Many of you have heard of the term social distancing during the height of the Covid epidemic. CDC told everyone to stay 6 ft from one another to protect you from getting the Covid virus. People were very protective about their personal space back then and in person conversations were had with precaution from what felt like miles away.
Now social distancing has been used to refer to how you conduct relationships with those who you feel may be toxic individuals to avoid future emotional injury. Social distancing differs from emotional cut-offs, which brings a finality to the relationship and does not allow for any exchange whatsoever. Social distancing is however different. Social distancing involves a partial emotional withdrawal of your presence in that person’s life with interaction but from a safe emotional distance. This means that if you see the person around, you exchange pleasantries, but you don’t initiate any calls or texts. Or maybe you allow for text conversations, but you don’t make plans to see them in person or spend quality time with them. You keep your distance because there are red flags there that you simply can’t ignore and hurts that you can’t continue to subject yourself to. However, this person or people may be part of your inner circle of friends or family and you can’t just simply cut them off because it would be too disruptive to your world. So, you maintain contact but from a distance where you feel a sense of safety and security.
I was scrolling through social media and saw that someone said in a video that if you cut someone off, that says more about you than them as if this reflects a level of emotional immaturity. The person also said that this is because you should be able to communicate how that person violated your boundaries. To an extent, I agree. For this to occur the person must be: 1) Receptive to hearing what you have to say given past conflicts 2) Accountable for what they may have done wrong. Both requires a keen sense of awareness and emotional intelligence for the interaction to go well. However, if you suspect the person has narcissism or at least narcissistic tendencies, DO NOT attempt to try to have a conversation with them about your feelings. They will gaslight you and make you feel worse after you attempt to confront them about what they did to you. Those with narcissism have the inability to see what they did wrong and take accountability for their actions. Instead, they will blame you for feeling the way you do and turn the situation around on you. It is best to use social distancing with them if they are in your close social circle but if this is too painful, emotional cutoffs are necessary. Narcissists are best to avoid contact with at all costs unless they are getting counseling for their narcissism. While in treatment, the person with narcissism would have the ability to gain awareness about their actions and would therefore be more open to constructive feedback about how their actions affect others. Outside of counseling, this is not possible for someone with this personality disorder.
Social distancing to me is a nice intermediate step of being physically available but emotionally distant. It shows that you value the person but are setting clear boundaries so the person can no longer hurt you. With the holidays coming up, it may become impossible to avoid the toxic people in your life but maybe by limiting your interactions with them, you can find some relief. It is imperative that I say that is ok to let that person back into your life if they apologize for what they have done once they recognize that you have socially distanced yourself from them. However, with accountability comes change. If they are not changing, their apologies mean nothing. It’s like putting your hand on a hot stove and getting burned each time and continuing to do so anyway. The best way not to get burned is for you not to let your hand get too close to the stove. You don’t have to remove the stove from your house or stop cooking on it altogether, you just have to be more careful when you interact with it. And that’s how you treat those toxic folks in your life, be more careful and limit what you do with them. Social distancing can keep the status quo without causing a huge disruption as removing them from your life would.
I hope this was helpful and if you need more information on social distancing and what that means, feel free to leave a comment or reach out by filling out one of our information forms.
Take care and Happy Holidays to you,