Quote: “You can love and appreciate the unique qualities of the people in your life without feeling the need to change or control them.”
TL;DR: In this LONG (2,000 words) inSight Letter, we explore the topic of non-attachment in relationships. We discuss what problematic attachment looks like, why it’s important to be non-attached, and how to achieve non-attachment. By being honest with ourselves, communicating more honestly with others, and reflecting on our experiences without self-judgment, we can continue to grow and connect with more love, compassion, and freedom.
I asked the Facebook Community (Holding space for love to be seen), if there was anything they wanted me to explore, and the question of “how to be non-attached in relationships” came up. So, in this Monday inSight Letter I’m going to dive into that topic and share whatever has been most helpful for me.
This is also the topic of my live video broadcast tomorrow for the podcast.
The “how” of doing something is the easier part. What can be a little more difficult is understanding the “why” behind doing that something. If we are not clear about the “why,” then the “how” is almost irrelevant.
Let’s dive into the What, Why, and How
What is (problematic) attachment in relationships
- Description: The “attachment” is a form of identity attachment, where I feel that what someone else does or doesn’t do affects how I see myself, which then affects my emotional experience.
- The Effect: I am relying on another person to be the source of my wellness or happiness, or seeing them as the cause of my emotional disturbance. Consciously or unconsciously, I ask the other person to be what I want them to be so that I don’t have to experience emotional disturbances, or so that I can experience emotional wellness.
- Note: Healthy attachment is where the other person is in a space of being able to help you see yourself more clearly. However, this doesn’t mean they just do what you want. There is a healthy form of relating, where two people are working together to see themselves and life more clearly.
- Example of problematic attachment: Dear (other) human, I “need” you to not be you, so I can avoid my negative emotional experiences. I want you to think how I think, believe what I believe, and do what I want so that I can see myself as worthy and loved.
WHY would I want to be non-attached in relationships?
Why would I want to be non-attached in a relationship? Well, let’s look at the consequences we experience by being attached in this unhealthy way.
- You feel anxious and insecure in the relationship.
- Your happiness and emotional well-being depend on the other person; you’re not free.
- To avoid negative emotions, you become controlling, manipulative, and blameful.
- You struggle with maintaining healthy boundaries in the relationship.
- The quality of the relationship deteriorates, and you are unable to experience meaningful depth and connection.
- You push people away, and often these are the people you’re closest to.
An important question arises:
Why do we struggle so much more with this unhealthy attachment, when they involve the people closest to us?
We draw our sense of identity from the people who are closest to us. We look to them to tell us who we are, or we have spent a lot of time around them, and they have shaped how we see ourselves (at least in appearance).
This is why what your parents think about you carries more weight than what a stranger might think. It’s also why your partner’s actions or inaction seem to reflect on you more than those of a stranger.
The people who are closest to us, in some way, serve as a mirror that reflects what we think about ourselves.
- You are free to be yourself without feeling guilty or anxious.
- You can maintain healthy boundaries in the relationship and respect your needs and desires.
- You can experience meaningful depth and connection with others without feeling trapped or obligated.
- You can appreciate and celebrate the unique qualities of the people in your life without feeling the need to change or control them.
- You can handle rejection and loss in a healthy way.
- You can love and enjoy other people, rather than being in a constant state of fear or irritation.
Now that we have a bit more clarity about what attachment is and why it’s profoundly important to explore, we will have more power to engage the “how.”
HOW to be non-attached in relationships
The answer to the question of “how” is more about making a decision. Once you have decided that something is not only important, but absolutely vital to your life experience, the “how” becomes a lifelong journey of improvement and growth.
Many people seek a quick fix, assuming that the “how” is some kind of pill that can solve all the issues in their relationships. However, this is not the case. The “how” entails a transformation in how you approach the opportunity of being human.
My personal framework for growing in any area revolves around three things.
Growth = Clarity, Engagement, Evaluation | an unending cycle that breeds guaranteed progress
Clarity is Self Honesty
We cannot make any progress if we are not willing to be honest with ourselves. The difficulty we experience in being non-attached in relationships is a reflection of our lack of honesty with ourselves. To some extent, this could be explained by not seeing clearly what is going on or refusing to see it clearly.
