Practicing Non-Attachment or Detachment?
As a therapist I often ask my clients to practice non-attachment instead of detachment. When a client is feeling overwhelmed with their feelings and can’t stop thinking about them, or avoiding them all together because they are in denial, I suggest trying to learn non-attachment skills.
What is Detachment?
Detachment is when you just don’t care. I mean you really do care, it’s just that you appear otherwise. Detachment is a defense mechanism and it protects you from feeling emotions that are too strong. If you are dumped by your one true love and you don’t feel anything, you are detached.
If a family member dies that you care about deeply and you have no feelings about it, you are detached. It may sound great to not feel these feelings but the problem is that they’ll find a way out somehow. Repressed feelings will bottle up and eventually become extremely overwhelming. Or maybe the emotions have turned into anxiety and you begin feeling nervous or worried. For instance, if you have thoughts that you are a bore to hang out with and nobody likes you, you may experience anxiety in social situations that are coming from a deep seeded emotional place. Denying these feelings won’t solve the problem. Practicing non-attachment around feelings of low self worth and thoughts of not being good enough could help.
What in Non-Attachment?
Non-attachment involves engaged actions without expectations or the attachment to particular outcomes. So there may be a negative thought that is telling you that you are going to embarrass yourself if you go out with your friends; this critical voice will tell you that you can “never be funny” and everyone will “hate you like they always do.” These thoughts turn into your expectation and projected outcome of the situation. By practicing non-attachment, you would allow the thoughts to come up, but you would not let them ruin your time. You’d let them mill around in your head and you wouldn’t attach on to them and treat them as the truth. It’s about letting critical thoughts come up but not believing in them so much that they begin to rule your behavior and core belief system about yourself.
Let’s get a little Zen
You can wash the dishes to wash the dishes or you can wash the dishes to get the dishes clean. – Zen proverb
You have an outcome attached to the behavior, which is to get the dishes clean. Once that outcome is attached you start to hurry and feel anxiety so you can get on with your life and do something you think will be more enjoyable. If you feel the warm water and soap between your fingers and live in the moment than you’re just washing the dishes. They’ll eventually be clean. If you’re hanging out with friends and listening to their stories and telling them about your week you’ll have a nice time. However, if you’re there trying to win their approval and be accepted into the crowd, you’ll lose focus and feel anxious. When those thoughts come up that tell you you’re not being cool enough, just let them pop into your head and then focus on having a nice time with your buddies.
Non-Attachment is Pretty Tricky
Practicing non-attachment is a really tough job. We have so many underlying emotions and critical voices running through our heads that it’s really hard to just let those feelings come up and not react to them when we’ve pretty much been reacting to them all our lives. You may need the help of a professional therapist to guide you through the process. You could also consult a monk if you’ve got one in the area. A therapist and monk are working with the same idea but doing different things with it. Many people have devoted their whole lives to practicing non-attachment so if you can’t get it down don’t be too hard on yourself. Or at least don’t attach to the critical voice that’s telling you that you suck at non-attachment.