by Debra Kissen, PhD, MHSA

An underappreciated tool for successful living is “The Art of Disengagement.” There is much literature around engagement and holding one’s ground, but disengagement often gets the short end of the stick.

It takes much skill, mental training and control to disengage. When your brain is sending you a signal “this is very critical to survival” it becomes hard to then note this as a false alarm. Choosing to attend to a different stimuli can feel like it requires a black belt in mental training.

For example, this morning one of my children was feeling particularly irritated and annoyed with the unfair demands of life; needing to get dressed, brush her teeth and go to school. She was attempting to manage this distress by projecting her discomfort upon one of her siblings. I could tell it was going to be one of those mornings where my child was looking to pick a fight. I offered my other children a point towards a reward which they were working to earn if they could practice disengaging and redirecting away from her attempts to hook them in. This was not an easy task for them but knowing from the start that there was a reward involved made it more of a game versus feeling like they were being weak and passive for not fighting back.

Strength comes in many forms and the ability to disengage from someone else’s mental meltdown and associated words that they use to hook you in is a critical life skill.

Here are 10 tips to Practice Disengaging from others drama:

  • Be selfish with YOUR energy
  • Walking away can be a power pose
  • Live for you, not someone else
  • Be where your feet are
  • Get rid of toxic relationships
  • Mind your own business
  • Know your limits
  • Be comfortable saying “no”
  • Worry less, smile more
  • Find your anchor

About the Author

Debra-Kissen_headshot_0 (1)_0.jpgDr. Debra Kissen is the Clinical Director of the Light on Anxiety Treatment Center of Chicago.  

Dr. Kissen specializes in CBT based treatment to children, adolescents and adults with a focus on anxiety and stress-related disorders, including OCD, PTSD, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder, compulsive skin picking, trichotillomania and other Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs). Dr. Debra Kissen applies the principles of evidence-based treatments while at the same time treating the whole person, with deep respect for the human spirit and the challenges we all face on our journey through life.

Dr. Kissen is a Clinical Fellow at the Anxiety Depression Association of America (ADAA) and is a Co-Chair of ADAA's Public Education Committee.  

Thank you for your advice on disengagement. I have a co worker who has attached herself to me and now goes with me every day when I go to get my coffee. usually this is a time foe a breath of fresh air and some down time for me. Since she has asked to join me i felt it would be rude to say no. The problem is that every day she uses this time to dump all of her problems on me. She actually talks the entire time we are together and doesn't even realize that we aren't even having a conversation because she is the only one talking. I feel completely depleted of energy after these outings and do not get the same enjoyment from taking my break that i used to. After reading your 10 tips I am going to allow myself to disengage and take back my space and my energy.
Thank you,

Your observations and 10 Tips for disengaging are most helpful to me. I am overly empathetic with some individuals as well with the wider world. And do I ever get entangled with drama I should avoid! I am making steady progress in the last two or three years, mostly by understanding that I am entitled not to have to process and resolve every external issue. Thanks for publishing this summary. It will help me keep progressing.