For me, any emotional disturbance is, in some way, an indication that I am refusing to see something, hiding from something, or not being honest with myself.
My unhealthy attachment involves refusing to take responsibility for my self-perception, which is how I see myself. I am blaming someone else for the stories I tell myself, such as believing that I am less than or unworthy of love.
- How: Step 1 | Come back to yourself
- Can I be emotionally honest with myself and not hide from that honesty by blaming someone else?
- Can I then, in my own heart-space, extend freedom to others to be as they are by realizing that what they do or don’t do doesn’t determine my worth and value? This is the essence of genuine forgiveness: “I apologize for holding you responsible for the narratives I construct about myself.”
- Rest in the energy of forgiveness and meet yourself in the unmet need that previously demanded someone else to give you what only you can give yourself. Breathe into the realization that you were demanding someone else love and accept you, rather than YOU loving and accepting yourself.
Engagement is to Communicate More Honestly
As we gain deeper insight into what is real, true, and worthwhile, these insights are pointless if we do not allow them to flow through us.
Clarity, as the first step, is like one-half of a breath, a big deep inhale. Engagement is the other half, a big and deep exhale. The insight of self-honesty is to see things in a new and truer way, and the exhalation of engagement is to act in new ways that honor the truth of that insight.
If we look at our problematic relationships where we are attached, we will undoubtedly find areas where we are not communicating honestly, or where we are communicating in a way that blames the other person.
These forms of communication are not just in words. We also communicate in the thoughts we have about others, in our body language, and in our secret wants and agendas, among other things.
- How: Step 2 | Engage in honest communication
- Can I communicate boundaries that express my self-responsibility and insight, rather than communicating blame? (Dear friend, I see that I’m having a really hard time with XYZ. For that reason, I need to take a step back and deal with this XYZ challenge within myself.)
- Can I communicate compassionate forgiveness that acknowledges my confusion and struggle, without demanding that they change who they are? (I apologize for blaming you as the source of my self-narratives.)
- Can I communicate my refined standards and values that express what is important to me, and what does and doesn’t work for me in this relationship? (Dear lover, I understand that you may want to sleep with other people, but that doesn’t align with the type of relationship I desire to have.)
Evaluation is to Rest, Trust, and Learn
That soft space after we exhale, where there is no breath, no more effort – here, we have done our part. Now it’s time to rest, trust, and learn.
It can sometimes be exhausting to engage in honesty with others or the world. Often, we are exercising courage that battles a bit of fear. Not because we should or have to, but because we see that it’s deeply important.
There is a certain satisfaction in facing these battles, as ultimately, we are fighting for the ability to be more honest and authentic in the world. We step into what may appear to be a dangerous vulnerability, but the vulnerability is actually the profound truth of who and what we are. We fight against falsehoods, lies, pretense, and the unreal, so that we may find our way back to life in its most glorious form: the freedom to be what is real and true.
- How: Step 3 | Evaluation is Enlightenment
- Release your attachment to the desired outcome and take some time to deeply feel gratitude and appreciation for being more honest with yourself and others. Remember, the true prize in life is not what we capture in the world, but rather coming home to love and freedom that allows us to truly honor what is real, true, and important.
- What were the monsters I feared that were not really there, and what were the surprising benefits I experienced within myself from allowing myself to engage in more honest communication? (Allow this discovery to relax into a deeper trust for life and trust in the sincerity of your humanness.)
- Reflect on the experience without any self-judgment, and visualize how you can be even more honest and empowered the next time you face a similar situation. Take note of any helpful ideas or reminders that will bring more ease and courage next time around.
In conclusion, learning how to be non-attached in relationships can be a challenging but rewarding journey. By understanding the negative consequences of attachment and the positive consequences of non-attachment, we can begin to make a decision to prioritize this growth area in our lives.
Remember that clarity, engagement, and evaluation are all essential to progress in this journey of self-healing and experiencing beautiful relationships. By being honest with ourselves, communicating more honestly with others, and reflecting on our experiences without self-judgment, we can continue to grow and connect with more love, compassion, and freedom.