consistent.

Honest in that it's hard for you to communicate with her.
Direct in that you're done and you can no longer maintain contact with her and are going your way.
Consistent in that you need to follow through and DO NOT interact with her after this brief conversation has taken place.

I'm sorry you're going through this.
Take care of yourself.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 6:37 AM on April 5, 2014

I had to do this recently, and I found that the following things helped a lot when I started the transition:

1. You are only in control of and responsible for your own life and your own actions. You cannot control your friend, nor can you "make" them happy or sad through your actions (you can have a big influence though, so own your choices there). You therefore cannot control what she thinks or feels about you, so let go of that concern first because it will hold you back.

2. It is okay to cut someone out of your life when the alternative is to keep them but further an already unhealthy dynamic into realms that will hurt you and the other person in the long run.

3. Her life is hers and hers alone, regardless of her mental illness. She is still making choices. She will be okay without you, even if she says she won't be. If playing the victim is her protective strategy for getting through her life, you have no control over that at all.

4. Privately (as in don't broadcast this to her because some people can't see this as anything other than sanctimonious) start visualizing her happy and away from you. If you are religious, or even spiritual, ask God, the universe, or whomever to send her happiness and peace so that you can live separate lives. Do this authentically and with genuine affection. Even if you can't be friends anymore, you can and should still honor the good parts of this person so you can remember to see them as a whole human being rather than as the sum of all their bad or upsetting parts.

5. Whether you do the slow fade or decide to make an official break, focus on you and your needs when considering courses of action. I definitely don't mean being a dick, obviously; you should be kind and respectful because that's what these sorts of things necessitate. Just don't succumb to getting wrapped up in her trip or her needs if it deters you from your end goal of moving on. Don't diminish her needs; counter them with your own and set firm, consistent boundaries.

She will be okay without you. I am sorry it had to come to this. Breaking up with a friend when they are working through mental illness is really hard. She will be okay though.
posted by Hermione Granger at 6:40 AM on April 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

I would make it about you and not her. "Hey, it's been a year since we ended things but I'm finding it hard to get my head straight and move on while we're in touch and trying to be friends. I guess I'm just not ready, so I'm going to have to go no contact for awhile."
posted by DarlingBri at 6:59 AM on April 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

If you've already gone a few weeks without talking the best course of action is probably to just keep doing that. Contacting someone after a long break to tell them you are going no contact would just be stirring things up needlessly.
posted by ook at 7:12 AM on April 5, 2014 [15 favorites]

DarlingBri's solution seems like the gentlest one--provided she contacts you again, anyway--although she probably still won't take it well, but that is not and never will be your fault. Mental illness is illness, and just like you can't just try harder to be memorable for someone with dementia, you can't be gentle enough not to hurt someone with a depression problem, and you are not the trained professional she needs to get better.
posted by Sequence at 8:04 AM on April 5, 2014

- Don't contact her.

- If/when she contacts you, let it go to voicemail.

- Have DarlingBri's script cut & pasted on your smartphone or on a piece of paper in your wallet.

- Review the script, then immediately call her back and deliver the news.

- Decline to discuss the issue or dissect it further.

- Block. Delete. Ignore.

Best of luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:15 AM on April 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Exactly what jbenben said in how to handle.

You can't be responsible for her mental health. You're not her partner, that's too much burden to place on yourself, and most importantly, you can't control whether she is depressed (or whatever the condition is). The only thing you can do is handle gracefully your exit from this toxic situation.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:23 AM on April 5, 2014

I had to do this a few years ago, and it was deeply unfun. I feel for you in this situation - just want to reiterate what others said above, as far as her condition and related behaviors not being your fault, and not something that you are (presumably) trained to effectively deal with. The one thing I can tell you that I wish I'd done differently was make a clean break and stick with it. I was, like you, really afraid that cutting him off cleanly was gong to be too much for him to handle in his condition, and so I kind of dithered about it for a month or two. Not cool - if anything, that absolutely made it worse because the situation became uncertain for him rather than something he could move on from.

