The Rule I Use To Help Me Navigate The Tough Stuff

There are not many hard and fast rules that I cling to. Rogue that I am, I’ll wear white after Labor Day, I’m not afraid to call guys one day after a date and I’ve been known to drink the water, um, everywhere.


There is one rule that I reference on the regular and, friends, that rule is “The Bad/Break Rule.” And here is the crux of my extremely complex approach to the challenges of modern life: When something or someone is making you feel bad, you need to make a break for it.

This is not where I advocate giving up on things that challenge you, walking out on your partner after an argument about the laundry or quitting your job because you’re the only one who ever makes coffee. A situation or person that makes you feel bad is not the same as a situation or person that makes you feel frustrated, annoyed, challenged, exasperated or overwhelmed.

But the partner that makes you question your self worth or feel unattractive? The boss that yells at you in front of colleagues and makes you cry? The friend that mocks your dreams or lies to you? That business makes a person feel bad. And you know what you can do about it? Leave. You can quit the job, end the relationship, stop taking that friend’s calls.

As an owner of rose-colored glasses, I can frequently convince myself that any relationship or situation is salvageable and that with good communication and kind intentions we can all make good. Which may be true. But all that compromising and communicating is also time consuming and exhausting. And it’s not always worth it! There are thousands of jobs and homes and relationships out there that aren’t right for us. And life needn’t be as complicated as we make it. If someone or something is making you feel bad, you owe it to yourself to distance yourself from them.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience in which we rationalize away a partner’s/employer’s/friend’s shortcomings and make excuses for the things that they do and say that make us feel shitty. He told me I looked fat because he had a tough day at work. She yelled at me because she was frustrated that our program lost funding. She made fun of my haircut (for the eighth time, after I asked her not too) because that’s her sense of humor. Nobody’s perfect.

And then later, somewhere down the line, we get a new job or start seeing someone new or make a new friend at book club and are overwhelmed by how easy it is. How amazing it feels to be congratulated and valued and treated with respect! So this is how it’s supposed to be! Who knew?!

Of course, into every life a bit of frustration and compromise must fall. And nobody is, in fact, perfect. But life’s too short to be wandering around this amazing world in the company of people that make you feel bad. So point your feet towards the horizon, walk away from that rubbish and towards something that will make you happy.

What do you do when faced with people or situations that make you feel bad? What bad stuff have you distanced yourself from?

photo by paula borowska // cc 

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  1. Sara Duane

    Agreed 100%! Life is too short to spend it around people who make your life miserable. Some relationships (whether they're with bosses, co-workers, significant others, or friends) are downright toxic and have to be severed to protect ourselves. There is no rule that says we have to be friends with everyone.

  2. kathrynoh

    Yeah people talk alot about communicating and putting your feelings out there – but you know in your innards when that is going to work and is worthwhile and when it isn't. Sometimes you don't talk things out not because you are repressing them or any other deep reason, it's because the relationship just isn't worth it!

  3. Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this post! My english is not that good, but I would love to share my thoughts. My father once told me (I try to translate it and hope it makes sense, it is a german saying), that you better have a terrifying end than terror that won't end.

    I'm planning to leave a sorority. First I was afraid (because I have some semesters at the university left) but now I'm looking forward to a new start, new friends and new experiences. Your post made my day and confirmed my resolution!

  4. Beth

    Sarah, you're amazing, it's like you got into my head and wrote a post that would help me overcome the end of a very difficult relationship. Even after nearly 6 months I'm still finding it hard to completely disconnect from my ex, and it's inspirational things like this that are helping to remind me there are better things ahead and I made the right choice. Thank you! xxx

  5. Anonymous

    I am finding out that the amount of time I spend online is what's making me feel bad. I feel addicted, though, and it is so hard to get myself off. But I'm not living my life when I'm on the computer (I don't use it for work), and I hate that.

    I'm trying right now a schedule for myself: one day on, one day off. Hopefully, I can get it to one day on, two days off, and then one day on, three days off, etc.

    I know it sounds silly, but I just don't like the way I feel after sitting in front of this screen for so long. It does not feel good.

    Thank you for this post. It's wonderful.

  6. Pak

    This post is what I've been thinking about for the last months.
    But leaving somebody is not that easy, even when he makes me terribly unhappy most of the time

  7. Sarah Von Bargen

    You can do it! I promise <3

    This is probably a weird thing for a blogger to say, but I totally understand! I'm in front of students most of the day at work, not on the computer. On the odd day when I am on the computer all day, I feel completely screwed up afterwards! Listless and slightly drepressed. Ugh. I don't know if I'll ever be able to hack it as a "professional" blogger if I can't get past that 😉

  8. Bloggin in PA

    Wow I know what you mean here! Me and my husband used to be friends with this other couple and the guy used to always challenge my husband, try to "one-up" him and constantly was trying to prove everything he did was better than what my husband did. Long story short we decided to cut the strings of our friendship with them, becuase of the constant "putting down" they were doing!

