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Detaching with Love and Openheartedness

My teenagers' dark and surly moods, my husband's anxiety, my mother's rare show of displeasure, and my father's anger and frugality, all had great power to destroy my peace of mind. That's why years ago when I picked up a sheet of paper at a meeting entitled "Detaching with Love," it spoke to me.

The balance between cutting off our connection to others so we aren't affected by them at all or being so affected by others that we lose ourselves to anxiety, irritability, and muscular tension is a tricky one. Detaching with love seemed like the middle ground. I wanted to work on myself to be able to, for example, care about my kids without doing things for them that they didn't ask me to do just because I had anxiety or a need to control things.

As my self-awareness grew, I came to more easily recognize the sudden state-change I experienced in response to others like, for example, moving from a relaxed and happy state to an uptight and controlling state. I noticed I had opposite impulses, sometimes wanting to storm away or withdraw in anger while at other times I felt compelled to "fix" someone's feelings even though they did not invite me to do so.

Getting really honest with myself, I realized I did many things for my own comfort, not out of love as I had been previously telling myself. I came to see that my need for control or to feel less tense/anxious/alone had overruled my ability to be loving, supportive, and respectful of some people's boundaries. In short, I wanted those I loved to change for my benefit.

The desire to change someone, so we feel better, is understandable. We all do it. But it doesn't really work. "Detaching with Love" is a set of guidelines for accepting people where they are even when their moods, actions, and decisions cause us pain. Doing the personal work to uphold these principles allows us to better support and honor ourselves and those we love. I rely on the Change Triangle to get me into the state where I can detach with love.

The ChangeTriangle, the emotional health tool I am passionate about sharing, has proved incredibly useful and complementary to the process of detaching with love. I might find myself wanting to defend against certain emotions, like fear or anger for example, instead of processing them. Using the Change Triangle as a guide, I can more reliably find my Cs -- my calm, my compassion, my felt connection, my curiosity, and my courage. It helps me deal better with my emotions and defenses. I do not want to behave in unhelpful or unboundaried ways. When I curb my impulse to "get involved," emotions like fear, anger, anxiety, guilt, and sadness often arise, I use the Change Triangle to find my way back to the Cs. It's where openheartedness is possible.

What is Openheartedness?

Openheartedness is a calm and thoughtful state. In this state, we can feel our emotions (without acting on them), deal with our emotions in constructive ways (which sometimes means doing nothing), and stay positively connected with our loved ones, all at the same time.

Detaching with love and openheartedness means holding onto our loving connection and emotional complexity as we detach in the ways suggested below.

How to Detach with Love and Openheartedness

Detaching with love and openheartedness* is a particularly useful concept for parents. I have a printout of these guidelines on my bulletin board so I can re-read them as often as I need. Here are the guidelines:

  • Detachment does not mean I stop caring, it means I understand that it’s not helpful to do it for someone else.

  • Detachment does not mean I must cut myself off from another person. It means I cannot control another person.

  • Detachment means I should not sanction destructive behaviors, but rather to allow learning to come from natural consequences.

  • Detachment is to admit powerlessness which means that the outcome is not in my hands.

  • Detachment means I should not try to change or blame another, but instead make the most and best of myself.

  • Detachment is not to care for, but to care about.

  • Detachment means I will not try to fix another person’s life but that I will be supportive of all positive change.

  • Detachment means that I will not burden another with my expectations of what I want them to be, but that I will accept them for the human beings they are.

  • Detachment means I will not place myself in the middle, trying to arrange the outcome for others, but that I will allow others to affect their own destiny.

  • Detachment means that I will not protect, but that I will permit another to face reality.

  • Detachment means that I will not nag, scold, or argue with another, but that I will search out my own shortcomings and attempt to correct them.

  • Detachment means I will not criticize and try to regulate another, but that I will try to become what I dream I can be.

  • Detachment means that I will not try to adjust the world to my desires, but that I will accept each day as it comes, and cherish myself in it.

  • Detachment is not to regret the past, but to grow and live for today, one day at a time.

  • Detachment is not to deny but to accept.

  • Detachment is to love more and fear less.

Access a PDF of the above bullet points for yourself and/or to share with others here:

Detaching with Love & Openheartedness
Download PDF • 91KB

*Adapted from Al-Anon



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