Best of luck to you, and please again remember that you bear no responsibility for her health condition and you need to do what is healthiest for yourself in this situation.
posted by deep thought sunstar at 10:46 AM on April 5, 2014

I almost never use block/delete/ignore. Yet, I have substantially reduced contact with someone who does not have a mental illness but does have a physical illness and just cannot seem to interact with me in a healthy manner, probably in part because of how sick they are. It is not practical to try to completely block them but I want as little to do with them as possible.

I keep things to email. It helps keep things emotionally distant.

I reply very, very briefly to any messages in as perfunctory a manner as possible.

I try to say "thank you" or whatever for any relevant information provided and avoid engaging any of the nutty, stressful emotional stuff (much of which is implied, not stated directly).

I try to be polite, avoid being rejecting, but also avoid being too engaging. I don't want to encourage conversation but I also don't want the drama that goes with notifying someone you are now rejecting them.

I just do not reply to any of the invasive, inappropriate questions that are a routine matter from this person. They usually let it drop when I simply ignore that stuff.

If they ever want to engage me in a not crazy manner, the door is not completely shut. But I don't have to put up with much from them anymore. It has taken some time to get here. I feel pretty good about how I have handled it.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:38 PM on April 5, 2014

Thank you all so much for your kind, compassionate feedback.

I was unclear in my original question- we have had recent contact, but had a period of a few weeks in the past where we didn't talk. That's actually what is motivating me to so this. I felt so much better during this period if time, even though I did miss her a lot.

Thanks again.
posted by anad487 at 5:51 PM on April 5, 2014

What happens if you don't communicate?

I ask this because I have been guilty at times of thinking, "Well, I can't just stop responding, because he'll freak out/wonder what's wrong/chase me/whatever" when, in fact, the hard truth is that he won't. That dropping out of touch is easier than I think it will be, logistically speaking. Does "in touch" mean you text every day and if you don't answer, she'll think you're dead? Or does it mean that it's really hard, emotionally speaking, for you to imagine not talking to her?

If it's the former, then yes, you may need a plan or a script to talk to her. But if it's the latter, then what you need is the right thing to tell yourself, which might just be ... When things end badly again and again every time you try to resuscitate them, it is a sign that they are over and should remain so. It doesn't mean you never cared about each other. It doesn't mean you never loved each other. It means you passed through a phase where being in touch was a good thing, but now it's a bad thing, which you can tell from the way you felt better when you're not doing it and worse when you are.

There's an elegance to relationships that clarifies as you go, I think: people are supposed to make each other's lives better, or they're supposed to leave each other alone. Go for the least dramatic pullback that you can. Wish her well if you need to. But don't ask her to sign off on your parting; a parting is a thing you can impose unilaterally, and ironically, if she can't respect that, then it's only further evidence that she needs to.

I agree with the people who have told you that the mental illness is not really the issue; you've managed to have a relationship irrespective of it; you can say goodbye irrespective of it also. You are not responsible for it, and hesitating if you know you want out is acting out of pity, which doesn't help either of you.

Be kind, but be firm. Withdraw with a handshake and mean it. The damage done by a parting, in my experience, is about 10 percent in the doing of it and 90 percent in the repeated undoing and re-doing of it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:24 PM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tell her kindly that the two of you are not good for each other and go no contact. I'm not in favor of advising a "fade." That just leaves people wondering what's going on and strings the pain along until they realize they have been faded on. Friendships come and go in all our lives, but when I think back on the people who have simply faded out, I don't think of them very fondly. It's more like, "oh that person...they were the one who snubbed me, just stopped talking to me. That's rude." It's not great to be told you're being broken up with, either by a friend or lover, but at least you don't have to wonder what you did and go over every interaction in your mind wondering "was it this, was it that?" or wonder if you're socially unacceptable in some way you don't realize. I'm always surprised when people think the fade is kind and gentle. It's really not. The fade is good for the fader, not the fadee.

That being said, I once used the fade on a friend. She was overbearing and a busybody, and she left me feeling drained every time I saw her. She said a lot of things that hurt me over the course of our friendship. I knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't take a breakup well. I was not in a position to handle a confrontation with her, and the hurtful way she had treated me made me feel more callously toward her. I just wanted out and didn't want to spend time sparing her feelings. If she thinks badly of me for that, she is well within her right to do so. It's up to you to decide what approach is called for in this case.
posted by xenophile at 4:47 AM on April 6, 2014

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