Several years ago a wise member of my extended family recommended I participate in an international program called Al-Anon. This is because someone we mutually love was dealing with the disease of alcoholism, and Al-Anon offers support for people whose lives have been affected by another’s drinking. Thankfully our loved one is in recovery these days, yet I continue to attend Al-Anon regularly because I have found it to be such a helpful program in general. With a spiritual (not religious) undertone, this community assists individuals in bringing positive changes to their lives regardless of what the alcoholic does. And I’ve come to find one can substitute “alcoholic” for just about any other challenging situation in life. Simply put, the program helps quiet the dysfunctional areas in our midsts and, in turn, gives rise to a healthier, happier, more peaceful way of being.
One of the tools Al-Anon shares for achieving and maintaining serenity is to detach with love from other people’s’ problematic behavior. This isn’t about judgment, it’s about allowing another the dignity of their own experience, whatever the results may be. When we detach with love, we let someone be who they are while protecting ourselves from their consequences. Detaching with love is also about taking the focus off of the other person and redirecting it back to one’s self. Instead of spending time trying to manage another’s issues, one can apply that time to enhancing his or her own life, and discover ways to thrive despite the circumstances.
“With love” is a key part of the phrase "detach with love,” for it implies this is a loving act toward all involved. Often the best way to love another is to detach from their behaviors or attitudes that are damaging to us (e.g. hot tempered, passive aggressive, jealous, manipulative, self-righteous, controlling, and many more you can imagine.). We detach from these traits because they don’t reflect the person's real self anyway, rather they reveal untreated illness of one kind or another at work. When we separate out the dysfunctional pieces from one's true nature, we can remember the goodness which intrinsically resides in them — a holiness that is each persons’s authentic self. This helps us to not take the poor words or actions of another personally, and it also helps us practice self-forgiveness for the times our own bad behavior gets the best of us. Our choice then, for others as well as ourselves, is to detach from that which harms and instead attach to love.
Detaching with love in order to attach to love is ultimately an act of compassion toward another as well as toward ourselves. It requires intentional awareness and discipline to practice this principle, yet the tranquility and joy it offers is worth the effort. May you be inspired!