Do you think it’s wrong to cut off people, even if they were your closest friends, just to protect your mental health?

A student wrote a very heartfelt message, with the following question:

Do you think it’s wrong to cut off people (by ghosting), even if they were your closest friends, just to protect your mental health?

I cut them off because I no longer felt happy in those friendships.And I chose to ghost them because I knew that they wouldn’t understand my point of view, and I really wasn’t sure whether or not I should continue holding on to these friendships.

I feel like the reasons why I was unhappy had to do with my mental state and their personality. They aren’t as patient and as willing to try to understand me. and it went on for years.

Having read until here, you would think that since I have conceded that it’s a mismatch of friendships, why would I even bother anymore right? But the thing is I continue feeling sad about losing them and I even feel scared of what they may say behind my back. I tried talking to the most recent person I cut off and damn she was so paggro. She blamed me for cutting her off, instead of understanding my point of view.

What do you think?

Thank you for trusting me and pouring out your soul on this issue.

I think it’s ok to cut off people from your life, especially bad friends or toxic people. I had to cut off two friends who became too emotionally dependent that they were using me as an emotional support clutch and weren’t doing anything about their lives. It went on for more than a year, and I was very drained mentally and emotionally. One of them became so obsessively clingy he insisted on meeting me, and when I said I was busy or didn’t respond to his messages, he’d contact all my mutual friends to find out where I was. It was creepy as hell.

However, all that said, I don’t agree that one should ghost them. I find ghosting to be a really disrespectful action. We think that it hurts someone less, but it ends up causing the person so much more hurt. No one deserves to be ghosted. And this is especially so if they were good friends or at least had some degree of closeness. The least we should do is to explain why we want to cut them off so that they have some closure. The lack of an explanation, the lack of closure, can be very hurtful to them.

Silence says too much, perhaps much more than it should. And some people allow their imagination to run wild as they try to piece the pieces together in an attempt to make sense of why you might have ghosted them. This causes them to feel more hurt and pain as a consequence.

In the example you gave about your friend, she sounds like she’s been deeply hurt by what had happened. I think it’s still possible to rebuild the friendship. It will take time to rebuild the trust, so you will need to be patient about it.

Personally, I have tried to reconnect with the two people I cut off for being emotionally dependent. It started out awkward at first, but we started hanging out again after a while. Sadly, the friendships with those two (they used to be good friends, by the way), didn’t last despite reconnecting. It turned out that they could not get back up on their feet. They were still overly needy and clingy in ways that continued to exact a huge toll on me. I had to make the difficult decision of cutting them off again.

I do hope that you’ll find better success than I did with reconnecting with your friends. From what you write, they don’t sound like toxic people, or emotionally dependent people. I am quite optimistic that you will do well with reconnecting with them. Let me share with you two things that may help you to rebuild your friendships:

Firstly, you said that you cut off people “to protect your mental health” because you “no longer felt happy in those friendships.” I think it’s ok to cut people off from your life especially if those friendships make you very miserable. But there is a distinction between happiness and mental health. One can be very unhappy but still be in a good psychological state. Unless you are hanging out with toxic people, unhappy friendships do not necessarily lead to an impact on one’s mental health. So conflating unhappiness with one’s mental health as if the two things are one and the same can get in the way of developing close and healthy friendships. My worry is that when we conflate the two as one, we may end up being way too over-protective about preserving our psychological state, that we end up – ironically – losing our minds over it.

Secondly, you said that your friends “wouldn’t understand [your] point of view,” that they “aren’t as patient and as willing to try to understand [you].” I think it’s important to reflect on whether you were just as patient and willing to understand them, or patient and willing to let them understand you. It’s important for us to recognise that how we feel about a situation may not accurately reflect what is actually going on, and that can also stand in the way of developing close friendships.

I say this because you wrote that you “knew they wouldn’t understand [your] point of view.” In reality, it is very difficult to arrive at such a conclusion with high certainty (or to even know it as a fact). And so when we make conclusions like this, it might be a conclusion that we arrived too prematurely without sufficient empirical support.

Our feelings may make us feel justified about the matter, but that’s the only support we have: feelings. I want you to know that it is very valid to feel this way. Your feelings about the matter are very valid. That said, in most cases, however, it is not enough to arrive at such a conclusion because you actually need to have access to their innermost thoughts to know for sure that they didn’t understand you. What you feel is a response to their outward words or actions, it is not the same as their innermost thoughts. A heart-to-heart talk may help you gain some insights to their innermost thoughts, but sometimes people struggle to clearly articulate what’s really in their minds and hearts, and what they say may not match what they actually intended to say. It doesn’t help that our interpretation of what people say may be incorrect as well.

Going forward, what will be useful is to make it a point to perceive that every time your friends talk to you, or try to have heart-to-heart talks, they are trying their best to understand you and your point of view. Friends who care will always try their best. It may not be perfect, and so we have to be patient about it.

This brings me to the next point that we can’t expect friends to be perfect, like a perfect breakfast that comes about by grabbing a box of banana nut crunch cornflakes off the shelf from Sheng Siong (that’s not my breakfast, but I wished it was). I do think that we should try to be more patient with our friends. Sometimes our closest friends don’t understand us because we aren’t giving them the chance to understand us.

Sometimes, it’s because of a lack of communication. Friends – and even close friends – won’t know what we need until we say it. And it’s not realistic to expect them to know what we need because we’re all different. People differ in their love languages and they will express love and care in ways that may not match your expectation. So communication is very important.

I do wish you all the best in this matter. And I hope that you’ll also find many new and wonderful friends along the way. :)

Author: Jonathan Y. H. Sim

Jonathan Sim is an Instructor with the Department of Philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He is passionate about teaching and he continues to research fun and innovative ways of engaging students to learn effectively. He has been teaching general education modules to a diverse range of undergraduate students and adult learners at the University.

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