Dr Judith Orloff's Blog

How to Cut an Unhealthy Bond with Someone

Judith Orloff - Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Adapted from Dr. Judith Orloff's "The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People,” a guidebook for empaths and all caring people who want to keep their hearts open in an often-insensitive world.

Many of us instinctively want to take away another person’s pain, especially a loved one, but that can be unhealthy for those who soak up their negative energy.

I’ve learned to be present for my patients but not shoulder their discomfort. Since I frequently give workshops and speak in front of hundreds of people at a time, it’s essential that I ground and protect myself. Then I won’t absorb the suffering of the participants (suffering is present in all humans), which is amplified in large groups. This allows me to do the teaching I love and not get worn out by excessive stimulation.

One strategy I teach my patients and workshop participants to help them maintain healthy relationships is a cord cutting visualization technique. My patient, Terry, realized she had been absorbing her mother’s anxiety since childhood. She has a big heart and was unconsciously taking on her loved one’s emotions. However, once Terry became aware of this dynamic, I taught her to set boundaries by visualizing cutting an energetic cord between herself and her mother’s anxiety. This technique from my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide allowed Terry to create a healthy boundary and still remain a caring daughter.

Practice a Partial Cord Cutting Visualization

If you feel you are too connected with someone’s physical or emotional state, visualize a cord of light extending from your belly to theirs. Then lovingly set your intention to cut the cord with their pain or discomfort--you’re not severing the connection with the total person. Next, visualize taking a pair of scissors and cutting the cord between you and the aspect of the person you want distance from.

Sometimes though you might attract a specific type of negative person because of the mutual emotional issues you both need to heal. This can lead to entering into an unhealthy “wound mate relationship” where you keep repeating the wounding process with each other. There’s an odd psychological comfort to this because it’s what you both know, what you’re used to. You become attached to a toxic person and can’t let go. This keeps you stuck in a painful cycle. For instance, your low self-esteem attracts people who criticize you, and the criticizer attracts people whom they can belittle because their parents belittled them. Be careful not to perpetuate wound mate relationships. Instead, let these people, whether they are friends, coworkers, spouses, or anyone--spur you to develop self-awareness and heal the initial wound. Then you can grow out of these relationships and find more fulfilling ones.

Some energy vampires, such as a narcissist, are so toxic you’ll need to stop all contact with them. To end this type of relationship (or anyone with whom you want a complete break), go cold turkey. Keep moving and never look back. In addition, use this strategy also from my book, The Empath’s Survival Guide to help you completely cut an energetic cord with them.

Practice a Complete Cord Cutting Visualization

In a calm state, picture cords of light connecting both of you. Inwardly say “Thank-you,” for what you’ve learned from the relationship even if the lessons were hard. Then firmly assert, “It’s time to completely break our bonds.” Next, visualize taking a pair of scissors and cutting each bond completely so you’re free of any mutual energetic ties. This will help you release this relationship and also remove lingering energy that you feel from the person.

Have honorable closure. This shamanic technique lets you release a relationship, particularly if you keep thinking about the person or sense that they’re thinking about you. Go out in nature and find a large stick. Look at the stick and declare, “This relationship is over.” Then break the stick in half, leave the pieces on the ground, walk away, and never look back. This finalizes the ceremony of closure.

Learning to set healthy boundaries, or if necessary complete breaks with those who drain you will protect your sensitivities and enhance your well-being.


Judith Orloff, MD is author of The Empath's Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People, upon which her articles are based. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, an empath, and is on the UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty. She synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths and highly sensitive people in her private practice. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. She is a New York Times best-selling author of Emotional Freedom, The Power of Surrender, Second Sight, Positive Energy, and Guide to Intuitive Healing. Connect with Judith on  Facebook and  Twitter. To learn more about empaths and her free empath support newsletter as well as Dr. Orloff's books and workshop schedule, visit her website.

chrissy commented on 08-Jul-2017 10:27 AM
Finding about Dr Judith is a blessing for me and many other empaths. I have ordered her book and patiently waiting for delivery..

I understand now I was born an empath and my mediumship gift goes hand in hand and thanks to my gifts saved a ladies life a few years ago.

Growing up was hard being an empath, more so not knowing I had these gifts until recently in my late 50s. When I was a young child it felt like a curse but now understanding my gifts I am trying to embrace them.

I really wish I lived in USA and would love to meet Dr Judith. I live in UK and sad to say not many therapists here understand or acknowledge people like me being an empath.

Thank you again Dr Judith for your information on empaths ,it has helped me a lot.
Jessica commented on 09-Jul-2017 08:28 PM
I'm so glad I found you. Love reading the blog and learning so much about how to handle being an empath. Thanks for these informarive blogs. Next I will buy your book.
Chrissy commented on 13-Jul-2017 10:15 AM
I received Dr Judith's book and cant put it down, it feels like I have come home. I am in my late 50s and only found out 8 years ago I am an empath/medium.

After reading some articles in this book brought tears to my eyes because of the suffering I occurred growing up ,but now learning to embrace it.

Anytime I saw or felt things growing up and told my Mum, she would always tell me to be quiet and not talk this way. This started at the age of 5 years right up until she passed when I was 38 years old, so learnt to repress my gifts.

Its hard enough knowing we are empaths ,but not knowing or blocking it out for many years was hell for me.

I would love to exchange views with other empaths.

The positive what came out for me knowing I am an empath was doing a course on Reiki Healing, it helps so much.
Anonymous commented on 14-Jul-2017 05:36 AM
I'm an empath and at 69 I have so much trouble letting go of my sister and brother. Sisters a 35 year aa member, brothers an alcoholic. Additionally my husband is a sick narcicistic. I don't know how not to let these people go without completely cutting all ties. I'm miserable, can you kelp?
Kelly commented on 06-Aug-2017 06:34 AM
I used to be a lucid dreamer. Since 9/11/2001.I had a dream. A jet flying figure eights around the World Trade Center. I woke to one tower burning. Since then I barely remember my dreams. I want them back!
Marie Blair, M.D. commented on 18-Sep-2017 01:36 PM
I would like to express my thanks and great appreciate for the of Empath' s Survival Guide book. I used to go to see Madam Butterfly' s Opera and cry during the mot opera. I never knew what was happening and I never asked myself what was the problem. There were many other similar situations that I ABSORBED other people's pain and sadness. Now after reading your book, I am completely a different person. In a similar situation, IMMEDIATELY I asked myself " Is this my pain or someone else 's pain ". Then I release the feeling. After that when I go back to my own feeling, I feel great. Judith, I LOVE you so much. God bless you. Thank you again. Dr. Blair. 516-710-3010.

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