What Is Healthy Detachment?
By: Karen
January 1, 1970

healthy detachmentHealthy detachment sounds a bit like an oxymoron, right? It is not. It does not involve cutting off or building walls. In fact, healthy detachment is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and the other or others in your life. In her groundbreaking book, Codependent No More, Melody Beattie referred to this as ‘detachment with love’.


Detachment is an escape route from codependence and anxious attachment. It helps us stop living in a state of reactivity. When we have achieved what I refer to as a Zen state of detachment, we no longer find ourselves dancing around others’ moods, insecurities, addictions, etc.


People with anxious attachment desire an intimate relationship and fear others do not desire it as much as they do. An anxiously attached person most often values the other over the self. In turn they fear the other does not value them. They become emotionally dependent on the other. These characteristics cause them to be highly reactive to any movement in that person. Their anxiousness can only be relieved when the other appears approving and bound to them.


See if this feels familiar. Partner is visibly upset when he or she walks into the room.  You recognize this because you have trained yourself to identify every nuance and mood. Somehow you have assumed responsibility to manage (control) the negative emotions and behaviors of the other. You ask something like, “What’s wrong?” Response, “Nothing.” A bit later you try again, “Are you sure nothing is wrong?” Response, “Yes, nothing.” This goes on for a while. You know better. You know something is wrong and you will dance and ask and dance and ask until you are both worn out.


When detached in a healthy manner the above scenario might look something like this.  Partner walks into the room upset. You ask if there is something bothering them. Would they like to talk about it? If the response is “Nothing” or “No” an appropriate response could be, “Okay, let me know if you want to talk about anything.” This takes a lot of pressure off both. Eventually the dance changes and the partner will learn you are not going to ask over and over. You are not going to pursue as they distance. Therefore, they will often develop a pattern of answering honestly the first time. (Pursuer/Distancer would be a great topic for a future blog. Stay in touch.)


The move from an unhealthy attachment to healthy detachment takes effort. I always feel blessed when walking with clients on this journey. There is a sense of calm that comes with regaining our power as we detach with love. There is also room created for deeper emotional intimacy to replace the reactivity and the ‘chase’.


If any of this does sound familiar to you, I would like to help.


“But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between
Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”
Khalil Gibran