When to Stay Away

The thing is, most of the time I know when to stay away.

When she says, “Ewwww!  Mom, remember that experiment where we made the smoothie for Twilite?  You know the blueberries, grass and banana drink?  It’s still in the fridge!  Come smell it!”



I know to stay away.


When he says, “Mom, can I jump off the roof in the back yard?” and I look out and see four inches of white stuff on the grass, I tell him to back away from the ladder and stay away from the roof.


It took me fifteen years to figure out that my health depended on my staying away from my husband.

Now I have no doubt that I made the right choice to leave.


I stay away from malls to protect my credit.

I stay away from potato chips to avoid having to buy new jeans.

I stay away from reality TV to avoid pickling my brain.

I stay away from diet soda, canned spinach and Brussels Sprouts.  (Canned spinach and Brussels Sprouts aren’t bad for ya, but they taste like they are.)


I stay away from chaos.

I don’t invite drama.

I seek calm.


My inner compass makes it easy for me to quickly decide what to stay away from – in most cases.

I tell my kids to gravitate to people that feel good to be around – cultivate the relationships that improve their lives and back away from people whose energy doesn’t feel right.

But why – when a stranger approaches and my body tells me to fold my arms in front of my chest, back away and avoid eye contact – do I continue the conversation?

My gut is giving me signals.  The signals are loud and clear.  But, because I don’t want to appear unfriendly or rude, I make nice when my body is telling me to flee.


Is it a societal thing, to continue to be friendly when our instincts tell us to get away?

Is it an INFJ thing that makes me want to turn this uncomfortable situation into something positive?

Is it my responsibility to give every soul a chance?


I know all the answers to those rhetorical questions, and yet I persist at being nice.


I was wrangling with that question this weekend.  On Sunday, the Universe spoke to me through a wise woman.  She said, “Smart people know to stay away from things that don’t feel good.”

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  1. Thanks for this reminder. I so often find myself staying in situations/conversations/relationships that don’t feel good out of the upbringing that says a good woman should always be “nice.” I know better, but I find myself doing it anyway. Your comment that INFJs (I am one) may stay in those situations in some attempts to redeem it and turn it into something positive rang true for me too. I need to ponder a bit more how that shows up in my own life. Thanks!

  2. Jesse,

    You are an amazing woman. You found your voice, and you use it so beautifully to encourage others–myself included! Thank you!

    I am working on establishing healthy boundaries, not allowing toxic people to suck the energy out of me, and not apologizing all the time for everything.

    I joked (dark humor) you know it is time to make changes when your marriage gives you hives.

    Be well . . . : )

  3. KJ,

    Thanks for writing.

    As I’ve gotten older, it has become easier to see where to put my energy. But I still find myself being nice, out of habit, when it might not be warranted.

  4. Lynn,

    Oh boy, do I know about apologizing all the time. I still catch myself apologizing to the kitchen counter if I bump into it on my way to getting another cup of coffee.

    Was I thinking that if I apologized enough, he’d over-look all my inadequacies and keep me around anyway? And when did I get so whittled down that I felt the need to apologize for my existence?

    Some days, it’s the dark humor that gets us through!

    Take care, friend. ;)

  5. Oh yes to the wise woman’s quote. Problem is that early on, you don’t always recognize a bad feeling as bad- it’s easily mistaken for excitement, without the experience to know the difference.

  6. Hi Bea,

    I know what you mean. That was the case for me…. early on, as you say. However, I can’t remember the last time I confused exciting with bad. Call it age. Call it experience.


    Exciting feels like fresh air, sparkles, a natural high and a good caffeine buzz all rolled into one.

    Bad feels like wrap my arms around my chest, bury my head and pretend I’m not there.

    There’s no mistaking the two.

  7. Jesse

    I think it’s probably a combination of things that make us want to “be nice”.

    Caring, compassionate people tend to try and overlook others’ flaws, even in first impression scenarios. Also, I think that having dealt with SUPREMELY toxic people, we tend towards the belief that there are more good than toxic people in the world, and we want to to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

    That being said, if I had followed my initial gut instinct more often over the course of my life, there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have been able to hurt me, and a lot more mistakes I wouldn’t have made.

