Relationships 101

Relationshops 101

A New Year… time to sort through relationships, time for a “primer” on positive connection in relationships.

For many people, the experience of family togetherness, especially at the holidays, is not wonderful. It’s painful.

It is very difficult to realize and accept that relationships in our life can be toxic. What is a toxic relationship? It is largely characterized by hostility from another person that is aimed at “rounding” you. This is the person who lets you know in one way or another that you are not who you should be for them. You are not performing your assigned role in their set of expectations.

As nice as you are, there is never a real connection where you feel as though you are understood or known. Or you can say something, and the person is quick to point out that there is a different way of seeing what you said. Time and again, your half-wrong.

Toxic people round us down to their size, or at least they attempt to diminish our individuality or accomplishments or the significance of our presence. The message is that you are either out of line, inappropriate, or uninteresting. Bottom line, you are supposed to get that you are really nothing special, you are not seen, you are not really heard, you are ignored just enough to communicate to you that there is a silent distance of separation.

You are emotionally disinherited from a sense of fitting or belonging as you are, not directly, but subtly. Perhaps all they do is shake their head when you talk, or make a comment, or turn slightly away or even leave the room. One way or another, whatever it is, they let you know without ever saying. You know it and they know it.

Detached Man

Welcome to the territory of the American idea of the value of family, regardless of the personal cost. Family is family. Family comes first.

Says who?

You are being rounded, brought into line, brought down to the level of everyone else, and often put in a position where you expect of yourself to be extra obliging to this person, to give them some kind of extra or special attention, which is noticed but not really appreciated and changes nothing.

What do you do?

It is difficult to accept that the myth “family is family” may mean very little. If you have been raised in a family system where the rule is, “family always comes first”, it’s hard to get a hold on dynamics that are year after year, dinner after dinner, holiday after holiday, unpleasant, rejecting, and actually toxic, and you feel helpless.

The first is to recognize hostility and rounding when it occurs and to know that your awareness of it is probably not inaccurate. The second is to realize that, as much as we want family to fit the myth of a wonderful place, that, for some, that is not the case. Family can be a toxic environment and if it is, you need to pay particular attention to the abuse that it fosters and admit that to be the case.

One of the most important things we can do is to leave behind and detach from relationships that are toxic. Give up the idea that every relationship in your life has to work, especially in your family. It doesn’t and may never. Your expectations of having to repair every relationship, or be willing to, is like blowing air in a balloon with no skin.

When that is the case, detach and fade. That sounds like blasphemy in today’s world of seeing family relationships as sacred. Not every relationship is and some, especially if they are toxic, need to be left behind. Perhaps the gift of this New Year’s new beginning is that you realize that detachment from toxicity and from relationships that are empty and hollow, void of real connection, need to be left behind.

Detachment is a decision to leave behind what isn’t working and hasn’t been working for a long, long time. The decision to detach from people almost sounds like a sin. But it can be the most important area of detachment in our lives, especially in relationships that round us and have no meaning. The best way to detach from a toxic relationship is to fade.

Back off, respond less, unplug, and do it gradually over a period of time. Be less responsive, stay away from toxic people, and busy yourself in living your life. What about guilt? It’s a natural part of the process that you have to look at, so write down what the guilt is telling you.  What does it say about how you take care of yourself? Or don’t, more likely.


Healthy attachment is measured by real and true meaningful connection where you have an experience of “felt feelings,” and that you are “known” authentically. Go where you find healthy attachment. Build healthy attachments and allow the fade to give you less and less attention to the person from whom you are detaching. Do not allow them access to your world.

Give yourself an unusual and remarkable gift of the awareness that you can detach and still be a good person. The New Year is a good time to sort relationships and identify which ones are worth the effort and which ones are not or close to anything like toxic. Rather than so many resolutions about what we will do, it would be good to make another list of what we won’t do, a list of things from which we will detach because the cost of them is too emotionally great for what we get from them.

Sound selfish? Be fiercely selfish in protecting yourself from rounding –ANYWHERE. Identify toxicity where it exists as hostility or emptiness that demands too much of your time and attention without giving you the satisfaction that anything you do really matters.

Scrutinize what should be left behind. Admit what is not worth your effort and good will, and clean your house of relationships that are too costly, unfruitful, and unsatisfying and really illusions of love and caring. Admit where you just don’t care and admit what is really not breathing life into you in one way or another.

Sit with this and ask yourself: where do I need to detach to open my life to new energy? What are you keeping alive solely out of a misplaced sense of obligation or an unwise promise you made someone? Where you need to detach and do the “fade”?

In a world where networking is considered something holy, and where socialization is regarded as something like a god, take a second look and find out what really gives you meaning and go for that, put your efforts there.

You have permission to fade and detach.

About the author

Dr. William K. Larkin
  • Mary Garvey Horst

    I believe that this is a very important post and topic. I do agree with Dr. Larkin in his statement: “One of the most important things we can do is to leave behind and detach from relationships that are toxic.” Over the past two years, I have actively begun to use the strategies described here – to back off, respond less, unplug, and do it gradually over time. Prior to doing so, I attempted to remain in toxic friendships that were personally draining and detrimental to my overall wellbeing. I was operating under the false belief that being patient and compassionate to these individuals was taking the high road. Not so, I was being adversely affected by their negativity, “rounding”, and critical natures. Once I began over time to back off, respond less, and unplug, I felt a huge sense of relief and an increase in my UpSpiral.

  • jeris hollander

    As humans, we thrive on our connections with others. Our various relationships are an integral part of our lives, each with it’s own individual complexity and depth. Our need to feel loved, wanted, appreciated and understood entangles us so deeply in our relationships that often times our vision of healthy attachment becomes muddled in a cloud of obligation, guilt, habit, and unwillingness to let go.

