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When Separation Is Protection

When Separation Is Protection


Noah did it. So did our foreparents, Abraham and Sarah and Jacob. They all had to separate from “toxic” people. G‑d told Noah to build an ark and separate from the degenerate people around him. After Abraham destroyed his father’s idols and left his birthplace, he also had to separate from his nephew, Lot.1 That relationship was so harmful, in fact, that the commentator Rashi tells us that as long as they were together, Abraham was unable to hear G‑d’s words.2 Sarah had to banish her maidservant Hagar and her son, Ishmael to protect her own son, Isaac.3 Jacob suffered greatly during the twenty years he was with his father-in-law, Laban, and escaped at the first possible opportunity.

Just as the presence of truly kindhearted people can be healing, the opposite is also trueJust as the presence of truly kindhearted people can be healing, the opposite is also true. As much as we would like to see only good in everyone, and accept them graciously into our lives, there are some people whose insane or hostile acts bring out the worst in us and keep us from living joyfully.

Research shows that in the presence of nasty people, even our T-killer cells (the ones that fight viruses and bacterial infections) are weakened, thus leading to numerous physical ailments, especially autoimmune illnesses, not to mention the loss of self-worth and untold emotional torment. Harassment and humiliation may seem like “just words” to some, but the unseen wounds can leave victims with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is characterized by anxiety, insomnia, noise sensitivity and depression. Studies show that pregnant women who live or work with hostile people are more likely to have babies with weakened immune systems, lower iron levels and a higher incidence of ADHD.

Even if these “disturbed” people are sometimes friendly, charming and helpful, their lack of predictability keeps everyone in a constant state of tension, never knowing what might set them off. Although there are numerous types of toxic personalities, from domineering controllers to clingy complainers, their presence is draining, both mentally and physically. Toxic people do not feel ashamed of their actions; instead, they make endless excuses as to why others are to blame for their behavior. Their attitude is, “Since you failed to live up to my expectations, I have the right to be angry and to hurt you back.”

Unfortunately, victims often feel, “If I were truly good, it wouldn’t affect me.” When they seek help, they may be told, “Forgive and forget. Focus on the good.” If they try to pull away, they may be subjected to harassment by relatives who tell them how much the toxic person is suffering, and how they must maintain contact. This attitude makes people feel ashamed of their anger, fear, repulsion and confusion.

If the toxic person is a family member who can be devoted and generous at times, or who is highly respected in the community, the victim feels very confused and ambivalent. If he or she is dependent on the person for money, there may be no choice but to passively endure their domination and criticism.

Yes, there are certain types who seem not to be affected by people’s hostility, just as there are people sleep through rocket attacks and go about their business the next day as if nothing happened. However, the Torah forbids us from harming ourselves. If an abuser shows no regret and is not making efforts to stop the offensive behavior, and if the victim feels physically ill and emotionally crippled by the hostility, then separation may be the only way to protect oneself.

Rav Yirmiyah ben Abba said that four categories of people cannot receive the divine presence: scoffers, slanderers, flatters and liars, especially if they sow contention between husband and wife.”4 Just as we divide foods into those that are nutritious and those that are harmful, each of us must distinguish between the people who make us feel respected and safe, and those who do the opposite.

You do not need artistic talent. These simple pictures help you validate your painEven if you separate, your self-worth may have already been so damaged that you live with their negative messages inside your mind, constantly berating yourself for not being “good enough.” It will take time to internalize the message that “G‑d loves and values me no matter what others think of me,” and to learn to fight the inner voice which says, “You’re stupid and incompetent. No one could love you.” To help with this internal work, purchase a large notebook with unlined pages and thick paper that can be drawn on with magic markers.

