When you hear the word detached you might think of a depressed person cut off from people and the world just moping in their basement, or maybe an aloof teenager rolling their eyes refusing to ‘open up’ to a parent. However, detachment can also be an act of love to self and to others—a beautiful thing that can bring you closer genuine connections with those around you and allow you to take better care of yourself. Today we’ll be discussing the basics of detachment and how it is an essential skill to have in order to heal codependent behaviors and attitudes.
What Exactly Is Detachment?
The very definition of detachment states being objective or aloof, but within the context of healing and moving away from codependency, it means something a little different. Another definition of detachment quite literally includes the process of separation, which can seem a little bit scary, particularly if you are codependent. Think of it as a process of letting go of ways of being and thinking that no longer serve you rather than letting go of an actual person. Detachment can encompass different things for different people depending on their situation and their own ways of expressing codependency.
Detachment often entails:
- No longer making someone’s problem your own
- Releasing the desire to control and no longer acting on it
- Maybe keeping a healthy distance from someone who is in active addiction and no longer enabling their behavior by giving money or time to them. Loving them from a distance.
- Releasing yourself of the responsibility to make others happy
- Holding emotional space for yourself instead of just for other people
- Stopping manipulative behaviors such as trying to control other people’s emotions or outcomes of a situation
- Refusing to rescue people and fighting the urge to “fix” situations for them
- Refusing to prioritize people to your own detriment
- Breaking cycles and deciding what is best for you—even if other people would prefer you return to status quo
- Letting people experience consequences for their behavior
- Relinquishing the overall illusion of control over people and situations—dealing with what is, right now, instead of trying to anticipate what will be if such and such happens.
What detachment Isn’t
To be clear, detaching doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It means that you needed to pull back for your own emotional needs. It can mean some planned ignoring or serious distancing if you feel like that is what is healthy for you.
If you struggle with codependency, you spend so much time focusing on other people; their behaviors and emotional states, that it can feel uncomfortable at first to start to let that stuff go. What do you do with yourself instead? Contrary to what you might automatically think– t’s not selfish to detach from a person or situation that is sucking the energy out of you.
Remember, detachment is not:
- Ignoring in a malicious manner
- Acting passive aggressively
- Turning from a people pleaser to a martyr or victim
- Becoming narcissistic or self-absorbed
- Having no goals for yourself
- Wishing ill on others
- Nihilistic (fancy word meaning relentless negativity or cynicism suggesting an absence of values or belief)
A word on the last point. If you have been in the habit of prioritizing other people above yourself—they are probably just as used to this pattern as you are. Especially people in active addiction may pull out the big guns, so to speak, and call you * gasp * selfish if you attempt to detach from a chaotic situation. As painful as that may feel to hear, you can work through that discomfort to work toward the longer-term goal of bringing yourself some peace.
How Detachment Helps with Codependency
You can sort of say that detachment is the opposite of codependency. If you challenge yourself to detach, or no longer expend energy toward a person or an outcome, for example, you may find energy freed up to use for other things to nurture yourself. Bringing the focus back to yourself and not turning to other people for comfort, validation, or to fix their problems is how codependency gets in check. You can become more invested in yourself instead of spending your time wrapped up in other people’s lives and their outcomes (which you have limited control over anyhow). Once you come to believe that last part, really believing it, detaching can start to seem like a possibility. Ultimately, if you overly identify with any one person or situation, you’ll lose yourself. That is why detaching and solidifying your own space (metaphorically and literally) is needed.
Detaching is a process. It takes time. You might make the decision to detach from a person or situation one day and find yourself falling back into old habits the next. That’s ok, try not to be too self-critical. Particularly if you’ve been behaving in a codependent way for a while, give yourself some time to establish new habits and boundaries around your time, thoughts, and energy. Consider working through this process with a therapist or trusted (non toxic) support. This could allow you to start processing codependent tendencies you may have and how detachment could be a tremendous step in
NEVER STOP LEARNING
- Find an Al-Anon Meeting near you: Click Here
- Take a Codependency Quiz: Click Here
- Find a chapter of Co-dependence Anonymous: Click Here
- CODEPENDENT NO MORE by Melody Beattie
- BOUNDARIES: WHEN TO SAY YES, HOW TO SAY NO TO TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend
- CONQUERING SHAME AND CODEPENDENCY by Darlene Lancer, MFT
- THE ACOA TRAUMA SYNDROME by Dr. Tian Dayton, PhD
- CODEPENDENCY 101: BASICS OF ADDICTION, GRIEF AND RECOVERY by Jennifer S. Walker
Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, LPC, PhD