  8. Hi,
    Reading this felt like balm to my soul. I continue to wrestle with staying away from family members around whom I feel bad, OK, I’m not kidding anyone–my mother. All I can think is that our souls have a contract and she is my mother so that I get my boundaries in place on this trip through life. Thank you for the reminder that I’m not the only one.

  9. Kristin,

    Excellent points. And I can relate about not having followed my initial gut instincts in past relationships.

    At this point, I like to think that by not having followed my gut, I got into some difficult situations, but I endured and learned some very valuable lessons.

    You know… lemons to lemonade. ;)

  10. Alyson,

    It’s always nice to see you here.

    That’s the toughest – wanting desperately to stay away from such a prominent figure in your life. I like the way you look at it – get that stuff cleared up on this go ’round.

  11. Jesse,

    I swear you were a counselor in another life. Your eloquent way of describing healthy boundaries and listening to your body’s reaction to someone is part of the self-care all counselors have to learn. It may very well be an INFJ thing that draws us to keep working on people when we ought to be leaving well enough alone. I’ve had to learn to leave peer relationships when it becomes obvious there’s no reciprocity in the relationship. The lack of drama has been WONDERFUL and it’s nice to give myself permission to take care of me versus everyone else ;-)

    <3 your writing style and the way your blog posts always feel like a hug.

  12. Jenn,

    Thanks so very much.

    That’s my goal here: Offering encouragement, hugs and gentle nudges. I know it sucks in the trenches, and I know how sweet it is on the other side.

    And, yeah, it’s good to remember to take care of ourselves. That sets a great example for our kids.

    Thanks for being here.

  13. Jesse

    If not lemons to lemonade, then lemons to slice for tequila shots every now and then.


  14. Kristin,

    Have a seat and stay awhile.

    You fit right in here.

  15. Alyson you’re not the only one with a mom like that. I love my mom but when she is around I am miserable. It’s better to avoid long visits or, for that matter, any visits. It’s like she knows when my life is settling down and I am finally feeling happy, she then drops back in to suck the happy out of me.

    I love this article. It’s so hard to stop allowing toxic people to walk on you. I have slowly gotten rid of a lot of people in my life that just cause drama. Yesterday I actually told someone NO and did not feel bad. I was looking out for me.

  16. Kath,

    I’ve found that the more I look out for myself, the easier it gets, and the stronger I get.

    Keep it up. ;)

  17. Thanks Jesse. I feel like I’ve found a home!

  18. Kristin,

    I’m glad – for you and your boys.

  19. I have always viewed myself as being a nice person, I’ve always prided myself on being non-judgmental. I think it’s hard when you identify your personality that way, yet you know you are perfect fodder for someone who’d like to do nothing more than chew you up and spit you out for their own pleasure. This is an interesting topic to me, because I don’t *want* to be mean or judgmental. But this is some of the biggest criticism I’ve faced from my N friend since cutting ties. I’m “judging” her, I’m being “deliberately cruel.” I’m “relishing in hurting her.” Those are the things she knows it’s the hardest for me to ignore. I finally am getting to the point of so what. There’s no point in defending myself to a narcissist. If I’ve got to be painted as this horrible, judgmental, cruel person-so be it. It’s the price I pay for freedom and peace in my life? Well ok, then. I guess it’s shown me that I’m not so black and white either. People have limits.

    Jesse, I also think its that INFJ thing, we are just dying to know everything about someone else. They are a new puzzle to understand.

  20. NM,

    Yes, there is that part that wants to make a relationship work so badly… to really understand and connect.

    Also, it’s good to remember that those comments she makes – about you being cruel, judging, etc… – those are about her. You can’t deal with an irrational person rationally. They speak a different language.

  21. Yes they are about her. And, it takes every ounce of willpower for me to not tell her she’s being a hypocrite, because calling people names like that (on a public forum even) THAT is somehow not being judgmental and cruel? But you know, Jesse, engaging in these kinds of arguments is part of what sucked my life away while in the relationship. It’s pointless to argue with a narcissist, besides that’s what she’s looking for-attention. So, she can call me names, it’s better than having to live with her!

  22. NM,

    And it’s incredibly frustrating (that’s not a strong enough word) to be judged incorrectly. This is where I’d want to shout from the mountain tops, “I am a good person! I try hard to get along! Believe me!!”

