January 28, 2011

January 22: Detachment With Love

(Adapted for personal use from Courage to Change in Alanon.)

I've been trying so hard to learn detachment from problem people. Growing up with an actively dysfunctional family member was painful, frustrating and confusing. My problem person was always hurting me and I could not figure out how to get this behavior to stop.

Now I live across continent from my problem person.  When I heard about detachment, I took this as a permission slip entitling me to hang up the phone as soon as I sensed my family member preparing to "play" with me.  I thought detachment would  prevent me from feeling powerless and angry.  But soon I realized that I did not know things had gone too far until I felt angry. I could barely detach before I spoke mean words.

When I shared with group members what I was learning about detachment,  they said, “That is not exactly what we meant. We meant detachment with love."

I left that meeting with a new standard and a new frustration.

What might detachment with love look like, when a dysfunctional person is blaming me for their misbehavior?

In January 22nd's CTC, the dysfunctional family member is asleep on the floor, having fallen out of bed. The co-dependent family member learns to "detach with love" by putting a blanket around their loved one, leaving them on the floor and taking themselves to bed.

 The blanket analogy is tough to apply to my situation. My family member and I can only relate via long-distance conversation. She never shows herself vulnerable in our conversations. Nooo....without fail, she uses her time on the phone to find fault with me. I picture her as a cat playing with a mouse.  If I hang up on her, I am leaving her in the cold. But if I stay on the phone I feel I am telling her, "Keep on hitting, I am your Bozo bop bag!"

I've tried lots of different "handling techniques" on the phone. I've tried seeing things from her point of view. I've been direct, I've been funny, I've gently told my mom that what she says is hurtful.  So, I am a little clueless on how  "detachment with love" might look when she is mistreating me.

As for the loving blanket, I'm going to keep that handy to comfort me during my meditation exercises. The program speaks of praying for those we resent. That is the prayer I can do in private that will help me let go of my expectations that my mom might ever see things from my point of view. 

If only I can keep in mind that when I am dealing with the failings of other human beings, I am dealing with children of God.

“Detachment is not isolation, nor should it remain focused on not enabling the sick behavior of the past. Detachment is not a wall; detachment is a bridge across which my I may begin a new approach to life and relationships.”


  1. I do not beleive we have to forgive those that have abused us.We can understand why and accept whyit happened. But we do need to forgive ourselves.

    I beleive forgiveness is for those who have repented.... some people don't deserve forgiveness or a blanket....

    Save that blanket and forgiveness for you and move on to healthier people!

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      You are right on!! My 3 sisters treat me like I do not exist. Oh they say they love me but those are just words. I came off of facebook because of the things said and I believed they were posted to hurt me. I need to detach myself from them but love them. I keep forgiving them but can't forget. This is going to be hard-praying I can do it!

  2. Wow, I really appreciate the timelessness of the words I shared two years ago. You both have given me nuggets to consider!

    Forgiveness, in a recent situation with a person in my 12-step fellowship... is not something I can give directly. So the idea that I don't need to belabor it with them or offer a blanket, is really helpful.

    I find in situations like this, forgiving me comes first. Often my worst resentment is that I allowed someone to mistreat me.

    And I think the person in my 12-step fellowship who rejected me, could be thinking the very same thought. That I don't deserve her forgiveness either. From everything she shared, she wanted me to suffer consequences for actions I never did.

    Very hard to not to get upset by reviewing that misery, so I continue to Let Go and Let God help me with forgiveness.

    My program experience has shown me that forgiveness is a process my HP is there to guide me through. I don't lead, I follow. I need only be willing, and willingness like a steady flame, clears my heart.

    Thank you both for helping me discover this today.

    Best, Smitty

  3. Smitty - sorry it took two years. I know in my situation forgiving "me" comes first but I still lack the strength to turn away from the hurt I feel is being thrown my way by family. I am a Christian and a true believer in Jesus. I am trying to identity my problem so that I can start to correct "my" problem. I need to find where I need healing before I can detach. Hope you will respond.

  4. I found in my family of origin, that I was putting the ideal of "Love" and my Christian beliefs ahead of self-care. I personally had to detach, out of a need to develop love for my self. I had to decide I was worth taking time away from my family, to learn to know and love myself.

    Then, I could come back into the fold and slowly show others how I needed to be treated.

    I had to realize they had their own relationship with God, and I could not do God's work with them, until I was healed.

    I know, detaching can seem heartless. Detaching with love.. is a concept I got confused on. I thought, I can only detach if I feel love for my family, and show it. But then I realized, my family (my mom) in particular, did not know what love was and all she could do was treat me like crap.

    In fact, staying attached to her sort of enabled her bad behavior. In effect, if gave her a blank check, because I just kept coming back. Sure, I might have stuck up for myself... sure I tried to be nice... but it just made it so my mom never had to change her way of treating me.

    I had to realize she had her own relationship with God. It was not my job to redeem her with God. In the same way that I would be advised not to be a therapist to a parent or family member... especially if they do not respect me.

    If I stick around trying to be respected.. that backfires.

    I always had the hope of maintaining a relationship, but found I had to "give up all hope of a better past" and work with the one person I could change (with God's help) and that was me.

    Today I love the paradox of the experience: Once I detached, to establish a loving relationship with myself, I could relate differently to my mom.

    May you find your own Blessed way forward.

    Best, Smitty


I welcome your thoughts. Keep me honest~