Tag Archive | actions

Love, attachment, detachment, and letting go

I have been enjoying a day of silence and solitude today, which has not been as silent as I had hoped, but without the distractions of music, or movies, or too much talk, I have succeeded in being able to listen and hear what I have been needing to hear.  I have needed clarity on the topics of love, attachment, detachment, and letting go.  These thoughts began as a tangled ball of hurt feelings and slowly I have been untangling the ball.  As the knots loosened, I saw that the feelings had to be sorted into different piles, and each pile needed to be named and understood before I could make any true progress towards my goal, which was letting go and forgiving and loving fully.

When we think of love, most of us would be quick to agree that in order to love someone there has to be an attachment to that person.  I am very attached to my children, and I love them deeply.  Siblings, friends, spouses–those people closest to us–we generally feel that in order to love them fully we need to have an attachment to them.  I certainly thought that, and yet I have been forced to realize that the notion of attachment and love may be leaving something very important and valuable out of the mix.  This became especially clear to me as I struggled to come to terms with the Biblical command to love everyone.  Most religions and spiritual disciplines teach something similar.  We are all in this together, and love is the goal we strive to reach.

Love and attachment do coexist in many good and healthy relationships, such as the parent-child relationship, ideally anyway.  The same is true with friends, spouses, siblings, and parents.  There has to be balance in the attachment.  If we become overly attached in unhealthy ways we might become clingy, or domineering, or unable to see and appreciate the person separate from ourselves.  There are those darned boundaries again that tell us where we end and another person begins.  Boundaries are unique within each close relationship, and they shift over time.  If the relationship is a healthy one, this adjusting of boundaries happens fairly easily, as we parents adjust and step back as our children grow older.

We learn to let go and trust and have faith that we have taught our children well enough that they will flourish as adults.  The attachment to the child remains secure, but a certain detachment must come into play if we are going to be able to love them for who they are, and allow them to grow into who they are meant to become.  It is not an uncaring detachment at all, and it is not easy at the start, but it is necessary to maintain healthy boundaries and love in the relationship.  It is respect at the very core of it.  Certainly, this form of healthy attachment-detachment adjusting is far easier with those we are close to, or maybe not…

What happens when someone you love hurts you?  What happens when a marriage fails, and the divorce is nasty, and love is replaced with more undesirable emotions like anger, resentment, and even hatred. The base of all of these emotions is hurt.  How do you love a perfect stranger who has repeatedly attacked you, or someone that you love deeply but who does not show you the same respect that you show them without some overlay of hurt or bitterness to muck up each attempt at forgiveness?  How do I love someone who has wounded me in ways I never dreamed imaginable?  How do I love these people fully, like the Bible tells me to, and do it with purity and compassion.  Here is where the tangled ball unravels, and the three separate piles become more clear.  Detachment is the key to loving someone who has betrayed you, abused you, or hurt you in any form.  Detachment is not an easy place to get to, though.

When I was at the height of my cyber-bullying experience I read a lot of articles on the topic so that I could better understand it, and in order to write an article myself.  One of the best things that I read told me that, while documenting everything, to take a giant step back and to become an observer of the person harassing me.  To be an effective observer, I had to detach from my own hurt.  Once I was able to do that, I saw that the woman harassing me treated everyone the same.  She lashed out easily at anyone who had the slightest disagreement with her point of view.  She often perceived that certain comments were “calling me stupid,” when nothing even close was said.  She had a hair-trigger when it came to feeling slighted, and becoming angry and aggressive.  In short, I learned that her behavior towards me truly was nothing personal.  It was just how she viewed and attacked the world.  This information was liberating is a rather smug, “Well, she is just a miserable person…” sort of way.  I stopped observing and documenting, but I had not reached compassion, love, and forgiveness yet.

To get to that place, I had to detach even further.  I had to step so far back that I was in her shoes.  I had to look at what her life must be like, and feel like.  I had to look at who she was in a relationship with, and what she was going through with her children, and grandchild.  When I looked at her life from inside her shoes my heart hurt.  I am a mother, and I know what it feels like when there are serious issues with a child.  It is scary and it hurts like hell and you blame yourself in some way or another.  I had to look at the grandchild and his behavior that so troubles my son—such anger and aggressiveness at a very young age.  Grandma has to cope with that, and that sort of behavior doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  I felt sad for her in a profound way and I finally reached a place of compassion for her, and the entire household.  With compassion comes the ability to love–the kind of love that the Bible teaches.  It does not mean I want to play in the same sandbox with her, but I no longer harbor any ill will towards her.  I love her for the hurting person that she is and that feels a lot better than anger and lack of forgiveness.

