Monkeys, nuts and detachment
You might have heard the story about the best way to catch a monkey: first, drop a handful of nuts into a jar with a small opening, then wait for the monkey. The monkey puts his hand into the jar, grabs the nuts, but then disaster - his closed fist doesn’t fit back out of the jar. If the monkey would just let go of the nuts, he could escape. But he won't; he’s too attached to the idea of having the nuts.
So, how could the monkey do things differently? The concept of detachment is most often associated, not with monkeys, but with the world around addiction. Quite often, those in the addict’s orbit take on different roles, keeping them very involved with the situation as they become co-dependent. People can find themselves constantly watchful of the other person, worrying about "what would happen if..." etc. The feelings of worry, resentment, bitterness, self-pity or other negative emotions will be familiar. Detachment is one way in which people can live calmly with caring about others whilst taking care of themselves.
However, this isn’t the only place where detachment might be necessary. Any relationship where you’re tempted to take on too much responsibility calls for detachment, to unwrap yourself from any destructive behaviour you’re experiencing. Some clients have said to me that detachment seems uncaring, disloyal and unloving. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite. It’s about responding with choice, not being driven by anxiety; being responsible to others, not FOR them; allowing others to answer for themselves, not doing it for them or making their excuses; not acting impulsively, trying to fix things; setting boundaries that honour your needs; taking back your personal power. It might feel as though you’re being harsh, but you might ask whether, by continuing to protect someone - act on their behalf, take away their own self power - are you helping them to recover and grow? Or, are you helping them to stay stuck in their own habits.
Sometimes, detachment is necessary around objects, habits, routines too. Have you ever had a feeling that ‘without xxx, I am not myself’. That’s a good sign that you’re attached to something. This might be something you do for a living that you feel defines you; a sport you take part in; a role you have such as ‘mother/father/carer’; your work ( can you leave it behind when you go home, or even have a holiday?), or even a ‘look’ that you have – are you still you without your make up?
Where a pattern has developed in which you feel over-involved with someone - or something - else, I’ve developed a five stage ‘S’ process that has helped many people begin the process of detachment;
- First of all, learn to SPOT when something happens that starts to draw you in. Listen to those feelings of resentment, anxiety or when you’re worrying unnecessarily. When this happens, you might be getting involved too much, or taking on too much responsibility. STOP whatever you’re doing, whatever excuses you’re making, wherever you’re rushing to taking care of things, whatever you’re doing to get what will make you feel temporarily better.
- When you’ve taken time out, SEE what the issue is. Are you afraid of something? How else can you deal with it? Is there a history that helps you make sense of it? Who can help you think things through? What are the real implications of this thing happening?
- It’s really important when you’re dealing with any change that you take time to look after yourSELF. Making change often means stepping into the unknown which can be scary. Have some time to yourself reading, writing a journal, or simply going for a walk. This will help to give you space to decide what to do next.
- If you can follow the above, then finding a SOLUTION will come more easily. Perhaps trying a new response, or just doing nothing might help to shift your thinking.
When your happiness starts to come from within rather than relying on something/someone else, you’ll find a security that would never have been available previously. Letting go or detaching can actually bring you closer to someone as you can be true to your feelings, rather than reacting to however they’re feeling.
All of this can be difficult to do on your own; those doubting voices can reappear convincing you to return to your old habits - ‘What if……?’. Even those around you can feel worried about the changes you’re making and want you to change back. One of the things I’d advocate is to talk things through with someone. Sometimes another perspective on the situation can help, or even saying things out loud can take away their scary power, allowing you to live your life as you choose, not at the whim of something/someone else.
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About Tracey Hutchinson
Tracey is a talented and experienced coach, trainer and mentor who is successfully helping people make positive and permanent change across all areas of life. When you're ready to find out how easily and quickly Tracey can help you find your best self, contact her @Tracey_Hutch or at firstname.lastname@example.org