Do you often find yourself replaying moments from the past that you wish you could change? Do you feel a strong urge to make your loved ones listen to you and follow your advice? Or maybe you experience disappointment after disappointment in relationships as your partners never turn out to be how you expected?
If you relate to any of the above, it could be down to an unhealthy form of detachment. Most of us feel a need or desire to control specific or all aspects of our life. Then, when things do not go as we planned, we suffer.
According to Buddhist teachings and advice from psychologists worldwide, we create our own suffering through the desire to control outcomes and people. But if we can learn and apply the art of letting go in our lives, we can free ourselves from this suffering and find peace and happiness.
So whether you’re dealing with relationship troubles, navigating a family conflict, or struggling to find a healthy work/life balance, read on to learn why and how you should let go.
- 1 What Detachment Is
- 2 What Detachment Is Not
- 3 Mental Health Benefits of Practicing Detachment
- 4 Physical Health Benefits of Practicing Detachment
- 5 Detachment Of Physical Possessions
- 6 Detachment In A Relationship
- 7 Detachment From Past Experiences
- 8 Detachment From Work
- 9 Detachment From Fear
- 10 Final Thoughts On Letting Go Of Attachment
What Detachment Is
Detachment is best described as the process of letting go. When we practice detachment, we simply let go of the outcome and focus on the present moment instead. It is about understanding what we can and cannot control and disconnecting from the latter. It can be seen as taking a step back to be able to then move forward.
What Detachment Is Not
Many people have a misconception of detachment and see it as something negative. So let’s debunk some of these common misunderstandings. Firstly, detachment is not an excuse to avoid dealing with issues such as relationship problems. Instead, practicing detachment in a relationship actually strengthens it or at least stops it from breaking down.
Detachment is not about being cold or uncaring, either. On the contrary, when we let go of unhealthy attachments, we don’t stop showing love to that person; we show love in a healthier way. Still, the change detachment brings initially can make it seem to the other person that we are withdrawing, which is why communication is vital.
It is also not about giving up. In fact, detachment is a beneficial practice in manifestation and goal setting. When you declare your desire to the universe and then let it go, you detach from the outcome. This creates a clear energy flow, increasing your co-creation ability with the universe.
Mental Health Benefits of Practicing Detachment
- A new perspective as detaching helps you look at your life objectively and with greater clarity.
- Reduced negative emotions like anxiety, anger, jealousy, sadness, and vanity.
- The ability to focus more on what you have rather than what you don’t have.
- Healthier and more fulfilling relationships (including your relationship with yourself).
- Improved self-image, greater self-esteem, and feelings of worthiness.
- Greater peace of mind.
Physical Health Benefits of Practicing Detachment
- Lower stress levels, bringing cortisol to a healthy level, reducing high blood pressure, and bringing the nervous system into a state of equilibrium.
- High energy levels and less fatigue as by letting go, you stop wasting vital energy on things you cannot control.
- Improved sleep quality as you won’t be worrying about things you cannot control all night anymore.
Note that the benefits you can experience by letting go depend on what you detach from. So let’s explore five areas of your life where you can practice letting go and techniques to do it.
Detachment Of Physical Possessions
Minimalism, which involves reducing your possessions, is the practice of releasing attachment to material things. Living a minimalist lifestyle is about identifying what is essential and eliminating the rest. By doing this, you can remove distractions and focus more on (and find more joy from) the things that matter most.
This aspect of detachment is also about letting go of the desire to own material things. It is pointless to sell or give away all your possessions if you then desire to buy more. Thus, this type of detachment involves investigating why you feel the need to own things and the emotions and beliefs around this.
For example, many people desire to own a flashy car and a big house as they believe it will make them appear successful to others. This comes from the belief that success lies in the things you own and the need to seek validation from others.
How To Detach From Material Goals
You may need to change your perspective of success to detach from the need to gain material possessions. We grow up in a society that brainwashes us to believe the more we own, the more successful we are. In addition, we are sold the idea that expensive brands equal higher status. Because of this conditioning, it’s no surprise we focus on material goals.
Like all forms of attachment, letting go of the desire to buy and own things requires inner work. It is likely that this desire comes from a deep-rooted lack of confidence or self-worth and you believe having more possessions will make you more worthy.
The first step to no longer identifying with that belief is to acknowledge it. The book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma helped me reprogram my ideas around what it means to be successful and what happiness is.
Then, practicing gratitude can help you focus on the things you already have. Starting a gratitude journal can help you realize that the most important things in your life are not actually material possessions. You can then switch your focus to non-material goals and, thus, let go of the desire to own things.
Detachment In A Relationship
You can also practice loving detachment in a relationship. This is the most challenging form of detachment to understand and practice, but it is also one of the most vital. Many of us treat our partners, children, family, and friends as people we “own,” and thus, we expect to act in a certain way that is in our best interests. Therefore, when they do not act as we expect, we induce our own suffering through the unrealistic expectations we set.
Practicing loving detachment in a relationship is about understanding that you cannot control the reactions or actions of the other person. When you let go of the expectations you unconsciously set, you will no longer take everything personally or seek validation and reassurance from them. Thus, in love, detachment means accepting the other person for who they are rather than trying to change or control them.
When practicing loving detachment in relationships, understand the ways in which you seek to control. Likely, you not only expect and want someone to act in a particular manner towards you. You also want them to make certain decisions in other aspects of their lives that are unrelated to you.
