Emotional Detachment

I was speaking with a friend of mine today who is also a fellow counselor when we got on the subject of emotional detachment. It wasn’t until then that I had a sort of “aha moment” and realized that even just the word detachment gives me an ill feeling and saying it feels like I am saying a four letter word.

See, I have an issue with detachment, it’s one of my flaws. I often hold onto people (and things) far too long out of fear of letting go, even when letting go and detaching is exactly what’s needed to free myself and the other person.

I know from my clinical work that many other people also suffer from detaching from bad relationships, bad friends, bad family members and bad situations for many of the same reasons I do. Some people I’ve counseled are so attached to toxic relationships that they can never truly realize their potential if they don’t learn to detach. What ends up happening for me and countless others who stay in situations/relationships that they should have let go is a build up of resentment, anger, and often times decreased self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Detaching can be hard and confusing because there isn’t always a right or wrong time to do it. If we detach from a person too soon we may feel like we didn’t try hard enough to make it work or that we gave up too easily. There is often unclear lines between not trying enough and trying too hard. And sometimes there are control issues at play. We don’t detach from a person or situation because we are trying to control that person or situation. For example, a woman may have a hard time detaching from an abusive husband because she really loves him, thinks that if he just calmed down and quit drinking he’d be an awesome person, so she stays in that volatile situation trying to change/control him although detaching from him would serve her better. A man may stay with a cheating wife who disrespects him over and over because he thinks he can “make her” love him and only him.

And then there are people who detach too easily, never allowing themselves or others the opportunity to nurture relationships and situations. You have to be listen to your heart and know when it’s time to let go, even if letting go is the last thing you want to do.

Detachment to me often times feels wrong even when it’s right and that is something I have to work on. It makes me stay in bad relationships and friendships far too long thinking that detachment is betrayal and telling someone “I don’t care about you any more”.  In reality, detachment is a form of self-care and we all need to know how to care of ourselves and be responsible for ourselves and let other people be responsible for themselves. Detachment is also a form of setting healthy boundaries and not allowing others to take advantage or hurt us and vice-versa.

Detachment is not a bad word or a bad thing to do when it becomes apparent that it is what’s needed. Detachment doesn’t mean that you don’t care about the other person, but that you do care enough about yourself that you won’t allow yourself to keep getting hurt, used or neglected, and that you care enough about the other person to let them go. Sometimes we have to detach ourselves from people we like or even love. Setting yourself and setting someone else free is sometimes the best gift you can give to yourself and that person.

Detachment is easier from some than for others. If you want more information on detachment and letting go, check out The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie. It is one of my favorite books.

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