  9. Carrie

    Yes! Thank you! I used to be the girl who always made nice with her "abusers." Believe it or not, more of them were female friends than boyfriends. Or I'd try to rationalize out-of-control and unprofessional work situations. Here's the thing, you teach people how to treat you. And clearly I was teaching them that it was okay to take advantage of my people pleasing ways. I've since "broken up" with friends who refused to respect boundaries and a "dream career" that was sending me to an early grave. Now, I'm happier, healthier and more successful than I've ever been in my career, relationships and social life. I think sometimes it's more difficult for women to cut ties and walk away. Loyalty is a powerful force. But we should also be loyal to ourselves.

  10. Sal

    I stand by this rule, too. Life is too short and too full of opportunities for goodness to put up with anyone or any situation that makes you feel badly about yourself.

  11. JulieB

    One of the hardest things for me was that the people that were making me feel bad were my own family! It's hard to walk away from a relationship, but even harder when it's a blood one. I did it, though, and I have more confidence and pride in myself now than I could have ever had by sticking with the ones who are supposed to love and support you. I still talk to them, but I don't feel the need to do the things I used to feel I had to only because they were who they were. I make my own boundaries, and it has been worth it!

  12. Anonymous

    Ohhhhh I needed this so much, thank you.

    I was actually feeling bad about cutting loose a friend who made me feel bad. But I know in my heart it was the right thing to do, and this post just reminded me of that.

    I'm gonna go build all the other friendships I have where respect is a two-way street 🙂

  13. Paula

    "And then later, somewhere down the line, we get a new job or start seeing someone new or make a new friend at book club and are overwhelmed by how easy it is. How amazing it feels to be congratulated and valued and treated with respect! So this is how it's supposed to be! Who knew?!"


    I truly had no idea how great a relationship with an SO could be.

  14. Mary

    This is an AMAZING post, Sarah! As a fellow owner of rose-colored glasses, I think I forget sometimes that I also own a backbone and need to stick up for myself when it's imperative to my well-being. Love this!

  15. Laurie

    I follow a basic rule when I sing, "If it hurts, don't." I just recently realized I could apply this principle to life. Your post resonated so much with this realization; I agree completely with what you said. Following the thought, I realized how important choosing my environment and the people I hang around with is. It's not that I shut experiences or people out, but I do have the power (and the responsibility) to choose and stick with what makes me grow and not what stunts me.

    Being aware of this now kind of makes me laugh because we've been taught to choose our friends wisely since primary school. But apparently for me, this lesson falls under, "Things I Still Didn't Learn Until After College."

  16. Amy --- Just A Titch

    Love this post, and yes, it's true. I just started a new job after being laid off from a teaching job at a school where I wasn't very happy due to many factors. As I start working here and find that who I am and what I'm about is CELEBRATED, it's so amazing to feel at home and happy and to remember that yes, one should feel respected and needed at work. It's fantastic.

    Great post, as always, Sarah!

  17. Erin

    Dude. YES.

    I did this for the first time in seventh grade. I was hanging out with some girls who were morally unsound (they actually tried to extort me, no joke). For more than a week I sat alone at lunch, politely ignored them, and then I made some new, awesome friends.

    Not only was it worth it, it was totally self-empowering. Not bad for a seventh-grader, eh?

  18. alicechickie

    Hey there, I've been (silently) reading your blog for almost a year now, purchased the calendar and am trying to work up to the Karma cards (I have no money! I love the concept! Internal dilemma ensues.)

    Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that this post sums up what I've been trying to do relentlessly for the past six months. It's a bit difficult when your entire group of friends is filled with this bad energy. However, your completely right. Life is way too short for this.

    Also, your blog as a whole has been a huge inspiration to me on a daily basis. It's one of the first I check with my morning coffee. It has always seems to bring me back to a place of creativity and gratitude for the simple things in life. Thank you so much just for being you!

    Alice Chickie.

  19. Sarah Von Bargen

    Alice! Welcome to the party! And thanks so much for the kind words

  20. InnyVinny

    This is such great advice, Von. =D

    I've had to cut several ties with people and I've become a better person becaue of it. So much lighter and happier. =D

  21. Kristie Lynne

    Agreed. Family is the hardest. And the most important for me to separate my self from.

  22. screwdestiny

    I really needed this, thank you. I've been associating with someone who just makes me feel like crap a lot of the time, and it's been hard to distance myself from him. And then I find myself rationalizing, "It'll work if I just don't *let* the stuff make me feel like crap." I'm not stupid. I need to break it.


