The tool of detachment is a powerful way we can deal with situations that could harm us. It is a choice to disengage emotionally from people or situations. We strive to detach with love for ourselves and others knowing that we are not responsible for the behavior of others and they are not responsible for our happiness.
Many of us are dealing with difficult situations. Drug and alcohol abuse, relationship problems, parenting issues, caring for aging parents, job stress, death or illness…
When the other person is making choices that we don’t like, what can we do? When it we are making ourselves crazy trying to control a situation that we can’t control, how do we find sanity?
A helpful way for me to remember detachment is this… D on’t E ven T hink A bout C hanging H im/Her
If I’m not the problem, there is no solution. If the other person’s behavior is the problem, I cannot solve that.
So in the CoDA big book, we can explore the question of what is the difference between detachment and avoidance? or rather, what is the difference between letting go and running away?
Simply put, detachment is a conscious act of self-care where avoidance is often an unconscious, dysfunctional coping mechanism. Detachment is driven by love and avoidance is fear based. As a codependent, I can sometimes swing between the extremes. controlling people and outcomes on one end and neglecting responsibility to others by running away or ignoring them on the other end.
Detachment can be difficult. When I began recovery, letting go was just not possible on my own. With time and my Higher Power’s help, I slowly began to understand things like the fact that other people are capable of managing their own lives and that I can accept the choices of other people even if I’m not comfortable with them.
As I gained more tools like trust in an loving Higher Power, support from recovery friends and of course…boundaries, detachment became doable. Still difficult, but doable.
Recently, my dad who is 87 had his boiler go out in his home. My first action was to go in and try to help. While he didn’t want to come stay with me while he waited for the new one to arrive 10-14 days later, he would accept some space heaters. For my own sanity, I had to use detachment because while I didn’t like his choice to remain in his Minnesota home in January, I had done all I could do to help. Old behaviors of trying to manipulate, control or shame him into changing his mind would have just harmed both of us. Detachment allowed me to love and respect both dad and myself. When I feel the worry rise up, I trust the outcome to his Higher Power and make the choice to detach again. Of course a bit of added self-compassion for how hard it is also helped me to detach with love.
I love how Melody Beattie put in in her piece on detachment from the Language of Letting Go… “Today, I will take actions that appear appropriate. I will let go of the rest. I will strive for the balance between self-responsibility, responsibility to others and letting go.”
I’d love to hear how the tool of detachment has worked for you. Leave a comment or question below.
weird thing about abandonment is that I feel it even if I’m the one ending the
relationship. This part of my codependency is a big part of why I tend to stay
in harmful situations too long.
Perhaps you are reading this because you are in a relationship with someone you wish would change. Maybe, you have tried to do the changing yourself. Or crazier still, you’ve tried to get the other person to change.
It took me 19 years to leave my husband. They weren’t all bad years but a lot of bad stuff happened along the way. There were times I almost ended it but then again…what if things got better? I tried everything to get him to change so I could be happy. It didn’t work. When I finally did divorce him, I found myself continuing to caretake him and try to fix and control his life. I couldn’t just walk away.
I followed that with another destructive and dysfunctional relationship. I would break it off but within a week or two…six at the most…be right back where I started.
suffered from the pain of abandonment trauma.
That fear of being left, of losing those you love, of being rejected, of never finding love again. Many co-dependents suffer with fear of abandonment. The roots may be in childhood when a parent or caregiver left, neglected or rejected you. Most of us don’t get to adulthood without suffering some losses. A loved one’s death, a relationship or friendship ending…it’s easy to get stuck somewhere in the process of grieving our losses.
For me it was my mom’s mental illness. I understand it now. How chaotic behavior, her periods of absence during hospitalization or incapacitation and times watching her walk out after an angry tirade left me with confusion, insecurity and self-blame.
had many of the common signs of abandonment fear including:
Being quick to attach, especially to unavailable partners.
Staying in situations no matter how unhealthy it got.
Feeling unworthy of love.
Intense feelings of separation anxiety.
Overthinking things and working hard to figure out the hidden meaning in literally everything.
Hypersensitivity to criticism.
Big time control issues.
Feelings of “otherness”, like I didn’t belong.
When I stay in harmful relationships or situations, waiting for it to get better and allowing myself to be hurt, it is self-abandonment. I’m so focused on fixing the other guy that I leave myself in the cold.
The healing started when I got into therapy, found my tribe in CoDA, and finally realized that when I fail to love and accept myself as I am and to protect myself with healthy choices, I am actually abandoning myself. This self-abandonment perpetuates my fears, insecurities and feelings of worthlessness. Then comes the people pleasing, approval seeking and other harmful, co-dependent behaviors…and we ride the crazy train back to the station once again.
If you’ve found this article and you are reading it thinking…wow, sounds a little like my life, then I have good news for you. My life changed when I found co-dependents anonymous. I found people just like myself who were actively working to heal. I didn’t feel like such a needy freak anymore. They were experiencing the promises coming true in their lives. There is hope. I was able to break the pattern of repeated, bad relationships and nurture a new relationship with a person who will never abandon me again.