  23. Yes. Guts. Ever since my divorce I have come to acknowledge my innards as my best emotional compass. They have driven me out of the room, away from bullies and across the country.
    I think at some point in our lives ‘playing nice’ was the only defense we had against the narcissist in our lives. I still prefer maintaining my own zip code, but that is not possible in our daily lives and..sadly, I admit that I still ‘play nice’ as protection. The difference now is I find less often, that I get emotionally hooked. The encounter doesn’t derail my whole day because I can see the behavior for what it is..mine and theirs.
    Shouting from the mountain tops…we’ve all been there and longed for that, but again, all our shouting will only fall on deaf ears. I think that’s when I channel my inner Buddha and try to rise above even that need…whether we are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ we don’t deserve to be the object of abuse…nor do we have to prove our right to take up space, be wrong, be lovely, be right, be tired or have our own needs.

  24. E,

    I loved your last sentence. I want that on my cupboard.

    We do not have to prove
    our right to take up space,
    be wrong,
    be lovely,
    be right,
    be tired,
    or have our own needs met.

    Thank you!

  25. Jesse,

    I should have stayed away but I relapsed. My parents are fixated on being perfect. They are healthy….maybe a little too much. They seem to think that if everyone ate like they did, slept as they did, used this cream, took these vitamins, exercised this much, etc…..that no body would ever be sick. Well recently I have been feeling tired, weak, brain sad, dry skin, nails cracking, just very down. So I went and had it checked out. Turns out I have a hypothyroid. Probably have to take medication for the rest of my life. Here is where I relapsed. I told my parents. They suggested that the reason this happened is because I do not follow the patterns they took.

    This smart woman is right. I knew I should have stayed away from telling them about my issue. Next time I will remember this blog and read it before I decide to share certain things with them.


  26. Steph,

    That hurts to tell a parent about a health issue and be met with such a lack of empathy. That’s classic narcissism to suggest that if you’d been living life the way they do, you’d be just fine.

    I used to make that mistake over and over – telling my ex something only to be met with disinterest or a lecture on how I should have been doing X or Y all along, and that if I’d only listened to him…. But I craved being heard. I craved being listened to by him, and that’s why I kept trying. There’s a part that thinks one day he’ll/they’ll listen with tenderness and caring and love.

    They won’t.

    They can’t.

  27. Steph, I don’t know you, but feel I should comment. BOTH my dad and my former N friend are major “health” nuts. I put it in quotes because their bodies may be healthy but without a healthy mind and soul, how healthy can you really be? I too have struggled with thyroid disease and it’s a very real thing, not caused by diet, etc. My N friend was fond of us going out to dinner and her ordering a huge/high calorie meal, eating every bite, while I ate half of my healthy meal and carrying on about how (because she was “healthy”) she could get away with it sometimes. She was constantly telling me how I was never doing good enough, needed to work out more, lose weight, etc. She also was fond of talking about anyone we’d see that was obese. She would say ‘I just don’t know how they can stand it, I don’t know how someone can let themselves get THAT bad!” (I am about 10 lb. over the BMI for my height, as a side note) About ten years ago, I lost 30 lb. by giving up ALL (and I do mean all) carbs for two years, and working out 5x per week. After all this work, I was really proud of myself and she never said anything nice about it. One day she looks at me (I’m wearing an 8 at this point, which for me is really small) and she says “wow, I’m so proud of you. You’ve ALMOST done it. You’re almost there.” I was crushed. There’s no pleasing a Narcissist, and if you ever want to feel validated by one, good luck. Please do NOT beat yourself up. Having hypothyroidism is exhausting. Do NOT let them make you feel bad about having an autoimmune condition, it is a very REAL thing. Big hugs to you, and I hope you feel better soon.


  28. NM,

    I appreciate the comment and thank you for taking the time for me. I would have been crushed too by her words, especially after working so hard. Good job to you.