Unfortunately, I have had to use the same process recently with someone infinitely closer to me–someone who I love dearly and always will.  I had to step back and observe a lifetime of behavior on both of our parts.  I had to step back even further to get into her shoes, and feel the anger she feels, and the fear, and the sadness.  I know why she hurts, whether intentional, or not, and I know that her pain is deeper than the wounds she inflicts on me.  I have great compassion for her, and I have forgiven her.  At the same time, I have compassion for myself in a new way, and suddenly a fourth pile comes out of the mix, and into that pile goes expectations.

I would, and have, moved mountains out of love for this person.  Because I would, and have done that, I expected the same from her.  Not everyone loves like I do.  Not everyone is willing to move mountains, or feels that they even can.  I had to release my expectations–detach from them–in order to let go of the hurt and love her fully.  She can only love as well as she is doing, like my mother could only love as well as she did.  I cannot expect more.  I can expect respect, and if that is absent, I will let go with love.

Throughout this process of detaching, and observing, and stepping into another person’s shoes, I was certain that what I was doing was detaching from each individual.  To be sure, there is some truth to that.  However, today I realized that what I had really had to do in order to get to the place of love, compassion, forgiveness, and letting go was to detach myself from my own ego and pride.  I had to tie each piece from each one of the four piles together, roll the ball up neatly, and name it what it truly was–pride and ego.  If I had not detached myself from my own hurt ego, I never would have been able to step into their shoes, find compassion for them, and finally love and forgive them for who they are.

My pride and my mouth have been two of my biggest defense mechanisms when hurt.  I have been chipping away at both bit by bit, but these experiences have taken me forward with a huge leap.  I can step away from my ego and my pride and I can love and forgive as God wants me to do.  I have not given up myself in the process.  Quite the opposite, like the Grinch, I feel as if my heart has grown three sizes today.  It is a wonderful, peaceful, gentle feeling.  The silence has truly been golden. The sun will be setting soon, and I will be lighting my candles.  I am full of homemade bread and soup.  I have nothing to defend tonight.  I am free to love fully from whatever distance I choose.  I thank God for that freedom.

Some thoughts on judging others…

“Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Judging others is something we all do in the course of a day, and if we say we don’t we are big, fat, liars.  Much of it is somewhat unconsciously done.  As we walk through the grocery store thoughts run through our heads.  “Wow, that shirt is awful.”  “Boy, that’s one big person.”  “She sure looks like a grump.” On it goes right up to the check out line, where we begin to judge the contents of the shopping cart of the person in front of us, as well as their payment method.  This goes on all day long, little and big judgements made about people, what they do, what they say, how they act, and what the look like.  Maybe you are not that bad.  Maybe you are more inclined to see the people who smile at you, or notice those who look especially pretty, or maybe you are like me, off in my own little world of “get it done and get out of here.”  Whatever the case, we all judge to varying degrees, and it is rarely beneficial to us, or to the person we are judging.

However, it is hard to even begin to enter into the topic of judging without becoming judgmental.  “That person said a hateful thing.  That is wrong.  That person is nasty.”  I said that just last night, in my head.  A person who doesn’t know me made some insulting comments, judged me based on information she is being spoon fed, some of it true enough, much of it not.  Because the comments hurt, I judged her as a bad person, and I do not know her personally. Is she a bad person?  I don’t know.  How could I?  Do I like, or condone, her behavior?  No, I do not.  The behavior and the actions go completely against my personal beliefs of what is right, and her actions are less than attractive, in my opinion.  But, that is just my opinion.  I do not get to be the judge.  I must answer to a higher authority, God, who tells me that I do not know her past, or her hurts, or her insecurities, and even if I did, I would still have no right to judge her.  God tells me to turn the other cheek, stop looking, forgive, and move on.  Easier said than done, of course, but doable.

