Looking back at the 80+ articles I’ve written on my blog, the word detachment has only been used once.
That’s not nearly enough!
For readers here in the U.S., you know—and you may be feeling it yourself—that there is a heightened sense of anxiety, fear, and uncertainty about the outcome of the election tomorrow. No matter what side you’re on, you’re scared. You may be fearful of what will happen, what won’t happen, or what you might lose—depending on who wins.
The uncomfortable truth is that we are all powerless over the outcome—of the election and over most things in life.
Feelings of fear and powerlessness are all too familiar to partners of sex addicts. Even with help, guidance, and good recovery work, the desired outcome of long-term sobriety, fidelity, and honesty from the addict isn’t guaranteed—ever.
So what do you do when you’re fearful and powerless?
You let go. You detach—ideally with love. Love for yourself, and love for everyone involved.
What is detachment? The dictionary definition of detachment is:
The state of being objective or aloof.
Synonyms for detachment include separation, apathy, division, and indifference. Unfortunately, none of these adequately describe the kind of healthy detachment needed by someone impacted by addiction.
In the context of relationships and recovery, I define detachment as:
Understanding what is—and what is not—in your power to do, to change, or to influence—and acting in accordance with that understanding.
For example, none of us has the power to cause another person to do—or to not do—anything. When you tell another adult what to do, or attempt to get them to do what you would like them to do through guilt or manipulation, you are not detached.
A simple way of thinking about detachment is knowing what’s on your side of the street, and what’s not.
When you’re on someone else’s side of the street, it’s called enmeshment. Enmeshment is the opposite of detachment. You’re over-involved in another adult’s life or responsibilities, or you’ve allowed someone else to take responsibility for you when it is unwarranted or not needed, or to tell you how you should live, think, or feel.
Of course, there are times when we need the help of others due to illness, disability, or temporary hardship. When someone gives or receives help in these situations, it is not enmeshment, but rather healthy dependency.
You may be struggling with detachment if you:
- Have difficulty accepting another person’s no.
- Feel highly invested in a certain outcome, and repeatedly attempt to arrange or orchestrate the outcome you want.
- Make repeated attempts to get another person to move from vagueness to clarity when they’re not ready, or to turn another person’s maybe into a yes.
- Attempt to influence or change another person’s way of thinking, feeling, or behaving.
- Find yourself repeatedly engaged in “image management,” or attempting to get someone to see you or think about you in a particular way.
- Attempt to shield an addict—or any adult in your life—from the consequences of his/her behavior (also known as enabling).
What Detachment Isn’t
Detachment doesn’t mean you don’t care or love the other person. It also doesn’t mean you avoid or ignore situations that impact and trouble you, especially when you have the power to change the situation.
Sometimes, when people learn the concept of detachment, they think it means they shouldn’t share their thoughts, opinions, or emotions with others. This is simply not the case.
If you take detachment too far by severely censoring what you say, your relationships will feel disconnected, boring, or even dead. That’s because there is no true intimacy—the experience of being known and knowing another person through sharing of thoughts, emotions, and actions.
Here are 6 signs of healthy detachment:
- Understanding what is in your power to change.
- Maintaining an attitude of live and let live.
- The ability to accept another person’s truth/reality when it’s different than your own, without becoming highly reactive or argumentative.
- The ability to care deeply about another person, without needing them to act as you would like them to—or to believe as you do.
- Refraining from engaging in enabling behaviors (shielding someone from the consequences of their actions).
- Experiencing—and appreciating—the freedom that comes with accepting powerlessness.
As you might imagine—detachment is difficult!
If you struggle with detachment, here are 6 tips to gain more clarity and cultivate detachment:
- When faced with a situation that you would like to change or to be different, ask yourself: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) how attached am I to the outcome of this situation? The higher the number, the more likely you will struggle to remain detached.
- When you notice that you want to change another person, ask yourself: Is this person violating my boundaries? If the answer is no, try to practice live and let live. They have a right to be who they are—as frustrating and irritating as it may be to you. Of course, you can make requests for a change of behavior, especially for trust-building or relationship restoration.
- Begin noticing when you become pre-occuppied with wondering or wanting another person to have a favorable opinion of you. When you do, remind yourself that you are powerless over their thoughts and perceptions. Be the most authentic version of yourself. That is the easiest, and quickest way to find and build relationships.
- Notice when you’re tempted to argue or when you try to convince another person to share your thoughts, opinions, or beliefs—even about simple things like entertainment or restaurants. Ask yourself what is causing your discomfort. Reassure yourself that it’s possible to be deeply connected to another person while having differing thoughts, opinions, and beliefs. In fact, it makes life richer and more interesting!
- When you’re tempted to do for others what they should do for themselves (enabling), do whatever is needed to avoid taking action on their behalf. This can be difficult. If you know this is a struggle for you, tell a friend, mentor, or sponsor of your intention and arrange to check in with that person to give them a progress report. Notice what it feels like to give back the responsibility to the other person.
- There is no greater tool for letting go and detaching than to offer the situation, the outcome, the other person, or the relationship to your Higher Power, God, the Divine, or however you conceive of your Higher Power.
He who would be serene and pure needs but one thing, detachment.
If you struggle with triggers—and most partners do—I’d love for you to join me for Taming Triggers Solution Online Course. The next Course starts March 22, 2018. Sign up here to be the first to receive updates. Get all the Course details here.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2016)
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