Have you ever tried to give unsolicited advice to your best friend or partner about how they should respond to a work issue they are having? And if they did not follow your advice and acted differently, did it make you feel angry or frustrated? If so, you can start to understand the extent of control we seek over others.
How To Practice Loving Detachment In Relationships
The detachment strategy will depend on your unique circumstances, as every relationship is different. For example, you may need to refrain from giving unsolicited advice to others and reminding yourself that you are not responsible for the actions of others. On the other hand, you may need to set boundaries with yourself or a loved one to protect and strengthen the relationship.
When dealing with relationship issues, it can be helpful to join a support group or speak with a counselor. There are also some great books on detachment in relationships.
Courage to Cure Codependency by Leah Clarke is an excellent book on codependency and unhealthy attachment. It contains some great strategies to improve your self-image so that you can overcome self-sabotaging behaviors like jealousy and stop trying to control your partner.
Or, if you need to set boundaries with family members, check out Let Go Now: Embrace detachment as a Path to Freedom by Karen Casey. This book gives 200 short, straightforward daily lessons to help you better handle what others do and say around you.
Detachment From Past Experiences
Another form of detachment is letting go of past experiences, including negative ones like traumatic events and positive ones like pleasant times. This can be difficult as, consciously, we don’t think we are still holding on to them, but on a subconscious level, they still affect us.
The more attached we are to previous events, the less we are in the present moment, which can have a detrimental effect on our well-being. This is true whether you’re replaying happy moments from an ex-relationship or dwelling on an argument you had with someone months ago. Replaying moments repeatedly in your head creates a sense of heaviness in your heart, which can lead to various negative emotions like guilt, anger, regret, or bitterness.
Moreover, all our past experiences form our beliefs and general view of the world, including prejudices and biases. If we stay attached to them, it can keep up in a place of fear or anxiety. However, when we let go, we experience greater freedom and happiness and discover the truth we couldn’t see before when our minds were clouded.
How To Detach From The Past
Finding emotional detachment from the past takes a lot of self-awareness. So the first step is to become aware of your tendency to dwell on past events, whether negative or positive ones. Then, by practicing mindfulness meditation, you bring your mind back to the here and now each time you observe your mind wandering to the past.
The more you practice mindfulness, the more aware you will become of this tendency in your daily life. For example, perhaps you’ll be driving to work and notice your mind wandering to a past experience. Mindfulness helps you understand this by feeling the sensations in your body that arise when thinking of the past.
You might notice a sudden feeling of anxiety or anger, which acts as a trigger to become aware of your thinking. By choosing to stop those unhappy thoughts and shift your mind back to the present, you won’t just feel better at that moment but will experience better long-term mental health.
Remember, there is no quick fix to feel detached from your mind. Buddhist monks dedicate their lives to freeing themselves from their minds and egoic selves by renouncing all their possessions and meditating for several hours each day.
However, you don’t have to move to a monastery to gain more awareness. Instead, you can start a daily meditation practice at practice by using meditation apps like Calm or Insight Timer or doing guided meditations on Youtube.
Detachment From Work
A “workaholic” is someone who compulsively works hard with an inability to limit their working time. This often causes problems in their family life, and their spouse may accuse them of being too attached or addicted to their job.
It’s not only workaholics that need to practice detachment in their careers, though. Many of us subconsciously create a label or identity of who we are based on our job titles. For example, if someone you just met asks what you do, you will most likely tell them your job title, like “I’m a teacher” or “I’m a doctor.”
However, your job is just one aspect of who you are. If you have too much attachment to it, you’ll struggle should you lose your job as you defined your personal identity through your career.
How To Let Go Of Career Identity
If you want to feel less attached to your career:
- Spend some time reflecting on what you enjoy doing and your values.
- Focus on building more hobbies and interests outside work that relate to your values and interests.
- Seek meaning in other things, such as volunteering or joining a community group.
In addition, think of ways to describe yourself other than what you do for work. For example, if you’re into yoga and spirituality, why not represent yourself as an avid yoga practitioner when someone asks what you do?
Be sure to think about your current work/life balance too. For example, if you’re spending too much time in the office or taking work home, you may need to set some boundaries. For example, switch your work phone off at home, delegate work to someone else, or be stricter about leaving the office by a particular time.
Detachment From Fear
While we should seek to detach from any negative feelings that no longer serve us, fear is an emotion that has the potential to hold us back from doing what we want to do. Fear is the culprit of so many abandoned hopes and dreams and is what causes people to give up on a goal before they even start it.
Thus, if you want to live a fulfilled life where you spend your days doing what you want without stress or regret, you need to learn how to let go of fear. In addition, knowing how to overcome fear makes you less likely to experience chronic anxiety and other mental health conditions.
How To Let Go Of Fear
The best way to let go of fear is to face it head-on by doing things that scare you. Every time you push yourself out of your comfort zone, you gain more courage and self-belief, and the feeling of fear diminishes a little more.
However, when you’re in the midst of fear, it’s easy to feel paralyzed. In this situation, it’s essential to take some time to calm down before doing anything. Pranayama (Sanskrit for breathwork) is an excellent way to find calm in scary situations. Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing) is my favorite calming pranayama as it helps regulate the nervous system and slow down your heart rate.
I also recommend the book Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is an excellent practical guide on how not to “sweat the small stuff.”
Final Thoughts On Letting Go Of Attachment
The more we strive to control, the more stress, anxiety, and suffering we create for ourselves. However, by starting the journey of detachment and practicing letting go techniques, you’ll experience improved well-being and a much more peaceful life!