As a neuroscientist, I am fascinated by mental health, consciousness and perception, as well as the psychology behind human relationships.
How to Cut Someone Off Without Being Rude
At some point, it happens to us all—we begin to grow apart from someone who is still highly invested in being our friend. Your subtle hints seem to not be working very well, but you just don't know how to directly break it to them that you want to move on. Believe it or not, it is possible to painlessly phase this friend out of your life, without them even realizing it.
In this article, we'll cover the following 5 mind tricks that will help you slowly and naturally get rid of the friend you've gotten over without hurting them:
- Pretend to be embarrassed to accept anything from them
- Casually reveal something major that you 'must've forgotten to tell them
- Give extremely generic compliments
- Become genuinely busy doing things they don't do
- Start appearing less available on social media
1. Pretend to Be Embarrassed to Accept Anything From Them
This is a hugely powerful psychological trick; it will result in someone coming to the conclusion that you must dislike them without seeing that you're actively trying to cut them out.
What you need to do is slowly stop accepting things that you used to readily take from your friend. Of course, if they have been driving you to and from work for months and you suddenly refuse the lift, they will suspect that you're angry or upset with them. This tactic must be executed subtly and repeatedly to work.
You must slowly start appearing embarrassed and unwilling to accept things from them until you're eventually accepting less and less. The goal is to sneakily decrease intimacy and comfort levels in the friendship to make them feel that you two are "naturally drifting."
Why is this trick so effective?
Friendship is an exchange; it involves transactions of kind words, support and even physical things including food, with both parties being happy to share and accept.
Psychologically speaking, each time you fake being embarrassed and uncomfortable when your friend offers you very inexpensive things or minor favors, you are acting as if you don't really like or feel comfortable with them.
Think about it: you act in this overly polite way with 1) people you've just met and don't yet know/like, and 2) people who you aren't interested in bonding with. You will hijack your friend's brain and make them see you as a mere acquaintance because only their acquaintances treat them with such stilted politeness.
It'll mimic a natural separation between two people and the friendship will end like magic.
2. Casually Reveal Something Major That You 'Must've Forgotten' to Tell Them
This is another sneaky way to hack someone's brain and, psychologically speaking, works in a similar way to method 1. It requires some premeditation: the next time something important happens in your life, be it good or bad, you must not tell this friend.
Let a few weeks pass. Eventually, slip your news into the middle of a conversation, pretending to be entirely unemotional and casual, as if you're unaware that you haven't told them (e.g., "no, I can't come out tonight... I'm seeing Freddie, remember?")
When they appear shocked and ask "what, who is Freddie? You didn't tell me you had a boyfriend," this is your opportunity to make them feel unimportant. Look them in the eye in a way that oozes disinterest (albeit while remaining polite, of course) and nonchalantly mutter something along the lines of "oh – um, I thought I'd told you? Well, anyway, I'm not free but enjoy tonight...."
The trick here is to keep going, as if you genuinely forgot to tell your friend this news but that you don't feel bad for doing so; don't stop to explain your life update or apologize for not telling them, since this will negate what you are attempting to achieve. They'll come to their own conclusions and assume that you're telling other friends things that you aren't telling them.
This revelation may hit your friend like a cold blizzard and force them to consciously acknowledge that you don't really like them. If you sense that this occurs, do not fret; they still will not suspect that you are in any way planning this/attempting to cut them out, and their sadness at the loss of the friendship should not transform into resentment.
3. Give Extremely Generic Compliments
You do not want to appear overtly cold, since your friend will believe you're upset with them; the aim is to keep them unaware of your desire to cut them off. Do you want your friend to believe that the friendship is naturally slipping away, but that you are a nice person who is trying to make things better? There is no better way to do this than to compliment them now and then, but in a very impersonal, generic, even subtly insulting way.
