No Contact: The Right Way & The Wrong Way
Message boards are replete with advice for partners in borderline relationships to go "No Contact" - effect a sudden cold silence, "change the phone number!", "block the e-mails!", "run away into the dark of the night".
The message boards are also filled with many painful, failed attempts to go NC (No Contact)... with the "No Contactors" repeatedly going back to the borderline partner - initiated by the non-borderline as often as by the borderline.
So why does No Contact fail?
Possibly because there is too much emphasis on the tactics and too little emphasis on the true objectives and priorities. Some times, non-borderlines launch into "No Contact" campaigns with only a vague understanding of what they are doing and they end up engaging in something that would be better called "the silent treatment". The silent treatment is not good - it is often characterized by professionals as an emotional manipulation; an abusive action in and of itself.
Where is the "disconnect"?
Let's face it - partners leave Borderline relationships because they are rejected or they need to protect themselves or protect their children from physical abuse, emotional abuse, or verbal abuse. But most departing partners still love the borderline and are often bonded to their partner in an unhealthy way - in some cases to a level that could be described as co-dependent.
If this wasn't a significant, underlying factor, we wouldn't even need to talk about "No Contact" here. When you leave some one you love, it's important to really understand yourself and the unique hurdles you face.
So, what should you do?
The first thing is to determine if you are really ready to leave. It seems like a very simple point, but there needs to be a real, mature commitment that leaving is the right thing to do (assuming you have a choice) and that you are serious about it - not just testing the waters.
The second thing is to accept that when you leave a relationship (or are spurned), the most important thing for you is to get over your "ex" partner and move on to the next phase of your life.
Without a doubt, ending the relationship with someone who you love is heartbreaking. It is for everyone. But, no matter how difficult or incomprehensible it is, it doesn't change the realities above.
Now "No Contact" makes sense
"No Contact" is mostly about the non-borderline forcing "distance" into the relationship to help the non-borderline heal; to get the "space" needed to get over the hurt; get on with their lives.
The key elements of "No Contact" are
- to get the partner out of your day-to-day life,
- to stop thinking in terms of a relationship,
- to take them out of your vision of the future,
- to stop wondering about how they are perceiving everything you are doing, and
- to stop obsessing with how they are reacting (or not reacting) or what they are doing.
These are the simple objectives of "No Contact". You may need to remind yourself every day of what you are trying to do. It takes focus and determination to do this - at a time when you probably just want to sit down and cry. Just keep reminding yourself that it takes great strength and determination to be emotionally healthy.
So where does sudden silence, changing of the phone number, blocking the e-mails, running away into the night, come in?
These are just tactics for accomplishing the goals above; there are many others. And often, the more subtle, less "in your face" tactics work as well - even better. A more direct approach - simply saying you think your partner is unhealthy, or acting as if you don't find them attractive any more - can cool a relationship and create a lot of emotional distance pretty quickly. You know this person as well as anyone - you know what will work; what to say that will cause them to pull back.
And herein lies the problem.
If you really don't want to "disconnect", if you're hurt and timid and it's not a high priority to get healthy, you will find many reasons not to do the obvious. Or, even more common, if you are still holding out some hope, or are struggling with uncertainty, you will likely fear the permanence of such action and purposely select something ineffective and secretly hope that it fails.
Let's call all of this, "dubious intent."
When the cure becomes the disease.
The problem with the oft suggested "No Contact" tactics (blocking the e-mails, and silence) is that, when coupled with "dubious intent", they can easily be misdirected into ways to vent anger, to punish, to manipulate, to make a statement, to defend a principle, to make someone appreciate you, to try to force someone to listen to you, ... to even win some one back (?!).
And these tactics will often generate a non-productive counter response with the borderline partner. Along with high emotions - the borderline partner's fear of abandonment may be triggered and they may try harder to hold onto the relationship - or possibly they won't be able to cope and will seek retribution.
You could, at the same time, feel very guilty for what you've done, and when your anger subsides, find yourself asking to be accepted back into the relationship - maybe with less self esteem than when you left.
None of this is healthy disengagement. This is only advancing a dysfunctional relationship to a higher level of dysfunctionally.
No Contact is mostly about you
If the "x" is sending you e-mail, the biggest problem is not that they are sending it - but rather that you are reading it, and/or are stressed out about it. Ignored, unread e-mails are harmless.
No Contact is about dealing with this aspect of "you".
If you don't have the discipline to not read their e-mail, for example, then have your e-mail program route it to the trash. Accept that you're hurting emotionally, and use this type of "crutch" to protect yourself against yourself.
But also understand that "not reading", the e-mail, for example, is a lot different than having the "x" receive an "undeliverable" auto-reply. The "undeliverable" auto-reply is really a way that communicates your vulnerability or your anger or your ______ (fill in the blank). If you do this you are opening a door into your recovery process... so, ask yourself "why?".
True Disengagement (No Contact) Works.
The key points:
1) No contact" is conceptually about disconnecting from a relationship. The name describes, more or less, the key tactic... but NC is not the goal... the goal is for you to disengage yourself from the relationship.
2) The harder it is for you to disengage, or the more you are enmeshed in the relationship, the "higher a wall" you should erect (to keep yourself out). This is the first basis you should use to decide on which tactics are appropriate.
3) Straight forward tactics are the best way to effect "No Contact". Dramatic tactics work well too, but before using them, carefully examine your motives to be sure they are healthy and you are aimed at the right target.
4) If your partner doesn't start to disengage and give you "space" then more forceful methods may be in order to absolutely "close of the door"... but if you have options, try to pick those that neutralize the partner - not trigger them. Look for "defusing" tactics first. This is the second basis for selecting which tactics are appropriate.
What if it is just too overwhelming
Expect that this will be too overwhelming. Leaving someone who you love, hurts. Minimizing the damage, in the long run, is what this is all about - the price for that is hurt today.
Hurt is part of your healing - it's your greatest challenge and you must be committed to work through it - which is where we began this discussion (paragraph 6).
Be prepared to seek help. If you find yourself slipping into depression, ruminating, etc - recognize early that these are not signs that you should go back into a dysfunctional relationship, but rather signs of your own private struggle with your emotional enmeshment. It is common in these relationships.
When this happens, you may need professional help, possibly medication, to mediate the depression and the ruminating before it breaks your resolve and drives you back into an unhealthy relationship.
Whenever you are mentally impaired, chemically imbalanced, or in a state of anxiety, you will likely make bad decisions, and even feel overwhelmed by the need to make them. If you are in a depression this whole endeavor may seem insurmountable.
But it is not - it's your emotions, distorting your reality. Find the time - spend the money - get professional help and get and keep yourself stabilized.
Leaving someone you love is difficult. There is no question about that. You will likely feel insecure, uncomfortable, and empty when you are on your own... but this is just a natural unwinding of the intertwinement of two people... everyone feels this.
Disengagement. No contact. Out of sight - out of mind. It works best when you fully understand it.