The last several years of my therapy journey have centered on the importance of having hard conversations and communicating my needs. As a chronic people-pleaser, I have a long history of not telling people what I need, of prioritizing their needs and feelings over my own.
A natural consequence of anything you’re working on in therapy, it seems, is the tendency to over-correct. It’s part of the work. You’re trying to apply what you’re working on in therapy to your daily life, and occasionally, you over-do it. You paint everything you see with a brush that was meant to be used only for fine detailing.
Another natural consequence of doing work in therapy is to start pruning the people who sit at your table. You realize that some people don’t belong there or, perhaps, they never belonged. All the work you’ve done on yourself has elevated your expectations of the people in your immediate orbit. Since you have only a limited amount of time and energy to pour into your people, you have to excuse the wrong people from your table to make room for the right ones.
It’s so easy to apply the need to have hard conversations to this issue of getting the right people at your table. It’s east to think that, since removing people from your inner sanctum is a difficult thing, it must be something that requires a conversation. Today, I want to give you and me both permission to not do that.
What does it mean to excuse someone from your table? For me, it means creating separation and distance between me and them. That could take several forms: cutting the person out of my life entirely, reducing my contact with them quite significantly but staying in touch, or simply choosing to stay in regular contact but not sharing the most intimate details of my life with them. When we take these steps, it is usually because a person has revealed themselves to be unsafe, unstable, unreliable, or unaligned with our values.
In some of these contexts, I think a conversation can be important, if not necessary. But really, that depends on your comfort level with the person from whom you are creating space.
Someone who you’ve simply noticed has evolved and no longer aligns with your values, but who you still consider to be safe and trustworthy, might be someone worth having the conversation with. Occasionally, these conversations—though they intend to create distance—may actually allow for misunderstandings to be resolved, for common ground to be found, and for the relationship to continue unchanged. We must stay open to those kinds of conversations, as they can be excellent testbeds for us to practice speaking up for ourselves.
But when a person has demonstrated that they are unsafe or unstable, when they have shown through their actions that they aren’t mature, wise, or compassionate enough to have a difficult conversation with temperance and an open mind, having the conversation might not be fruitful. In fact, it could be a disaster.
I think it’s important that we choose wisely. That we give ourselves permission to prioritize our peace over some conversation we think we owe. The truth is that we don’t owe an explanation for why we create distance with someone, why we excuse them from our table. Chances are, if we’ve decided to create that space, it’s because they’ve given us good reason to. And we should trust that. Honor it.
Let’s be careful not to over-apply the things we’re learning in therapy to situations that don’t need them. Speaking our needs and communicating our feelings are important, but they aren’t always required. Sometimes, the best thing we can do for our peace is quietly let people go.
It is not mean.
It is not cowardly.
It is an act of deliberate self-care.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.