How to Resolve The ‘Detach with Love’ Dilemma

detach with love - tangled wool analogy

To move from an unhealthy codependent relationship to healthy detachment is not easy. So how do you detach with love?

If you live with someone with a substance abuse or addiction problem you may have heard about detachment. But this can apply to anyone whose behaviour you are finding difficult. If walking away is not an option how do you deal with it?

Is there someone in your life who you worry about? Their life is in a mess. They may struggle with managing their money or looking after themselves. They are living a chaotic life and it is driving you crazy.

You have tried to help them. You have offered solutions, advice, possibly money and your time. And then after you get them sorted you watch them go straight back to their old ways. Whatever you do or say doesn’t work. And yet you persevere and won’t let it go. You love them, right?

Or you are trying to disentangle from a painful relationship. Your ex-partner controlled and manipulated you. Your feelings are a grisly stew of anger and betrayal. Love is a distant memory.

Whatever the situation, the best thing you can do for yourself is to step back, let go and detach with love. But how can you even detach, let alone detach with love? Is detachment unhelpful or unkind to yourself or them? Is detaching with love a contradiction?

The Problem

When you care about someone you become emotionally involved, attached to them. And there is nothing wrong with that. The issue is when this attachment gets out of control and negatively impacts you or the other person.

Someone trying to control another’s behaviour is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. This prevents the controlled person making and learning from their own mistakes.
If you are trying to ‘help’ or ‘change’ someone you are not accepting them for who they are. You may need the other person to behave in a certain way so that you feel okay about them. This can escalate to you becoming obsessed with their behaviour. You start to do irrational things to try and control the situation. You may even become ill through anxiety.

Or, you may seek acceptance from them before you take action. You always put them first and fear their displeasure or rejection. You obsess over pleasing them.
All this can then overflow into other areas of your life. Your behaviours can affect other relationships. You neglect your priorities or yourself. You may even lose your sense of self-identity.

How Do You Know If This is You?

Do you have an adult child that you keep bailing out of credit card debt? Each time you tell them this is the last time but then you worry that they won’t be able to eat so you step in.

Are you concerned that someone close to you may have a substance abuse issue? For example, do you worry about how much your partner drinks? If so, do you count their drinks, beg and plead with them or keep telling them about your concerns. If they’ve been late or missed work due to their drinking have you covered up for them?

You may be an adult child living at home with a well-meaning parent who manages your finances. Or your partner refuses to be open about shared family issues.
Or you may have a close friend whose life is chaos. And that might be due to a codependent relationship they’re in themselves. Do you keep stepping in and plastering over the cracks for them?

All these scenarios are indicators of codependency. If any of this sounds familiar, and you have had enough, it is time to try and detach with love.

What is Detachment

Detachment is about showing respect for the other person. It is about letting go and allowing them to make their own choices, even if they are self-destructive. Detachment is separating your feelings about someone from your feelings about their behaviour.

A child will fall several times before they learn to walk. Detachment may seem unkind to you as a caring person. But it can be cruel to keep providing that helping hand. By detaching you are allowing the other person to grow and develop themselves.

When you detach you acknowledge the other person’s choices with dignity. You disentangle yourself from them so that you can both find your own identities.
If the other person makes undue demands on you then you need to detach. This is for your self-respect and personal welfare.

Detachment is an opportunity to create appropriate boundaries for your well-being and theirs.

Detachment is not about isolating or abandoning the other person emotionally or physically. You are not condemning them or taking a moral stance. It is not about judging either person. It also does not mean taking a back step and continuing to worry in silence.

What Does it Mean to Detach with Love?

If you detach with love you let go from a place of love for the other person. You stop trying to manipulate or control their behaviour. Your detachment is unconditional. You can direct this love at yourself too. If someone has hurt and manipulated you then put your focus on your healing. You need to love yourself before you can love others. Only then will you be able to gain inner peace.

How To Detach With Love

Before you detach with love you have to acknowledge there is a problem.

Then you accept that you need to detach.

Detachment takes time. The length and nature of the relationship will impact how long this may take. If you are a couple you may struggle to identify yourselves as two separate people. When there is a blood tie this can be even harder. No loving parent wants to watch a child struggle and continue to fail.

Once you accept the need to detach you can consider your expectations of the other person. Are they reasonable? Working out reasonable expectations can be a challenge too! Your idea of reasonable may not be reasonable in someone else’s eyes. And your expectation may be something the other person cannot, or won’t meet at the moment, or even ever.

Be kind to yourself and accept how you feel. The only person you have control over is yourself. so put your effort there first. Be honest about your own behaviour. And remember no-one is perfect, including you.

Consider how you speak to the other person. Don’t push your expectations on them. But let them know how their behaviour makes you feel. That is all you have control over. Allow them to take responsibility for their behaviour. They may choose to change. Or they may not.

But be compassionate. Consider how they may feel too.

These are the first steps to detachment.

To detach with love you have to totally let go. No matter the cost to you and your pride. Detaching with love also means letting go of the negative emotions that are damaging you. If you continue to feel anger and resentment you may find praying for the other person helps you. The principle is that prayer is an opportunity to hand over the other person to a power other than yourself. You focus on letting go of your painful emotional past.

Possibly the hardest part of unconditional detachment is If your loved one continues to destroy their life. You can let them know you are there for them. But you may have to step back until they hit their rock bottom. And no matter how hard you try to detach from this it will still be painful.

But What if You’re Not Feeling the Love?

What if the other person has hurt you deep down? The pain may be physical, mental or emotional. The trauma may still be fresh or even ongoing.

Compassion and love may be the last thing you can muster at the moment. Your emotions are too raw.

If that is the case then try to detach with care. This means you acknowledge the other person as having their own set of needs. You may still feel some of those negative emotions towards them but they are not relevant to now. Some situations may require you to give practical care to the other person. Remember you always have a choice. Do what you have with consideration and respect.

Remember that you never have to accept their bad behaviour towards you.

And if that is still too hard start by detaching with courtesy. In the same way that you put on a polite face in response to rudeness. You may find the other person’s behaviour so against your beliefs, you cannot connect with them at all. Courtesy acknowledges their basic humanity. It accepts other people having a different viewpoint and outlook on life. It is about simple humane respect.

If you work on detachment as time passes you will heal. And you may find that your feelings of courtesy drift to care.

One day you may even find you can detach with love and even gain personal serenity.

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