    Thanks so much for writing about this, Sarah. On March 2010 I quit a job that was making me MISERABLE, mainly because of my boss. He was – and remains – a very troubled person with a strong neurotic disorder and, after over a year of supporting him, trying to understand him (sometimes successfully), standing for him and doing my job to the best of my capabilities, he started turning against me. I knew how he could be with his subordinates (calling them bad words, insulting them, shouting, humiliating them in front of other coworkers – just like you said!) so I knew I couldn't risk being disrespected or behaving unprofessionally. Of course he didn't take it well and even refused to give me reference letters. It's OK, he's the one who has to live with himself and the consecquences of his decisions. I tried to help him, we both know that, but sometimes it's better – HEALTHIER – to leave. Currently I'm thinking about doind something with the knowledge I acquired in order to help other people who also live in fear of their bosses and/or coworkers.

  24. resolute twig

    This is so well put.

    I have just recently started to live by this rule and can totally confirm that it makes life better (even though it may bring a few hard times as well), and that the more you do it, the stroger and more able to keep doing it you are.

    Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  25. Melissa E.

    I love this rule and I think I need to follow it more often. I have had friends in the past who were so negative about the world in general and their own lives that I felt horrible after talking to them. Sometimes they even seemed to rejoice when I was struggling with something, because "Now you'll know how bad I feel."

    Perhaps what I need is more distance. . .

    I believe some distance is in order for me.

  26. Sarah

    I recently had am internship with a radio station and hated it! I understand as an intern you do the work know one else wants too. Like shred thousands of hr dept papers but the girl who wast boss was just flat out rude and disrespectful. I was so happy to leave and kindly turned down a terrible job offer.

  27. Rachel

    Thank you for posting this today (even if it does have me crying in a coffee shop). I too have long read your blog and love it so much.

    It's a week after the day I told my husband/partner of 13 years that I want a divorce. That I'm tired of feeling bad and wrong. In some ways the hardest week of my life, but in other ways so liberating. I've worn rose-colored glasses and rationalized for so long, but finally I have done it. Thank you for putting these words into the universe for me to find today, the day I most need reassurance that I'm not wrong or bad.

  28. Lisa

    I recently left a job that made me incredibly depressed. I stuck with it for four months despite knowing instantly that I was working directly and daily with someone who was supposed to be my equal/teammate but who treated me like shit and like she was my boss. I dealt with it because i liked the job and i didn't want to be a failure or seem weak, but in the end it just was not worth coming home crying and hating my life. Being unemployed in this economy is tough and I've been struggling to find a new job, but I am much happier now that I don't have to see her face every day, so it was worth it. Soul sucking people have no place in my life.

  29. Darcie

    dude, can i just say 'thanks' for helping me try to learn this one and for listening to me while i was a near-wreck over it? it is so fucking difficult to do!! congratulations deserved by those who achieve it.

  30. Kelly

    This post is fantastic, It's hard to stop doing things, I hate giving up but sometimes, when something is just consistently making you feel bad, you need to do it. I quit my job at the end of last year with no real plan in mind and have completely come out of it feeling fantastic. Not having to put up with the workplace bullying has made my life so much better. It's hard to do, but well worth it.

  31. DJ TrashTalk

    I 100% adhere to this rule. If someone doesn't add something positive to my life, doesn't make me happier or feel better, I cut them out. May sound harsh, but everyone deserves to surround themselves only with people who build them up.

  32. Anonymous

    I finally started doing this a couple years ago. I first did the easy relationships, such as some "friends", and then moved on to the hardest ones, namely my father and sister. The physical abuse stopped once I was an adult, but both continued to mentally abuse me to the point I lost who I was. I have been told I will regret this, but the only thing I regret is not cutting them out sooner.

    The thing I found most significant is that once I got these bad relationships out of my life, I stopped welcoming new bad ones in. I can't even count on one hand the number of abusive boyfriends I had up until that point.

  33. Vikki

    Sarah thank you so much for your post, I know that leaving this bad friendship is the best thing to do but I hate walking away from anything. You are like my very own good sense cheerleader, letting me know it's okay & making me smile. Thank you, carry on being amazing (and if you ever need somewhere to crash in Oxford Uk do please shout 🙂

  34. Fajr | Stylish Thought

    I love this post! Speaks to the ending of a bad relationship almost a year ago and each day I live this a little bit more. Life doesn't need to involve things or people that don't bring out the best in us!

  35. Anonymous

    Right on sista! Although I am (cough cough) older than you, and in a financial position to do it (finally), I quit my BAD job. The last two years were hell to put it lightly, giving me stomach problems and headaches, weight gain from stress eating, messing up my relationships, sleepless nights and bouts of extreme self doubt, confusion and hopelessness. I kept telling myself it's just me, I'm just perimenopausal, I'm overly sensitive, I'm tired, I'm whatever…but it wasn't me. It was…just…bad…for me. I've been away two weeks and I feel like a new person. Yesterday I had to go there to pick up my final checks and my stomach was in knots before I even entered the building. Gut proof that I did the right thing. It took me far too many years and a lot of misery to learn this lesson. Suffering is not necessarily a sign of character. Great post and insight!

