Conflict - The De-tox Method

In order to move on when we have been involved in an upsetting experience with someone else, we need to get rid of the 'toxic' feelings that the experience creates. 'Toxins' are in this sense infectious, so the trick is to cleanse ourselves without infecting anyone else i.e. retaliating against the one who upset you or taking it out on another.

For it to work most effectively the De-tox Method is best done with the person who has upset you.

  • Do it when you're both feeling OK (you can still feel annoyed and resentful but OK enough to have a short adult conversation) and when you can be sure of a few private uninterrupted minutes together
  • Don't do it immediately after the fall-out. Give yourselves space from each other. Don't crowd. Don't try to sort it there and then (it never works, just adds to the pressure)
  • Think carefully about what you're going to say and how you're going to say it. Keep what you want to say brief – not more than two sentences and short ones at that!

  • Sit down and ask the other if they will sit with you. If they refuse, (just because you want to doesn't mean it must happen …)ask if you can do this together later. 

  • The purpose of The DE-tox is to get rid of your own toxic feelings so that you can feel better.

  • You get rid of the negative feelings by saying how you feel/felt when something happened or was said. That's all; nothing more than that.

  • Criticising doesn't work. You don't get rid of toxic feelings by criticising the other person. (It's like the plague, giving it to someone else doesn't cure you!). They will only feel bad and withdraw or attack and you will both be back to square one.

  • You don't have to agree. Everyone sees things differently. There is (in my view) no truth, just a kaleidoscope of perspectives. Don't get hung up on who was right. 

  • Accept that your own behaviour probably contributed to the problem. If the other person feels that you believe it's all his fault he could adopt 'victim mode' and just feel that you are unfairly giving him a hard time. There is therefore no incentive to meet his 'persecutor' half way.

  • In the De-tox method you seek the help of the other person by asking them to listen for one minute while you express how you feel/felt. This involves them giving you the gift of their undivided attention for one minute (two sentences). They don’t have to say anything but it only works if they are prepared to listen. If they do not respond but they do listen and hear, that's fine. Usually however this forms the prelude to an adult conversation. Nevertheless this seems to work best when the conversation is kept short and is then followed by a period of separate reflection.

If you think they haven't listened, there may be a valid reason (perhaps they feel scolded, talked down to; perhaps they are ashamed of their behaviour and are uncomfortable about owning what they have said or done, perhaps they think you express yourself more articulately than they can and so feel intimidated, etc). Ensure that you don't respond to this negatively. Don't criticise. Don't raise your voice. Don't storm off. Ensure that your facial expressions and body language (no eye-rolling!) are not implicitly critical. Leave the issue and leave the other to reflect and then (perhaps later in the day or the next day) ask if it's OK to try again. You might also ask them if there is anything you could change in your approach that would make them more likely to cooperate.

A possible opening: 'I would like one minute of your time. After I've said what I want to say, if you want to respond I promise to listen to you without interrupting or criticising. If you don't want to respond, that's fine.'

Try starting your clearance with 'I' instead of 'you'.

Examples of re-framing your sentence into an effective, non critical De-tox

Critical – 'When you got really pissy and shouted at me, you really hurt me.'

Non Critical – 'I felt really bad when you shout/ed / had that argument.'


Critical – 'You make me feel like shit when you say that to me'.

Non Critical – 'I feel worthless when you say that'.


Critical – 'When you ignore me it makes me feel like I'm useless.'

Non Critical – 'I feel really upset when you don't answer me.'

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