  1. Use your non-dominant hand [the left hand for most people, or the right hand if you are left-handed] to draw a stick-figure picture of the painful incident in which you began to internalize negative messages about yourself. If there were numerous incidents, use a separate page for each picture. You do not need artistic talent. These simple pictures help you validate your pain. Using your non-dominant hand helps you to avoid being critical of your drawings.
  2. Look at that stick figure of yourself, and write down what you were feeling at that time.
  3. Now, think of yourself as a wise and compassionate adult who can enter into that scene. Write to the stick figure words of love, praise and support, for example, “You tried so heroically to cope and function despite the pain. Yes, you have battle scars, but they are proof of your strength, wisdom and courage. Good for you for not doing to others as was done to you. I love you as you are. I will always be with you and help you learn to love.”
  4. Each day, make small efforts to become more loving. For example, if you are a perfectionist, tell yourself, “I want progress, not perfection. My best is good enough.” Smile at people. Compliment them and show interest in their lives. If you are a people pleaser, protect yourself by setting clear boundaries and refusing to do things which you cannot do happily. If you are undisciplined, keep track of your small acts of self-discipline, such as avoiding junk foods. Be very proud of the smallest act you do to overcome these old patterns. Write your “victories” in a notebook. What is a huge victory for you may be nothing for someone who does not have these inner barriers.

This is not easy work. It takes a lifetime to overcome deeply ingrained patterns. Cheer every step you make to become a self-respecting and loving person.

Rashi to Genesis 13:14.
Ibid. 21:10.
Talmud, Sotah 42a.
Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
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Jeannette Oklahoma City July 13, 2016

I am the result of child abuse and mental abuse from my days of being left in my cradle to play alone with my toes and feet. I have an older brother she loved so much that she never forgave me for being born to take her time from my brother. At the age of 4 my grandmother my mothers mother was quite happy to inform me that my mother would never love me like she does my older brother. She went on to say Is should be quiet and good or she would send me aways to a borading school. This idea hang over my head for quite sometimes when I finally told my mother why didn't she just get rid of me and send me to boarding school then she would not have to bother with me. I had a father who loved all of his children but he was always to busy with work to be at home and see what was happening. I think he knew because every time we knew someone who was going on a trip and the next thing my bags were packed and I traveled with them.
Thank goodness I have always loved to travel. Reply

Anonymous May 17, 2016

Beautifully said and very needed! Thanks for posting! Reply

Anonymous toronto December 29, 2015

blessing Separation from God means a Jew will not be blessed or receive blessing . Reply

Anonymous Minnesota May 5, 2015

Toxic relationship with mother in law I spent 15 years even with a coach to come up with ways to have healthy interaction with my mother in law. She is very domineering, overbearing and publicly manipulative. If I address an issue it gets worse. Conflicts never can be talked about yet they continue for decades. As she is not my mother I finally have let the relationship go. Reply

Anonymous england December 30, 2012

this Is brilliant When reading this it is so logical and makes so much sense but whhen this person is your husbands mother and sons grandma and u don't want a big fall out it becomes very difficult to just cut them out...this is a big dilemma for me as it will have a lifetime effect if I choose to do this but she interferes and won't take no for an answer and insists on 'helping' when she is unwanted. Reply

Gigi Varna, Bulgaria November 18, 2012

amazing I have to tell you again what for a mercy this article is to me. After I wrote my thoughts, I looked up to all the answers and I was surprised that i found a first answer from me some month ago. Now look, I was sad this morning and I spoke to G-d, maybe I am a bad mother that my children do not talk to me anymore. After this I went to my computer and the Feedback Moderator from send the answers to me, but as I open it I had the article. My goodness isn't this a blessing. Thank you G-d for protecting me and taking my bad thinking out of my mind to be a victim. I love you G-d, my heavenly Father, with all my heart. Reply

Gigi Bulgaria November 18, 2012

separation Dear Miriam, after I prayed to G-d about my children who do not talk to me. I had in my mind I am a bad mother and maybe it is better that they separated me.

then I went on the computer to look for messages and it came the e mail from, and I open it and as I read your message tears come into my eyes. Thank G-d that He showed me going out of this victim feeling to tell me the right thoughts to be with Him and His Son. Amen! Reply

Anonymous CT November 15, 2012

Thank You for this article This really touched my heart as i do separate myself from those who i consider to be "toxic" people...often times i feel guilty and "weak" for doing so. I pray for the strength to know that i am not being weak or stand-offish for separating myself, but wise and courageous. Reply

Anonymous Boisbriand, QC June 6, 2012

Unbelievable!! My tears well as I read this amazing article. I didn't know there is someone who can relate to what I've gone through. Such important information, Keep it up, may you always give people the strength they need. Reply

Gigi Varna, Bulgaria May 7, 2012

Thank you Dear Dr Miriam,

you are a bleesing to me from G-d.