    When we look at the elements that comprise a healthy relationship – understanding, love, respect, compassion, mutuality, we can begin to take inventory of the attachments in our lives and discern whether or not they are toxic in nature. Initially, this can be a challenging and daunting task. We don’t want to admit that we have been allowing toxicity into our lives for so many years, we don’t want to believe that a relationship isn’t “fixable”, we don’t want to accept that it may be time to make a significant and difficult change. There is much truth to the saying “old habits die hard.” BUT when we do make that decision to step back and fade out from these toxic relationships, we are no longer focusing on what we DON’T have, or on the endless PROBLEMS, or on the HURT we feel from years of unhealthy attachment. No. We are shifting our focus to the relationships and areas of our lives that DO work, that DO encourage us, that DO inspire us with love and compassion. By letting go of what is toxic, we are creating space for relationships that are truly rooted in understanding. The sacrifice we make by holding onto unhealthy attachments is far more costly than the temporary pain of letting go. When we look at the big picture of our lives, we can see with clarity that healthy relationships thrive in an atmosphere of freedom, individuality, and prosperity, while the toxic ones descend down a path of subtle yet destructive illusion.

  • Jodi Ana

    Honestly, it’s really all about perception. When we are in a downward spiral of thought and emotion our perceptions can be a bit skewed and we can perceive the action and behaviors of others as something that they aren’t. In a downward spiral it is really easy to take things personally. For example, let’s say I give you a compliment, such as, “Your hair looks so good today!”. If you are in a positive state of mind and have good self-esteem then you are likely to say, “thanks!”. But someone in a negative state of mind may take offense to this compliment and, in fact, take it as an insult, responding with something like, “What? My hair doesn’t look good EVERY day?”.

    So before I cut off a family relationship, I would consider viewing that relationship as a mirror to my own Inner State and:
    1. Take an inventory of my emotional state inside and see how this could be impacting my perception (and focus)
    2. Ask some questions inside about what this relationship could be here to teach me.

    I may need to set some healthy boundaries during what I call the Inner Inventory Process, and that’s okay. If the other person doesn’t respect those boundaries then that may be a more appropriate time to consider a ‘time out’ or severing the relationship (if healthy boundaries ultimately can not be respected).

    Next, I notice that when I am in a positive state of mind, I am more connected with the core of my being and the Source of that core, I trust in every experience, and I am less reliant on life looking any certain way. In that state I am less reliant on keeping specific relationships in my life and more open to releasing what no longer serves me (or the other person) and opening space in my life for something better to enter my life.

    Each of these actions is actually me drawing on some of my core strengths. So, when I am in alignment with my core strengths, it actually enhances and improves my relationships and, when I operate from that Space? I find myself aligned with (and surrounded by) people who are in that same vibe and it creates a sort of… vortex, if you will, of positivity.

  • Sandra Lintz

    So many times we come to the point of detachment from toxic relationships only after a great deal of time and effort have been expended towards attempting to make a relationship better. If nothing has worked after this much time it is good to try detachment. I think the main message here is to take extra good care of ourselves above all else. In taking care of ourselves, staying in the UpSpiral, and maintaining our Positivity Ratio, we may have to detach from toxic people no matter who they are. Detachment comes in different forms and degrees. It can be letting go of expectations, shifting perspective, a live and let live, a “you go your way and I’ll go mine” or it can be total and complete separation. Choose to detach in a way that works for you. Shed any victim mentality. Take control of your life and do what is necessary to maintain your UpSpiral. Correctly label what is happening so that you are not seeing their non-acceptance of you as something that is wrong with you. The right label is that they can’t accept you for who you are. Refocus yourself on constructive thoughts, feelings and behaviors. This could entail the emotional gym, pivots to strength, or meditation. Reassess the value you have placed on the toxic interactions and relationships; put them in perspective. Apply the benefit of the doubt. Be so attached to the good in life and taking care of yourself that you detach from the toxic relationships. The UpSpiral score and Positivity Ratios improvements are worth it. Who knows? Maybe detachment will have other unexpected good results; especially if you haven’t tried detachment from the toxic relationship before.

  • James Beeman

    All too often we victimize ourselves when we begin to believe that we need to get along with everyone. Nothing could be further from the truth. The information in this blog post points to the benefits of detaching and fading away from toxic people and relationships that don’t get us closer to what we want.

    In toxic relationships other people are attempting to try to change you into the version of you that best meets their needs and fits their own projection of you; however, relationships that are healthful you are experienced and appreciated for being uniquely you.

    Often the challenges we face in life come from embedded mindsets (or neuropathways) that we’ve accepted and believed from our social groups and culture and the juxtaposition of our own reality. In other words, when a belief of a particular group that we are apart of seems to breakdown and not give us the solution in the challenge we face, we begin to question the previously held truth and explore new neural pathways.

    In career coaching this work is extremely important not only as job seekers transition out of their past role, but also into their current role. In this transition into the new, they have the opportunity to reset some of these ways that others experience them and move through their old beliefs to a completely new set.

    Using strategic tools like “The First 90 Days” by Michael Watson coupled with a positive score in one’s Emotional Gym and Vibe Core, great headway can be made and relational redefinitions can be navigated successfully. Specifically, a new employee has 90 days to guide his or her manager, coworkers, and direct reports into how they experience the new employee. Done successfully increases the likelihood of success exponentially. Done unsuccessfully increases that the new employee will be rejected from the body like a transplanted organ.

    Be calm and connect – with who and what you want!

Copyright © 2015 The Applied Neuroscience Institute