Zero Contact: Deciding to Definitively Leave a Relationship Behind

Zero Contact: Deciding to Definitively Leave a Relationship Behind
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

There are moments in our professional or personal lives when we have no other choice but to get up and get away, establishing a zero contact rule. We do this to regain control of our lives and, above all, to wash away the bad emotions. Through this, we reclaim our dignity and assert how we need to be treated. It’s our right to choose what we want and what we don’t want.

Something that gives a glimpse into cognitive and psychological development is the fact that most of us aren’t willing to leave something behind completely. Our cerebral maps are wired to establish relationships, including social and emotional connections. But sometimes an internal alarm will suddenly sound, letting us know that something is “bad” and that a connection is causing us more harm than good. But it’s very easy to resist that alarm.

Rather than breaking those ties, we try to fix them. We mask them in sophisticated shadows, capes, and concealer. While we continue fooling ourselves (This is temporary, it’ll get better), we set fictional objectives (Tomorrow I’ll tell her what I think and end this false friendship). We engage in complex defense mechanisms (repression, denial, isolation). Also, we forget that endings are just as important as beginnings.

Whether we like it or night, it will always be scary to distance ourselves from something or someone. But life might be pushing us in a new direction. There are times when the best path is zero contact when it comes to those who only bring us unhappiness.

Woman and water.

Zero contact: a way back to hope

There are some decisions that require great strength and security. You have to learn how to navigate what psychologists call “raw emotions“. These psychological dimensions can be divided into three focuses. Although they’re complicated to achieve, they can also bring great results:

  • First, think about the possible consequences of ending this relationship or employment (stress, suffering)
  • Second, we have to be capable of one simple thing: clarifying what we want for ourselves. For example, I want to feel good and regain control over my life. Ultimately, we need to know ourselves well enough to know what’s helping us and what’s harming us. Once we have a clearer idea of this, we can reaffirm those boundaries.
  • Third, we have to put the desire to change in front of the shadow of fear. In addition, you have to focus on the impulse to better yourself. If you let the conservative fear of change win, you’ll be trapped in the same cycle of unhappiness.

After reflecting on these three aspects, let’s move forward in developing this “raw emotion”. With it, we can unite conviction and personal strength and use that to make a firm decision. There’s no room for fear or insecurity. Also, once we’ve gone through with it and informed the person (or persons) about our decision, we need to decide whether or not to declare zero contact or not.

When should we declare zero contact?

  • We should go cold turkey with relationships that are only wearing us down. This might include relationships with narcissists or friendships with these same destructive traits.
  • Family relationships where there’s continuous damage (and there’s no indication that things are going to change or improve).
  • In that vein, we recommend zero contact when it means leaving behind a work environment or coworkers that took advantage of you.
Zero contact.

Zero contact: you have the right to say “no”

Good gardeners know that keeping a rose bush healthy and beautiful requires occasional pruning. Sometimes there are more buds than the plant can sustain. The sick ones can infect the others. Sometimes buds are occupying space that stunts the growth of the rest of the bush. Trimming and eliminating all of the parts that are hurting the plant is essential to keep it healthy.

The same thing happens with our relationships. It’s not enough to give someone distance, hoping that things will change. That’s like putting your head down and continuing to water a garden plagued with weeds. We’re stuck in an environment that doesn’t fit us. It’s within our rights  to say “no more suffering” and uproot whatever’s keeping us in that place so that we don’t have to keep having contact with the people there.

Zero contact: liberating us from the tyranny of certain ties

There are relationships, people, and dynamics that we should call as they are: emotional abuse, manipulation, mistreatment, traumatic connections, toxic coworkers or bosses, egotistical family members, or fake friends. Clarifying what’s going on with each of these people will help us make better, surer decisions.

On the other hand, keep in mind that zero contact means exercising your right to establish limits. It belies your firm resolution to free yourself from tyrannical relationships that have had too much power over you. They’ve only worn you down physically and emotionally for too long. Because of this, going cold turkey is the only guaranteed way to protect our self-esteem and psychological integrity.

Path of plants on water.

We don’t have to be so afraid when it’s time to make this decision. Even more, we’re not obligated to justify our decision or give too many explanations. You can decide that the best thing for a new period of your life is to set clear distance and zero contact. Through this, we can heal and revitalize ourselves. There’s no need to waste more energy explaining something that the other person almost certainly won’t understand.

If we decide to go, we have to do it with a desire to grow, not a sense of guilt. In safeguarding our integrity and happiness, we become bosses of our own destinies and architects of a more hopeful future. And, by taking these steps, there’s no room to hold on to any guilt.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.