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

Dr. Debra Kissen is CEO of Light On Anxiety CBT Treatment Center. Dr. Kissen specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for anxiety and related disorders. Dr. Kissen is the author of the Panic Workbook for Teens, Rewire Your Anxious Brains for Teens: Using CBT, Neuroscience, and Mindfulness to Help You End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry (The Instant Help Solutions Series) and the soon to be released Break Free from Intrusive Thoughts: An Evidence-Based Guide for Managing Fear and Finding Peace. Dr. Kissen also has a special interest in the principles of mindfulness and their application for anxiety disorders. Dr. Kissen has presented her research on CBT and mindfulness-based treatments for anxiety and related disorders at regional and national conferences. Dr. Kissen is the Co-Chair of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America Public Education Committee. Dr. Kissen was the recipient of the 2020 Gratitude for Giving Spirit Award  and the 2018 Anxiety Depression Association of America Member of Distinction Award. 

Dr. Kissen often serves as a media psychologist and is available for press inquiries and strives to further the dissemination of empirically supported treatment (EST) information by offering user friendly quotes and simple to understand, practical tips and solutions to help mental health consumers move past stress and anxiety.

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.

Same I feel like people who are empathetic struggle with anxiety more because we let it affect us. This is where boundaries have really helped me. I find comfort in her words.

Thank you Dr. Kissen for your simple yet effective applicable advice! I have found over time that these really do work! And I now share them with my friends and family. :)
Hope you're having a lovely day!