Dorothy Parker said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.”  That’s not how I roll.  I do not enjoy disliking others, bad mouthing others, or diminishing others so I can feel better about myself.  Does that mean I have never done any of those thing?  Heck no!  I am guilty as charged.  I am very human, too.  The greater portion of my life is filled with wonderful, kind, caring, loving individuals who roll like I do.  Yet, human nature, flawed as it is, will generally cause me focus on the one or two meanies in my life, and forget all about the lovely people and things all around me.  That is a backwards way of living, and changing that is something I work on every day.

That work requires taking a thought, or feeling—a judgement—and turning it around to something positive.  It changes, “That person is just plain nasty,” to “That person must really be hurting/be insecure/feel threatened.”  Those thought changes opens the mind to compassion.  We do not need to like the comments, behaviors, or even the person, but viewing them with compassion rather than judging and attacking right back is the healthier, kinder choice, for ourselves, and for them.  It is saying to yourself, and the world, “I may disagree with you, but I am pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” to borrow a line from Jon Stewart.  If you cannot change your thoughts from ones of judgement and condemnation, then the least you can do is turn and walk away in kindness.

We do reap what we sow.  The law of attraction is real.  The more we judge harshly, respond to judgments with revenge, or insult and degrade people to elevate ourselves, the more of that same sort of thing we will get coming back at us in our own lives.  As people say these days, “Haters are gonna hate.”  I suppose that is true enough, but I have a choice to make for myself, and that is not to be a hater.   The Bible says we can sow blessings or curses with our words.  In this age of the internet, we can do the same with our fingers, faceless behind a computer screen.  This also allows us the convenience of judging people we do not even know.  Do not get sucked into it all.  It is a trap that will effectively take your eyes off of yourself, and your own areas that need attention, while you focus on someone else and their flaws. Go find the goodness inside of you, and in others, instead.

What if someone is judging you right now–hurting you, insulting you, demeaning you right now?  Turn away, walk away, calm yourself and reframe your thoughts, if you can.  Count your blessings. Ask yourself if the person’s judgment is truly hurting you, or just hurting your pride, with no real damage done to how the important people in your life perceive you.  Step outside and look at the splendor all around you.  Release, relax, forgive, and remember that, in the end, you are not the final authority on anyone, or anything, but yourself.  In the end, it is all between you and God.  Do all you can to maintain your integrity.  It is okay to hate evil, but the evil and the person are usually two separate things.

This one, too, this topic of judging, or stopping the judging, take a lot of work, yet again.  I know, I know…;-)  I am working at it right along with you.  I am working at the judging, and forgiving, and moving on.  Today, turn towards the beauty in the world.  Right outside my front door is the most gorgeous day. The sun is shining.  The trees are the most vibrant spring green, and about ten steps from my front door is a breath taking patch of wild violets.  That is where I am going now.  I am stepping towards the things that can truly be judged as beautiful.

Anger, grudge holding, and the cure—Forgiveness

I’ve never been any good at holding a grudge, though I have admittedly tried.  In the past, I have been more apt to forgive easily.  Some would say too easily.  The problem was not that I forgave, it was that I also forgot, which meant that I stayed in bad relationships too long, or looked past completely unacceptable behavior, which kept me wide open for hurt after hurt, and certainly to abuse.  There is a middle ground, I believe.  We can forgive, let go of anger, hurts, and bitterness, and still remember that the behavior and actions were awful, and that we did not deserve that type of treatment.  We can then make healthy choices about who we keep in our lives, and who we do not.  Keeping anger in our lives is never healthy, nor is holding grudges, yet may people do, to their great detriment.

I know some lovely people who hold grudges and carry around things that should have been forgiven long ago.  We can all do this at one time in our life or another.  For instance, for the longest time I could not completely forgive my first husband for moving me away from the west coast, my family and homeland, against my wishes.  Despite all of the rotten things that happened during, and after, our divorce, we’d come to a point of forgiveness, but this was the one thing I could not let go of, try though I did.  I’d forgive him for the move over and over, and think that I’d finished the job, only to get triggered by something and realized I was far from done in my forgiving.