  36. Anonymous

    PS from the anon bad job quitter thought you'd like to know I got a set of your karma cards and shared them secretly with the few good people at the bad job before I left. Sorry no photos but the ones inside the bathroom stall doors (where I cried more than once) were probably the most effective. Thanks for a great idea!

  37. Holly @ Shopaholly

    What a great post! I've been thinking about this stuff a lot lately after trying to purge some negativity in my life. Needs to be done!

  38. Rachelle

    I identified with this so much, I wrote my own blog post about it. I've been trying to explain this to my friends forever!

    It reminds me of the saying about the man who kept hitting himself on the head with a hammer, and his doctor asked him why he did it. He replied, because it feels so good when I stop. Sometimes we end up in these vicious cycles in toxic relationships and it can be so hard to break out of them, but once you're out you wish you had done it sooner.

  39. penn

    ooh, yes. that's how I felt when I left grad school. It was a huge, convoluted decision that took almost a year to put into place. But once I just started the wheels turning, it was like the clouds parted and the sun shone down. I actually got a 4.0 my last semester because I was finally taking just classes I wanted and enjoyed rather than what my advisor had forced me to do (I was done with credits for a coursework MS and just stayed for the good teaching assistant salary at the place where I was).

    Now, here's the hard one: what about those relationships that are fine and not harmful but just not quite what you think you need at the moment? I love my boyfriend . . . but I think we may be in a low point. And I am trying to decide if we're in a little lull because that sometimes happens or if it's because we've grown all we can together and now need to go our separate ways. How to tell the difference?

  40. Sarah Von Bargen

    Anon – Thanks so much for spreading the good karma! And I'm so glad that you walked away from such a toxic environment.

    Penn – That's such a tough one, and I've certainly been there. How long have you guys been together? Are there valid extenuating circumstances that are making things non-awesome? Are those things going to change? (like he's getting used to a new job, or you're in the process of moving) Do you look at him and think "How'd I get the best one?"

  41. Anna

    this is exactly what i needed to hear. thank you sarah von– you are so inpsiring/full of life & love.

  42. Mim


    Sara, I was really moved by this post. (awful follower, i know) 😉 This topic rounded 3rd and slid right over home plate. I had a healthy verbal shot gun rant surge that could only escape via my finger tips. Would love to share my story.

  43. Katie, Tinda Keelie

    I just read this post and it registered with my (and I'm sure everyone else's) life. I was in what I considered to be a so-so relationship for two years. And he made me feel BAD, without even trying I think. He said he preferred blue eyes while mine are brown. He commented on my shape, my skin, my clothes, my attitudes on things… and I convinced myself that if these were our problems it must not be bad. Some people fight constantly, right?

    I finally decided I was worth more and walked away. I decided a few weeks later that I wouldn't settle ever again. And what do you know? 4 months later I met "the one". And you're right- I was amazed by how easy it was.

    Amazing, inspiring post. Thanks for reminding me what I've realized about myself and sharing how you feel the exact same way.


  44. Jazzie Casas

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I'm a single dad of 2 age 2 and 5. I find your site so interesting and helpful. I hope I have much time each day to drop by and check your site for recent post. By the way I really appreciate the effort for sharing this.. Thank you..

  45. Anonymous

    Hi Sarah,

    I have been following your blog for a little bit now. I must say this is an awesome post! I just recently left a position due to verbal abuse and delusions of grandeur. It's scary because I have to scramble to find the right job, right now, but after reading this it's conformation for me to understand I do not have put up with being treated poorly because I am afraid I will loose my job or I am very unhappy.

    Thank you. Excellent article!

  46. Ronna Fisher

    I love this post. My second to last semester of college, I decided that I needed to leave the roommate I had since beginning freshmen year. I considered her one of my best friends, but our living situation was so unhealthy. It took many conversations with friends, mentors, and family to convince me I should even consider living with someone else. I just kept thinking we could fix it or it could get better. When I finally made the decision, I was so relieved. Unfortunately, my roommate didn't see me leaving as a positive thing for our relationship, so I lost a friend in the process. However, my last semester of college was like a breath of fresh air. This: "And then later, somewhere down the line, we get a new job or start seeing someone new or make a new friend at book club and are overwhelmed by how easy it is. How amazing it feels to be congratulated and valued and treated with respect! So this is how it's supposed to be! Who knew?!" is SO true. I was amazed at how wonderful and easy it was to live with a couple of other friends. With my first roommate there was such a lack of respect (on both parties, I was definitely part of the problem too), but with my new roommates there was so much respect, plus they were just simply more positive in general, which I really needed. Such a true & wonderful post. Making decisions like that is so hard, but so worth it.

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