Detachment: What Does It Mean? And What Can You Gain from It?

Last week I went out for coffee with my friend Lara. Bursting with emotion, she said, “My mom is driving me crazy! She always puts my brother first.” I asked her, “Does it hurt your feelings? Or are you mad?” She said, “I guess it’s a bit of both. I’m just tired of feeling like she doesn’t value me.” I asked, “So what are you going to do about it?” “My therapist says I need to detach,” said Lara. Okay – so a solution is detachment. But what exactly does that mean?

An important backstory about Lara’s dynamic with her mom is that this problem isn’t new. It’s OLD. Probably lifelong. Also, Lara has voiced her feelings to her mom before many times. But her mom continues to stick to her old habits. She’s in her late 70’s and is not about to change.

The truth – why you sometimes need to detach:

When do you know that you need to detach? According to PsychCentral, “If there’s physical or verbal abuse, if the relationship is causing you undue stress and anxiety if you’ve noticed a change in your mood when around that person — these are just some of the reasons why it may be time to consider detaching yourself emotionally from that relationship.”

But this seems so complicated! I decided to turn to the experts for more help on this topic.

So, how do you detach? What does it mean?

According to Chopra.com, “The trick is behaving like an Oscar award-winning actor playing a role: become fully emotionally immersed and recognize that you can step outside of the character and be objective. The emotions at that moment are just as real as your dreams, goals, and plans. But you can step outside of them if you need to. This ability to recognize that you can step outside and reflect—to detach who you are from the desired outcome—is what true detachment is.”

In the same piece, the author states that detachment requires awareness, meditation, awareness of ego vs. reality, and embracing uncertainty.

I love this description because it implies that you can remove yourself from an emotional situation instantly. It doesn’t take years of dedicated meditation to achieve this goal. You can access this tool right now.

Detachment allows you to see reality as it is.

My favorite guru, Byron Katie, says, “When I argue with reality, I lose, but only 100% of the time.” So in the case of my friend Lara, she’s arguing with reality. Her mom does treat her brother differently, and it’s hurtful. Trying to see this differently is crucial.

Instead of ruminating over something she can’t change, Lara can say: This is the way my mom is. It’s not personal. I will take steps to detach so that I don’t have to experience this pain and drama anymore.

Let’s dive deeper into the case of Lara. Let’s call this version Lara 1. She’s extremely upset – crying, venting. She’s also angry, actually furious! She can’t seem to remove herself from the cycle of pain with her mom. But over there is another version. We can call her Lara-2. She’s relaxed and calm. She can see the dramatic, overwhelming feelings Lara-1 is experiencing, but (like an actress), she’s able to breathe, remove herself emotionally, and let go.

More tips for detaching (from the Chopra article combined with recommendations from my therapist):

You can try to:

  • Cultivate awareness. You can become aware that you’ve allowed the emotional rollercoaster to happen. In some ways, you’ve willingly gotten onto the roller coaster. With awareness, it’s possible to pause, breathe, and choose not to engage.
  • Commit to a dedicated practice of meditation. This is always a crucial, recommended tool in the toolbox.
  • Continue to work toward awareness of ego vs. reality. This makes me think: Why am I so reactive? Why am I taking everything so personally?
  • Work toward embracing uncertainty. Detaching requires you to embrace uncertainty because you know that you don’t have all the answers on some level. You’re giving up control with detachment and allowing people and situations to be exactly as they are. They could get better, or they could get worse. Either way, you’re going to be okay.

One of the best teachers on the subject of detachment that I know is Melody Beattie. One of my all-time favorite books, her book The Language of Letting Go, is a wonderful tool in providing daily reminders that encourage a healthy, balanced emotional life free from unhealthy attachments.

What are the rewards of detachment?

“The rewards from detachment are great: serenity; a deep sense of peace; the ability to give and receive love in self-enhancing, energizing ways; and the freedom to find real solutions to our problems. We find the freedom to live our own lives without excessive feelings of guilt about or responsibility toward others.”

Melody Beattie (Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself)

When I choose to detach from a painful situation that’s no longer working for me, a feeling of peace washes over me. Feeling detached can be a tremendous relief. I don’t have to be reactive anymore. Instead, I can focus my energy on caring for myself in the best way possible to love others and myself more.

Let’s dive deeper into some of Melody Beattie’s rewards of detachment:

Detachment offers a deep sense of peace.

What could feel better than that sense of peace available to you at all times when you let go?

Yes, in my late 40s, I’m finally coming around to seeing this clearly. Peace, above all else, is the key.  Peace means freedom and lightness. It’s such a relief to stop fighting against everything that you think should be this way or that way and to drop into a place of allowing, knowing that all is well. It’s a feeling that can be attained in this moment.

It allows us to give and receive love.

You can healthily experience love without the conditions you may have placed upon it before.

You are giving and receiving love from fullness and with honesty. There are no hidden agendas. You don’t expect anything in return. You aren’t attached to any of the outcomes. You’re giving with your whole heart.

When you receive love in this way, you are blessed.

Detachment allows freedom to find real solutions for our problems.

When you see the world through illusions of “if only this happened – everything would be fine,” you’re giving away too much power.

You can gain clarity and recognize that you alone are the one who can pull yourself out of a state of drama. Solutions can only be discovered when your mind is still. Detaching, and allowing for stillness, is key to seeing things you need to see. This shift is powerful.

Detachment allows us to live our lives without excessive guilt or responsibility for (or at the effect of) others.

Amen! We don’t need to live our lives at the effect of others. We can feel free. In Lara’s case, she can feel free from the impact of her mother’s behavior. She can love her mother and herself unconditionally. And we can take over and own our joy.

“The only person you can now or ever change is yourself. The only person that it is your business to control is yourself.”

Melody Beattie (Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself)

So, detach. Let go. And enjoy your amazing, beautiful life as only you can.

 

This post was also featured on Thrive Global.

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