I hated that I could not forgive him completely.  It took me moving back to Montana for nine months, and coming back to Maine of my own choice, more or less. (The state of Maine fairly insisted that I come back to go to prison 😉  I am here by choice now, having realized finally that my home is wherever my heart is, and my heart is with my children, all on the east coast.  He also did something amazingly cool by taking my 7 year old into his home while I was in prison.  We talked two days ago, and when I got off of the phone with him I realized that it was finally done.  I had forgiven him completely.

There are a lot of what I term average grudge holders in the world.  I have a dear friend who has a friend she adores.  Of her she says, “She’s always been a very good friend to me, but there was the one time in high school where she said something that really hurt me.”  High school for her was about 60 years ago.  She carries other things around that she’s been unable to forgive, and they have added up, and I can see how they weigh her down.

There are other people who are masters at grudge holding.  They carries their grudges around with them, heavy in their pockets, and at the end of the day they take out their grudges, and look at them, and polish them up like precious jewels, then they return them to their pockets to carry around the next day.  Rinse, repeat.  So, why do some people hold grudges?  Many people use grudges to cut themselves off from the person who hurt them.  They feel that this distance protects them, but in reality it effectively cuts off the chance for positive communication, resolution, and forgiveness.

Chronic grudge holders often have anger problems that they are too afraid to face, so they hold grudges, and shame and blame, because it’s easier, and safer for them, than looking at themselves and taking personal responsibility for their part in the conflict, or events.   Grudge holders do not understand that people are human, and say and do things that hurt others, often with no malice involved.  The anger festers, the grudge grows and takes on a life of its own, and the person holding the grudge is left miserable, trapped my their own anger, and depleted of joy.  Oftentimes, their pride it too big to recognize just how badly they are hurting themselves with their undying anger.

When you are dealing with a narcissist, or a narcissistic sociopath, you are dealing withe a whole different ball of wax completely.  The narcissist, or narcissistic sociopath, will not just hold a grudge, they will hold a grudge and they will seek revenge, often stopping at nothing to right the perceived wrong.  God forbid you leave leave one of these people and try to divorce them.  The abuse that they exacted upon you will generally only escalate, and often they will use, and abuse, the court system to try to see to your ruination.  So distorted is their world view, and so disordered is their personality, that it is impossible to them to forgive, and let go, because they simply do not care what their vengeful acts are doing to others, even their own children.  They hurt, so they want to make you hurt, without taking a speck of responsibility for their own behavior.

I know a whole family who operates like this.  They blame and shame and tear down but never stop to see the hideousness of their own behavior.  The son held a grudge towards his parents for favoring his little sister, something he felt set him up for a life of failures.  This lead to several, years long, estrangements between him and his parents.  They’d say something he didn’t like, and he’s cease all contact with them for years.  I simply could not “get it” until I spoke to his parents during one of these estrangement periods.  His parents told me stories of his lifelong habit of lying, his inability to keep a job, and about the time, when he was 19 or 20, when he came home from work late at night and woke his father up several times in a row, so they told him to move out.  That had happened 25 years prior!  Yes, I did have an “aha moment” about the son’s behavior at that point.  It had been modeled for him all of his life.  I have seven kids and I have been awakened more than once by one coming home late at night.  My response was always, “Thank you,God!  They are home and safe.”  Then I went back to sleep.  Sadly, narcissists do not learn to forgive, and let go, and move on, nor do they want to learn.

Forgiveness is the cure for anger and grudges, though, and it is an excellent cure with many benefits.  People who forgive have less stress in their lives, lower blood pressure, sleep better, have a stronger sense of spirituality, better relationships, and are more loving and giving.  Forgiving people are happier, healthier people.  Forgiveness is good for you!

Forgiveness, like love, is not just a feeling.  It is a conscious choice and an definite action.  You have to make the choice to forgive, and keep working at the forgiveness.  This is especially true when the person you are working to forgive is still trying to hurt you.  Keep working at it anyway, for yourself, and your family. Forgive as many times as you need to forgive.  Ask God for help.  Forgiving does not condone the behavior, words, or actions, of the one who hurt you, but it frees you from needing to hold onto your hurts.  Freedom is an excellent feeling, and place to be.

It’s never too late to begin to forgive, and today looks like a great day to me. Like any dance, it will be two steps forward, one step back, but with practice and resolve, it is a dance that you can master.