There are two ways of using compliments to subtly unnerve someone:
- Instead of giving them warm comments that hit them on a personal level and make you seem caring, you want to give them the type of meaningless compliment that someone gives to an acquaintance when the social situation calls for it. If you'd normally tell them that their top suits their hair color and looks lovely, gushing with enthusiasm, go for this complement format but make it generic. Say "cool top – everyone seems to be wearing red this season!"
- Alternately, as I touched on above, you can take this further and give a super-subtly backhanded compliment that you know will insult them a little. If you know that they have always loved writing and consider it their best subject, tell them "you know, I could really see you working as a nurse... you're so practical." Since the word "practical" usually isn't associated with being an avid writer, they'll think "wow...maybe she doesn't even know me properly. I'm not practical, I'm dreamy and creative!"
The goal with this isn't to hurt them – it is to make them question the friendship and your level of shared intimacy. Delivered occasionally, these compliments will inspire a sense of great confusion in them. Something will seem wrong, but they'll never suspect that you're phasing them out (because you're being actively flattering). Just take care not to sound cutting or snide.
4. Become Genuinely Busy Doing Things They Don't Do
As well as employing effective strategies to make your interactions seem less friendly, you need to physically distance yourself too. By getting involved in activities that they dislike and associating with different people, you are taking small steps in the direction of creating a new life for yourself that doesn't include this person.
I have personally done this with great success in the past. If you and your friend have always enjoyed getting drunk, partying and acting self-destructively together, show them that you're moving to new horizons. Start saying no to nights out and pick up running, for example. If you have been going to try new burger joints with them for years, transition to a vegan lifestyle and start appearing uninterested in their lifestyle.
You want them to believe that you're out busy doing things that don't involve them. Whether it be a sport you pick up, a drastic lifestyle change or you befriending new people who this friend doesn't associate with, it must appear like a natural, sincere change. If you genuinely enjoy this new thing, you'll happily fill your time doing it; not only will you consequentially be less available, but you'll also be doing something that this person can't relate to.
Hopefully, they'll start to find you a little dull and will start seeking new, like-minded friends...without ever realizing you planned to cut them off in the first place!
5. Start Appearing Less Available On Social Media
Social media has its perks and its downsides; it facilitates communication with close friends but also makes it easy for hanger-on friends to contact us excessively. Unfortunately, some clingy people are incapable of seeing that you find their constant messages irritating, especially when you're averse to ignoring people and tend reply to them politely.
Facebook introduces the artificial concept of someone being available 24/7; many of us scroll through our feed late at night, forgetting that the little green "active" button will be appearing next to our name for all to see. Emotionally-astute people will realize that you're probably in bed looking at the app on your phone, and won't bombard you with messages and demand support at 4:00 am.
However, someone who is isolated and vulnerable might subconsciously take this as a sign that your availability knows no bounds. When they're bored, blue or generally struggling, their brain will direct them to your profile and they'll message you. This will become a learned behavior (and, of course, applies to other apps including Snapchat). This situation rarely ameliorates on its own; you'll need to take measures to make yourself seem less 'present' and contactable.
On Facebook, you can hide your active status from certain people and I strongly recommend that you do this. Don't underestimate how effective this can be in slowly cutting someone off; if your friend doesn't see you online in the chat section, they'll start to focus on other people to pester and will assume you have better things to do than sit on Facebook.
Consider This Before Phasing Someone Out
Although it's true that you don't owe anyone an explanation of why you don't want to be friends with them anymore, you should try to treat others the way that you want to be treated. While subtly phasing someone out of your life can be easier than direct confrontation, it might be good for you in certain circumstances to just step up and tell the person as honestly and clearly as possible.
Of course, there are situations when you should avoid this. For example, if you think the person might be dangerous. But, in general, it's always worth it to consider coming clean and being straightforward. Although uncomfortable, it is often the more mature thing to do, and it might help you learn how to deal with confrontation better!
Advice From a Marriage and Family Therapist
© 2018 Lucy