At times we may find ourselves repeatedly talking about our adult children’s problems with friends or our partner. We may spend excessive amounts of time and energy worrying about and trying to solve someone else’s problems or may even be trying to change others.
In relationships, we may feel the need to please or do things in order for the relationship to continue or in order to get approval from another person. In all cases, we are focussing on others, sacrificing our own needs, and become dependent on others to feel successful. These behaviours create dysfunctional, often co-dependent or overly-attached relationships.
Attachments are specific immovable expectations and desires that are placed onto people and situations. When we are attached, we are often fixed upon specific outcomes and thus, become controlling in order for outcomes to happen. We worry and dwell, almost obsessively, over other people’s situations. We feel responsible for others’ well-being, often giving unsolicited advice or suggestions. We also become overinvested in others’ opinions of us.
In healthy relationships, there exists a balance between respectfully being involved with a person and keeping an independent sense of self. This balance is called detachment.
Melody Beattie’s classic work, Codependent No More: Stop controlling others and start caring for yourself, defines detachment as “releasing, or detaching from, a person or problem WITH love. We mentally, emotionally, and sometimes physically disengage ourselves from unhealthy (and frequently painful) entanglements with another person’s life and responsibilities, and from problems we cannot solve.”
As adults, we are not responsible for others’ situations or solving their problems. As Beattie states, “We give them the freedom to be responsible and to grow. And we give ourselves that same freedom.”
We do not give unsolicited advice. We hold our tongues when we see (for example) yet another candy being given to our grandchild. Beattie further advises, “We allow people to be who they are. We strive to ascertain what it is we can change and what we cannot change. Then we stop trying to change things and people we can’t.”
Detachment does not mean not caring about others. Rather, it means nonattachment, letting go of expectations in a loving and accepting way, trusting, and being okay with not knowing outcomes. When we are detached, we are able to step back emotionally from situations and objectively see what is unfolding.
Detachment acknowledges the problem, accepts powerlessness over it, and chooses to no longer invest needless emotional energy into the problem. Detachment is the healthy alternative to obsessing about a matter or seeking to manipulate or control a situation into conforming to whatever we think is best for that person or situation.
Detachment involves being there for others without feeling in any way somehow obliged to forsake ourselves. While we certainly need to be sensitive to others’ needs, we can never afford to lose sight of our own.