I grew up very focused on getting my needs met from sources outside myself. The right friends, the right job, the right boyfriend…If I just got the right fill-in-the-blank, I’d be okay. This led me to a good deal of codependence – taking my cues from others about how to think, feel, speak, and act. I lost touch with myself and with even knowing what my needs were. I was very focused on “outside conditions.”
It’s taken a long time and some painful experiences to begin to come back to myself. I learned the hard way that nobody outside myself could fulfill all my needs or make me happy. When I was finally driven to my knees, I had to get very clear on what were my needs and responsibilities and what were others. Knowing where my needs begin and end is critical to being able to take responsibility for them.
I’ve since defined what I need for self-care – maintaining my emotional and physical health – and what I need to be in healthy relationships. I know what I’m comfortable doing and where I’m willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I understand my spiritual needs, which include a good deal of quiet time and space alone. I know my limits with social activities, and my boundaries when faced with unacceptable behavior from others. In short, I’ve done a very thorough assessment of my needs over many years, which has been significantly informed by experiencing a lot of what I didn’t want, like, or need.
In learning to take care of my own needs, I’ve determined that I really only can be responsible for:
- My thoughts
- My feelings
- My behaviors
Everything else is pretty much outside of my control, especially how others think, feel, and behave. Within this scope, however, I always have choices. I can choose my attitudes. I can choose my thoughts. My feelings tend to flow as a result of my thoughts. And I have a good deal of control over my behaviors. I’ve learned to pause, and think, before I react. This gives me time and space to respond. As a result, I can choose the action that I know I will feel good about, rather than react and tend to regret it.
These are some of the things I’ve learned about detaching from others, so that I don’t have to take on their energy, and so that I can stay calm, centered, and feeling good about myself:
- If someone attacks me verbally or emotionally, I don’t have to react immediately or defensively. I don’t take it personally. I listen for what might be good feedback, but I don’t feed into the bad energy. If the attack is ungrounded or abusive, I know I can walk away until the person can calm down.
- Other people’s feelings are their responsibility – even if they want to blame me for them. No matter how much they may want it to be my fault, other people’s feelings stem from their thoughts and reactions, and the way they respond is up to them. For example, I can stay calm if someone says, “You make me angry,” rather than take on responsibility for their feelings.
- Just because someone else is in a bad mood doesn’t mean that I have to be. There could be many things happening in their lives that I am not aware of. And most likely they have nothing to do with me. I no longer assume someone else’s bad mood is my fault.
- Staying calm in the face of someone else’s reactions gives them an opportunity to face themselves. When I stay present, and focused on myself, non-reactive, the other person is more likely to hear him- or herself. On the other hand, when I engage, defend myself, accuse them, they have an excuse to continue pointing the finger and avoiding their responsibility.
The bottom line is that I want to feel good in all my interactions with others. That good feeling has to originate from me. No matter where the other person is emotionally, I have tools to detach from them and feel balanced. I learned the hard way that reacting from a place of insecurity makes me feel icky. So I’ve built up my inner sense of safety so that I can hear others’ pain, blame, or uneasiness and not take it on or react to it. I can let them be where they are, and still stay where I am.
Here are some of my definitions of detachment:
- Detachment is having healthy boundaries – putting distance between myself and unacceptable behavior from others without striking out at them or creating bad feeling.
- Detachment is a buffer, not a wall, between me and other people – I can stay connected yet not take on their feelings or projections.
- Detachment is caring – I respond to others not with indifference but with care and concern – for them, and for myself. I can still be kind in my detachment.
What do you think – is detachment a valuable tool? Have you used it yourself? Do you call it something else? What insights have you gained from applying these concepts to your relationship?