    My parents are so into health and have been since I was 12. Growing up with them was hard. My sister and I were watched carefully and constantly with what went into our mouths. My dad would tell my sister she was fat or needed to lose weight. She is older and I would see this and control the food that went into my mouth, scared of hearing him say those words to me. I became anorexic she became a little of both anorexic and bulemic. And then when I only weighed 92 lbs I never heard “Hey look at you, you look great” (I do know that I did not look great and had some issues to work with) I heard “What happened to you….we need to fatten you up”

    Now with the thyroid disease it brings back those feelings I had. Especially when they suggest it’s because I do not follow the health patterns they do. I was a size 6 a year ago before the disease kicked in. Now I am a size 10 or 12. I understand this may not be much…..but from their point of view it’s FAT. My mother is a size 1 or 2. My father is wearing xsmall and smalls in men’s clothes.

    Being introduced to this blog was a wonderful thing. I never knew before I read it that N’s will never be pleased or you will never be validated by one.

    Thank you NM and Jesse for replying to my comments. I look forward in conversing with you more. NM, thanks for the hugs and I was wondering how long you have had this autoimmune condition. I was just diagnosed almost two weeks ago.

  29. Steph,

    My heart goes out to you. I hope you find some solace here.

    Keep it coming and get it off your chest. ;)

  30. Steph, I was diagnosed with a diseased thyroid YEARS ago, at least 14 years ago. It is regulated now and I feel good. The period of time following diagnosis was a bit rough until they got everything regulated with my meds.

    That was how it was with my friend, if you were above a size 6 you were “fat.” Her mom “also had thyroid trouble and had never had any problems maintaining her weight.” She was always panicked about gaining weight. However when we’d eat out she would order whatever she wanted and never put on a pound. Did she exercise a lot? Yes. but she also had thin parents and had always been active. She had no sympathy for a metabolism that had been hurt by thyroid problems, multiple pregnancies, etc. Her MIL was obese, and she would just go on and on about how fat she was, and then follow up with “now I’m not talking about you so don’t get so sensitive.” So, basically, I knew she despised fat people and I knew she thought I was overweight, but I wasn’t supposed to take it personally, you know… Classic narcissism, there is always an excuse for being nasty or hurtful.

    I am fit now, and still around the same weight I’ve been for years. I have decided to focus on fitness, health, and loving life, not the size of my jeans (which are, coincidentally, the same size as yours!) I am learning that much of the reason I didn’t pursue fitness and exercise through the years before now, was because I knew it would never be good enough to her, and knew it would always be a competition, too. Now I workout regularly with friends (many who are extremely talented athletes, one is even a Olympic medalist, no joke..) and I have to say not ONCE have any of them ever tried to make me feel inferior. They are so excited for me if I run a mile, because they know for me that’s huge, while maybe 20 miles would be an accomplishment for them.

    My dad and mom divorced when I was 9, so I wasn’t too scathed by his body issues. But I’ve had friends who had parents like that, very controlling about food and weight. I’m sure you know that your worth is not defined by your dress size. Please know you are amazing, and you will be stronger for this!

    Would like to leave you with a favorite quote: “Is ‘fat’ really the worst thing a human being can be? Is ‘fat’ worse than ‘vindictive’, ‘jealous’, ‘shallow’, ‘vain’, ‘boring’ or ‘cruel’? Not to me.” -JK Rowling

  31. Just wanted to say “thanks” for keeping this blog. I haven’t found anyone in my life who really knows what I’m going through right now. It’s been three years of coming to terms with some difficult realizations and a living through a downward spiral with my husband’s NPD. I can’t believe what I’ve stuck around for to try and find the best way to minimize the damage to my children. My family is just starting to understand. I wasn’t going to write anything until I saw the INFJ comment-I found another one! No wonder I’ve spent 5 hours on here today. Yes, that’s too much. Thanks again-it really does help to see that someone else has been there and made the best of it.

  32. Stacy,

    First off, let me send you a warm hug.

    Secondly, I want to commend you on your kind heart, compassion and bravery. You continued to put the needs of your kids at the forefront. I admire you for that. That’s the mark of so many INFJs – they firmly believe that through their dogged determination, things could end up healthy or at least positive. It’s a bitter pill to swallow when we realize there is absolutely nothing we can do to change the outcome.

    Thanks for reading and writing. If I’d known you were hanging out yesterday, I’d have made you some lunch.

    Take good care, Stacy. Your kids are blessed to have you for their mom.

  33. Thank you, again, for your words!

  34. Stacy,

    You are so welcome. I’m glad you found some comfort here.

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