The Cut-Off Defence

Through all this, I’ve come to real­ize that I cut peo­ple out of my life as a defence mech­a­nism.

When some­one hurts me, I dis­tance myself from them so they mean noth­ing to me.

And if some­one means noth­ing to me, they can’t hurt me.

Often it’s an easy choice — just one wrong word or action — but not all the time. Cutting off my mom was by no means a rash deci­sion; it took years of con­sid­er­a­tion and plen­ty of chances before she final­ly went too far.

What sur­pris­es me the most is that even though I now know that I have this defence mech­a­nism, I don’t see a prob­lem with it.

I’ve been hurt by enough peo­ple, and I don’t want to be hurt any more.


  1. Not sure how I found this blog. Was just wan­der­ing around, but this struck me as some­thing that I have done in the past (and still do now). It must have been a dif­fi­cult deci­sion to cut off your moth­er and I don’t know the full real­i­ty of ‘why’ but I’m sure you did­n’t take the deci­sion light­ly. As a par­ent myself I would find it prob­a­bly the most heart-wrench­ing thing if one of my chil­dren did that to me. The ques­tion is, in your eyes can a per­son redeem them­selves or are you too proud to take that step back? Just curi­ous.

    I think there are good times to cut peo­ple off — if they are manip­u­la­tive or just just feel they are not a good per­son to have in your life. I once read some­where that you should sur­round your­self with pos­i­tive peo­ple, who you like or admire and to remove from your life any­one who is a neg­a­tive or who just sucks the ener­gy from you. I’ve done this and every now and again a spring clean is nec­es­sary :)

    Set me up for a thought­ful day anwyay!

  2. I feel that I don’t agree with this. Will have to wait a bit for my con­scious to fig­ure out log­i­cal­ly.

  3. A good thing to rec­og­nize. It does­n’t mean defense is wrong even if it is knee­jerk or has neg­a­tive out­comes. It also has pos­i­tive out­comes. Every mech­a­nism serves its pur­pose. Always a mat­ter of would some­thing else serve the same pur­pose and bet­ter. And can you dis­tance your­self from the pen­du­lum swing so one does­n’t chase the pen­du­lum but be at peace with it swing­ing with­out get­ting a need­i­ness ris­ing to con­trol the swing of recoil or chase. A har­mo­ny with the rhythm, pre­dict when one wants to run. It does­n’t mean one should remove one­self or should­n’t remove one­self. It’s just a mat­ter of self-knowl­edge, watch­ing mon­key mind cavort from a neu­tral bench and being wise to the scene enough to yank the mon­key out by the arm if it gets itself in too much dan­ger.

  4. gee, that response of mine was long.

    and you know that all, but, er. oh, well. what’s spout­ed is spout­ed.

  5. @John Cage — There are def­i­nite­ly the right times to cut peo­ple off, it’s when a per­son is close to you that it’s dif­fi­cult. I sur­round myself only with good peo­ple by refus­ing to accept flaws in some­one, because I’ve dealt with enough bad peo­ple in my life. It’s nev­er a spring clean­ing for me, it’s a con­stant re-eval­u­a­tion of all my rela­tion­ships.

    Whether a per­son can redeem them­selves or whether I would take that step back is some­what of a false dilem­ma fal­la­cy, because the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some­one redeem­ing them­selves is always there. It’s just whether or not the chance is worth it. I don’t take those things back; for me to get that far means there’s no turn­ing back, and pride does­n’t enter the equa­tion.

    @Causalien — That’s fun­ny, because it’s com­plete­ly log­i­cal to me.

    @Pearl — “Every mech­a­nism serves it’s pur­pose.” You’re absolute­ly right. Being at peace with the pen­du­lum swing is such a great metaphor. It’s def­i­nite­ly a bal­ance between accept­ing too much and too lit­tle.

  6. There’s only one catch. Doing this does close you off; and I’ve seen in years of doing so that it can be both a pro­tec­tive neces­si­ty and a tow­er of iso­la­tion in the mak­ing. If that per­son is repeat­ed­ly untrust­wor­thy, then yes, there’s no point accept­ing hurt from them again.

    But be aware that peo­ple are inadept at life, they are very un-self-aware on the most part, and you are par­tic­u­lar­ly NOT like that, you are by con­trast very much aware. Others will hurt you more than they hurt each oth­er, sim­ply by means of your being more sen­si­tive to motive. In fact, a lot of the time, peo­ple are just thought­less idiots wrapped up in their own mess­es, and sling­ing out pain on oth­ers with­out think­ing. Sometimes that per­son may come round much lat­er.

