Interesting title, isn’t it? After years of being brought up and socialized to care about the people and events going on around us, perhaps it might seem strange to encounter a headline that urges us to contemplate doing the opposite.
Why would we want to consider such a thing? We live in a world with no shortage of turmoil, dysfunction, and the potential to be hurt by personal and professional disappointment. With this in mind, it is easier to see why we should be less vulnerable to the things going on around us, and a bit more attentive to our own emotional (and physical) health.
Sometimes we have little direct control over what causes us distress – things happen. Moreover, we cannot control the people who disappoint us, even as we try to help them. No matter how much we try to maintain control, it just seems to slip away from us, causing loss of sleep and emotional instability, and it may even harm our sense of self. We can become stressed, depressed, or even physically ill as high cortisol levels released by the brain weaken the immune system. This is not a good situation, and it needs to be addressed.
Ms. Rain Story, offers eleven steps to stop caring so much. We can use these steps as an overall strategy when confronting the toxic people and events beyond our control, so that they do not overwhelm us when we encounter them in our daily lives. A good heart is a wonderful attribute, but it is not always your friend.
- Understand your attachments. Most of our distress is caused by attachments that we choose, or have thrust upon us. These attachments can be personal, environmental, or circumstantial. Has someone cheated you, lied to you, taken advantage of you? We feel chained to the person or circumstance that has hurt us, and it seems impossible to resolve the pain. Your first step is to properly identify and label your attachments for what they are, diagnosing why they are problematic, and the negative effects that they have. Be honest with yourself; refusing to face reality will make your efforts futile.
- Understand the reasons for your attachments. It is common to simply accept our attachments and obligations as they come, and not think more deeply. Ms. Story suggests that we dig deep and analyze why we feel so committed to a certain attachment. Maybe the reason is sound, but after careful consideration, we may discover that the emotional, tangible, or even moral attachments are not worth damaging ourselves for. Don’t let others push their own priorities onto you!
- Begin the process of detaching yourself: This is easier said than done! Deciding that other people’s problems are their own (and not yours) can be challenging, especially when they make you feel guilty for trying to disengage. It’s time to realize that there is nothing you can do, that other people’s problems will continue to exist with or without your help, and that like a drowning person, they will simply drag you down with them. If you discuss your detachment with the person(s) in question, do not argue. A clear statement that there is nothing you can do except commiserate can be painful, but ultimately understandable. Sharing toxicity does not dilute it.
- Let go of guilt, shame, and other useless emotions. Unless you’ve deliberately done, or failed to do, something that caused harm, guilt and shame are useless emotions. We can create them ourselves, but they’re usually dumped on us by someone else. Don’t let these emotional horrors remain in your psychological closet, and don’t argue about it. Once you’ve made up your mind to let go, walk away and don’t respond to anyone else’s reactions – as Ms. Story says, it would be an inappropriate supposition for anyone to expect you to remain in a toxic situation to no purpose. Once you’ve done all you can do, you can’t further control the lives and decisions of others.
- Don’t let others affect your decision to detach. This is your decision: don’t let others intervene, and don’t argue – arguing leaves you vulnerable to being dragged back in. Attempts will be made to heap guilt and shame on you, but if you haven’t done anything wrong, you deserve some peace. Retake control over your life from the people who have made your life hard.
- Take back your peace of mind. Your goal, after all, was to get your sanity, sleep and health back. Ms. Story’s suggestions for mindful peacemaking (and peacekeeping) include:
- Try to live in an atmosphere of kindness and joy
- Know what you can control and what you can’t, and act on it!
- Live in the present; don’t worry so much about the future; remember that the past is the past!
- Do things to help others (in situations where you have complete control)
- Pamper yourself; go to a spa, massage, yoga…
- Get out into nature
- Learn to say no graciously – this is important!
After what you’ve been through, you should now be the priority.
- Give others the chance to experience life. If you’re always trying to intervene and help, they can’t learn their own lessons! Remember that “help” can be harmful – of course you can assist if it will have a positive overall effect, but try to refrain from interjecting yourself into things that reduce someone’s sense of self-reliance, their development of skills and life capacities, or their social responsibility. Let them learn from their own mistakes! Giving someone the opportunity to experience consequences doesn’t mean you are indifferent to them – it means you care enough to see them learn and grow.
- Know that you are a good person. Regardless of what others might think, you have a good heart and you want to be a point of light in the universe – that’s why you’re reading this! If you’re detaching due to the suffering that your good heart has caused you in the past, proceeding with caution is advised. Don’t wait for others to show you the love that you deserve, because they will have their own issues that distract them from your needs – treat yourself well.
- Practice self-care. There are three types of self-care: Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. Physically, it is important to eat properly and exercise. Take long walks, avoid the environmental negatives so abundant around us, and reduce unwanted physical stress. Mentally, try to avoid toxic situations and people, reject negativity, and if needed, find a sympathetic person with whom you can discuss issues and life in general. A true friend is gold! Lastly, and spiritually, focus on that which is wider than yourself. What are the non-tangible components of your life that give you comfort and sustain you? If you hold an unshakeable faith, what is it?
- Meditate. “Meditation and prayer are similar in that they move your thoughts and intentions to a quiet place of reverence…” The “nothingness” of meditation can instill a uniquely deep peace and calm. Creating this inner island to which you can retreat is helpful for detaching from negative people or circumstances.
- Be dutiful and diligent regarding your detachment. Detachment is a constant process. Ms. Story refers to this component as Wash, Rinse, Repeat, and suggests that you first use the “soap” of awareness to wash or loosen the grip of the negativity affecting you; then rinse away the negativity you’ve loosened; and finally to repeat these steps whenever hurtful emotions attach to you.
Learning how to protect yourself from caring too much can be difficult at first, but with determination and practice, it will become easier over time. The art of preserving your sanity is a continuous cycle of review and action, and a little patience and perseverance will help you to free yourself from being emotionally victimized by other people and circumstances.