Years ago I picked up a sheet of paper at a meeting. It addressed the concept of “detaching with love” and it spoke to me. I knew that the dark moods of my teenagers, my husband’s anxiety, my mother’s rare show of displeasure, and my father’s anger, all had great power to destroy my peace of mind.
The balance between not caring and being so affected that we lose ourselves to anxiety, irritability, and muscular tension is a delicate one.
As I contemplated this middle ground and worked on myself, I more easily recognized these state-shifts from relaxed and happy to uptight and controlling. In some moments, I could feel two completely opposite impulses: 1. To storm out of the house; and 2. To put on my “therapist hat” and try to “fix” someone so I could go back to enjoying my life peacefully. In both cases, I could see that a truly loving and empathic connection had been lost to a self-centered need to feel better.
The desire to get someone else to change so we feel better is a natural and understandable one. However, that path often makes matters worse and thus is not restorative. “Detaching with Love” (PDF below) is a set of guidelines for growing less triggered by the moods, actions, and decisions of family members and others. Doing the personal work to uphold these principles allows us to better support and honor ourselves and those we love.
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 often means processing our emotions on our own without saying or doing anything), and stay positively connected with our loved ones, all at the same time.
Detaching with love and openheartedness means holding onto your love for another person as you detach from being invested in how they feel, think, or behave. It means that you don’t withdraw or retaliate, but stay curious, compassionate both for yourself and for the person from whom you are detaching.
It’s ok to be ok when someone else feels anxious, depressed, or distressed. After practicing detaching with love and openheartedness, I realized I could be kind, caring, and open to listening without trying to fix someone else or defend myself. Equally important is that I validate my own emotions towards the other person for being in a “mood” without judging myself. I use the Change Triangle to work with my emotions. I validate my anger, sadness, guilt, and/or loneliness without judging those emotions. I try to process my emotions using various techniques. It is through validating our own emotions that we can validate another’s with a detached but caring stance and remain in the openhearted state of the authentic self.
How to Detach with Love and Openheartedness
Detaching with love and openheartedness* is a particularly useful concept for parents. I have a print out of the below listed guidelines on my kitchen bulletin board to remind me. Here are the guidelines on how to “Detach with Love and Openheartedness”:
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.
*Adapted from Al-Anon