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Detaching With Love Is Good for Everyone

Distancing yourself from other people's problems isn't selfish or cruel.

Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash
Source: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash

What is detaching with love?

If you're often worried about a loved one, disappointed or upset by their choices, or feel like your life revolves around whether they’re “doing well," then detaching with love can help you.

According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, “detachment with love means caring enough about others to allow them to learn from their mistakes.”1

To me, detaching means stepping back from obsessively worrying about others, telling others what to do, and trying to rescue them from the consequences of their choices. When we detach, we let others take responsibility for their own choices and don’t interfere or try to protect them from any negative consequences that may result.

Detaching gives us the emotional space we need, so we’re not as reactive and anxious. It helps us to be less controlling and to accept things as they are, rather than trying to force them to be what we want. Detaching doesn’t mean abandoning or that we stop caring. In fact, we have to detach because we care so much and need to be needed. It hurts us to stay so closely entwined in someone else’s life and problems.

Detaching is good for you

You need to detach when you are so wrapped up in other people’s pain and problems that it’s negatively impacting your physical or emotional health: You’re not sleeping or eating normally, you have headaches or stomachaches, you’re tense, distracted, irritable, depressed, preoccupied, worried, and so forth.

You need to detach when you seem to care more about another person’s well-being than they do themselves. It’s nearly impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change. And trying over and over again is incredibly frustrating. It’s heartbreaking to watch a loved one self-destruct, but it’s heartbreaking in a different way to keep nagging, giving ultimatums, arguing, crying, and rescuing—and still have nothing change.

When you accept that you can’t save your loved one, the best thing to do is to take care of yourself and that’s what detaching does — it allows you to take a step back and regain your emotional equilibrium so you can be the best, healthiest version of yourself.

Detaching reminds us that we can only control ourselves. And when we focus on what we can control, we will begin to see positive results and our hope will be restored. We will once again feel empowered to change the things we can.

Detaching is good for others

You may be wondering, "Isn’t detaching mean or selfish?" No, it isn't. We don’t detach to punish others or because we’re angry at them. Detachment is about self-preservation. It's also a way to love others (even if they probably won't see it that way). If you are constantly hovering, worrying, telling them what to do, or rescuing them, they never have the opportunity to learn how to make decisions, solve their problems, and learn from their mistakes. When you do these things, you’re creating dependency, which isn’t helpful or kind.

These types of controlling behaviors (even if done with good intentions) are done from a place of superiority. They have an attitude that says, "I know better than you do. I know what you should do, and you’re a fool if you don’t do what I say." Clearly, looking down on someone isn’t the basis of a healthy relationship. Instead, it erodes trust and open communication.

Controlling and rescuing contribute to feelings of anger; no adult wants to be treated like a child. Yes, at times, they may enjoy the benefits of you cleaning up their messes and giving them money, but I assure you that being treated as a child diminishes their self-esteem, which just encourages them to stay in a dependent, immature state.

Loving someone often means letting go—not trying to control them or keep them in a dependent position. It’s hard to release control and let a loved one make unhealthy choices or do things you don’t agree with, but adults have the right to make bad decisions in most cases.

How to detach with love

Detaching is an action that you take that helps you “stay in your own lane” or stay focused on what you can control and what’s your responsibility—and not interfere in other people’s choices. Here are some examples:

  • Not giving unsolicited advice
  • Setting boundaries
  • Allowing others to experience the natural consequences of their actions
  • Recognizing that your feelings and needs are valid
  • Expressing your own opinions and feelings
  • Taking a time-out from an unproductive or hurtful argument
  • Not accepting responsibility for fixing or solving other people’s problems
  • Not making excuses for someone else’s behavior
  • Staying focused on what you can control rather than worrying/thinking about what others are doing
  • Not catastrophizing or anticipating the worst possible outcome
  • Not enabling or doing things others can reasonably do for themselves

Detaching is hard and it’s contrary to what codependents naturally want to do. So, I want to leave you with a few additional tips or reminders.

  • Get support. Detaching is much more manageable when you have peer support or professional support.
  • Detaching isn’t cruel. Often, it’s what allows us to continue to have a relationship with someone. If you don’t detach, your relationship will suffer because of your controlling and interfering; you will end up resentful, guilt-ridden, and frustrated. And your emotional health and sense of self will certainly suffer.
  • Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. Being the healthiest, happiest version of yourself is good for everyone.

©Sharon Martin. This post was also published on the author's website.

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