Gigi Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA February 6, 2012

When Separation is Protection Dr. Miriam Adahan,
Please continue to help in the emotional healing of us all. Your advise have been a great mitzvaz for all these people. I am deeply greatful. This is a battle that takes time. But with Hashem's help, blessed be He, and your interfering in prayer and knowledge it is quite a relief in the spirit of your brothers and sisters who have suffered like you. May Hashem richly bless you and your dear family for ever. Amen. Reply

victor fatherheart consoler 234, Nigeria February 6, 2012

When separation is protection. Dear
Dr miriam,
Shalom actually separation is protection if one is obibient.I said these because of the happenings in today's world. Reply

Anonymous Wilmington, NC February 4, 2012

Finally Free In December I finally had the courage to leave my very toxic marriage.

Although money continues to be a constant concern and there are not enough hours in the day, thanks to a Domestic Violence Protective Order, my home is filled with peace, my children are happy, and my reoccurring thought has been, "What took you so long?"

I read an article years ago (probably from Chabad) that compared severing these relationships to amputating a limb. My future will not be easy, but Hashem's miracles and guidance have reassured me that I can eagerly look forward to the days ahead as I officially embrace the faith that has sustained and taught me (unlike the faith of my childhood) that divorce can actually be a mitzvah.

Thus said the Lord, Stand you in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you shall find rest (margoa) for your soul...... Reply

Anonymous Mesa, Arizona, USA February 1, 2012

Wallington, CT United States My dear anon from CT, some people are not necesarily mentally ill. Some people are born domineering, controlling and abusive. That is their personality. I have been around them for years. That is the only way they know "love," and their torture is never recognized by them. That just how they are. We need to recognize that and, like Dr. Adahan states, just simply let them go out of one's life. Verbal abuse is very depressing, especially when it is done for years of one person's life. It robs one of the most precious gift our Creator endows to us. I have been there. It is very painful to separate from those one love, but it is even more detrimental staying with toxic people for the rest of one's life. When we seek Hashem with all our heart and might, He, blessed be He, recommends the separation. Especially if the abuser does not want to change its ways and repent. In G-d Word, when sin comes at your door you can control it. That said, lets keep the stumblers off our path. Hashem LIVES! Reply

Mary 000, Ireland February 1, 2012

learning to respect myself This is a wonderful and very helpful article. I wish more people could see this. It would make our lives so much better. I am going to print it so that I can have it near me and use the advice properly. Thank you. Reply

Miiram Adahan Jerusalem, Israel February 1, 2012

THANK YOU! When I opened my e-mail this morning and saw all the responses, tears came to my eyes. I just want to thank you all for sharing. Having been in numerous toxic relationships for almost 70 years, I understand the pain which results from being around people who want you to make you feel frightened, ashamed and inferior. May Hashem help us to free ourselves from the terrible effects of such people and to truly feel His love, for this is the only way to heal. Reply

Anonymous Mt. Laurel, NJ January 31, 2012

Thank you Todah rabah for this wonderful article. As someone with PTSD who has fought for freedom from toxic family members, I can attest to the importance of this advice. Like Anonymous from Oakham, as an adult I struggle with the effects of emotional abuse every day, and I like your positive, affirmative approach. Bless you for this gift. Reply

Zs January 31, 2012

Thank you! Beautiful Reply

Anonymous January 31, 2012

WOWW May G-d in His blessed mercy bless the gifted and totally Kind-hearted person who put this up, Amen Reply

Terry Noble La Mirada, CA January 31, 2012

When Seperation is Protection by Miriam Adahan I was on the Internet and came across your article "When Separation is Protection". I did your exercise. It opened my eyes that I was trying to make right family relationships that were abusive, manipulative and controlling. Now I have the Peace of God in me. No longer do I strive to push open a door that God has shut for my Protection. Thank You, and God Bless Your Heart. Reply