    How do I know this? because at a cer­tain age, you look at your­self all of a sud­den and real­ize you’ve been exact­ly that awful to cer­tain of them, and you sim­ply did­n’t real­ize it. Not at all. Even when you were try­ing to be so noble and good, it does­n’t mean you did the right thing for anoth­er, always. Age just brings this kind of thing into your expe­ri­ence and you see things on a much more lev­el ground in the end.

    So keep your­self pro­tect­ed, but real­ize things may change in ways you least expect­ed some day.

  7. I agree.

    Sometimes we can for­give some­one out of their igno­rance, because they don’t hurt oth­ers out of mal­ice. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of such igno­rant mis­takes as well, and I try to be the first one to admit my fault (when I real­ize it). But there are cer­tain cir­cum­stances, as in all sit­u­a­tions in life, where this rule just does­n’t apply.

    Sometimes, one should know bet­ter.

  8. This post struck a chord. I’ve often had exes ask me how I could so eas­i­ly cut them out of my life and the ques­tion often does­n’t make sense to me because it seems nat­ur­al to do so. Sometimes I won­der if that this was a prod­uct of grow­ing up in a house­hold where love was con­di­tion­al and it just became easy to lift the emo­tion­al draw­bridges and wall myself in safe­ly. I guess from my exes point of view, they con­sid­er this a weak­ness or some kind of char­ac­ter flaw but I’ve always thought of it as a strength.

  9. Actually, I was also think­ing specif­i­cal­ly of how my child­hood cre­at­ed this defense mech­a­nism. I had to show no emo­tion, put no faith in my par­ents, share noth­ing with them because they would­n’t care, and it was their indif­fer­ence that killed me. We’re def­i­nite­ly casu­al­ties of our cul­tures in this sense, at least I feel this way because I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly like it about myself, but find it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to change.

    There are two sides to every coin, and what is strength to one per­son can always be con­sid­ered weak to anoth­er. Neither side is right, of course, but try explain­ing that to peo­ple who don’t under­stand. The fact of the mat­ter is that we have to deal with this in our­selves; it does exist, and life becomes an adven­ture in find­ing out how it affects us, the ones we care about, and the things we do.

  10. For me, part of it was a per­son­al safe­ty issue, as in, more emo­tion would mean anoth­er round with the ting-tiu and I imag­ine you may have heard some­thing sim­i­lar grow­ing up, “Why are you cry­ing? Are you a GIRL? Stop cry­ing!” And I remem­ber as time went on, the yelling just fad­ed into the back­ground and I learned to shut down and tune out. I think that I derived what­ev­er “pow­er” I could as a child by demon­strat­ing that what­ev­er was said or done would only receive a sto­ic silence.

    One of the chal­lenges for me late­ly is to not apply the same dynam­ic to my rela­tion­ship, but unfor­tu­nate­ly, when I find that there’s a con­flict that can’t be imme­di­ate­ly resolved, I com­plete­ly shut down and go silent. It’s been frus­trat­ing at times, but I think you summed it up real­ly well in the last sen­tence of your com­ment above.

  11. By cut­ting off, I believe that one makes per­ma­nent the effects which that per­son has on one­self. When one can hurt me like that, I don’t believe hon­or­ing them in such a fash­ion can be jus­ti­fied.

  12. @Jason — I remem­ber my dad yelling at me to mem­o­rize math equa­tions, and say­ing “You’re a disgrace…you’re Chinese and you’re bad at math!”. When I start­ed to cry, he was lit­er­al­ly dis­gust­ed by me and walked away. From this, I learned to shut down too.

    I’m in the exact same boat about not using that dynam­ic in my rela­tion­ships. My first instinct is to shut down and hide every­thing. Sometimes it feels like the sit­u­a­tion too over­whelm­ing, and I have to calm myself down first. I can’t believe that there’s some­one else who can relate exact­ly to how I feel; no one else I know has gone through the same thing, or han­dled it in the same way. Very com­fort­ing to know that I’m not alone.

    @Causalien — Could you rephrase or fur­ther explain what you mean, I don’t quite under­stand.

  13. Wow, Jason, I thought that was only my math expe­ri­ence.… I still have math-pan­ic thanks to my ter­rif­ic upbring­ing…

  14. You’re def­i­nite­ly not alone. One of the things I find real­ly com­pelling about your writ­ing is how much if it res­onates with my own expe­ri­ence and strug­gles. I often think about how many oth­er peo­ple would find com­fort in a book or some­thing detail­ing these kinds of expe­ri­ences. At least some­thing beyond Amy Tan, heh.

  15. You know, I had no idea who Amy Tan was but imme­di­ate­ly thought of the Joy Luck club as the only “uni­ver­sal” American/Canadian-born-Chinese thing that I knew. Then I looked her up, and lo and behold, I was think­ing of the exact per­son you were talk­ing about, with­out actu­al­ly know­ing it.

    Maybe I should try read­ing that some time; per­haps it would res­onate for me as well.

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