Tag Archive | ego

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.

Fear–The greatest motivator to stay absolutely stuck

Fear is a strong emotion, and one that can serve us well, warning us of dangerous situations, and propelling us into action to protect ourselves, whether through fight or flight.  That is fear in its best and proper form.  However, how many people are slaves to fears that keep then so stuck in life that they can barely move, or if they do move, the movement is some misguided form of self protection, be it anger, nastiness, or simple inertia? It is still fight or flight, but you are fighting life, or fleeing from it. This type of fear is never healthy and it sucks all of the joy right out of most everything.

Most people aren’t aware just how much of their lives are dominated by fear.  People alter who they really are because they fear not being liked or accepted.  People do not ask for help when they need it because they are afraid of being seen as weak, or being told, “No.”  People lie because they fear others won’t find the truth acceptable.  People do not share their thoughts because they fear being wrong, or that someone will disagree, or that no one will listen. People don’t try new things because they fear failure.

People don’t try to change an bad situation because they fear they may fail at that, too—“It won’t do any good, anyway.”  People stay in bad relationships and bad jobs out of fear, and remain in unhealthy lifestyles because they fear change.  At its basest form, fear become anger and meanness.  People fear getting hurt so they hurt others first to protect themselves.  They fear looking at their own behavior because they are afraid there will be nothing left if they tear down the walls of anger, nastiness, and arrogance.  How will they protect themselves without lashing out, being defensive, blaming others, or making excuses?

Fearful people are often lonely, and unhappy.  At the heart of fear is almost always the fear of loss–loss of possessions, loss of safety, loss of reputation, or a loss through an insult to their pride or ego.  Fearful people take the hurts and losses in life and turn them into weapons, walls, and shields, yet we all have hurts and losses in life, so why isn’t everyone living a stuck, angry, small life with no joy?   That’s an excellent question, and I certainly don’t have the entire answer.

I’ve always told my kids, “Face your fears, and they will disappear.”  I try to live that, but like everyone, I have my own fears, though over the years they have diminished to a very few things.  I’ve had a lot of losses, some at the hands of other, many self-inflicted.  I’ve had hurts, and some pretty awful experiences, again, some events coming from outside of me, and many self generated.  But, at the same time, I have had to face a lot of my fears because I didn’t want to stay stuck in the ugliness that I had created by believing false information, or by feeling like a victim, or blaming the world for all of my problems.  At the heart of it all, I feared that “me” wasn’t good enough, and from that sprang many mistakes, poor choices, and much self sabotaging behavior.  Who would want to stay stuck in that muck? Not me, but to get out of that muck, I had to own my role in my life, my choices, my behavior.  That was scary business, indeed, and not gobs of fun.  Being stuck in fear and anger and poor choices was a lot less fun, though.

Fear gives a person a very small, myopic, world view.  It creates a blindness to all of the color, and goodness in the world.  Fear holds people back from discovering the beauty in others, and the beauty within themselves.  How can anyone truly live and enjoy life when everything is a perceived threat to their ego, or their limited sense of self worth, or their position, or their power?  But fear does not give one power.  Fearful people prefer to have power over—power over others, power over the situation, power over the world.  Power over is not personal power.  Power over takes personal power from others.  Again, not a happy, or healthy, way to truly live and enjoy life.

Personal power, on the other hand, gives joy to life.  It allows its owner to set healthy boundaries, make good choices for themselves, be vulnerable, be open, be willing, and in the end, be genuine and happy.  Personal power can empower others to places of goodness.  It is a light that shines, not a wall that blocks out the sun, and the light of everyone, and everything in your world.  You cannot get to a place of personal power without facing many fears, without having the courage to heal, make mistakes and start anew.  You cannot have personal power without the courage to admit your faults, ask for forgiveness, forgive yourself and others, and change your course.  When you have personal power you don’t need or want power over anyone.  Personal power is not the freedom from fear, but the knowing that fears can be faced, and erased.

Leaving a fear based life starts like anything else—with one step in the opposite direction, and then another, and another for a life time.  You can change fear based behaviors and actions by looking your fears in the face, making friends with them, then showing them the door.  You can change your mindset from one of suspicion and avoidance to one of joyfulness and openness, but it will take work.  It’s work that is well worth it, and you can do it.  Please, don’t be afraid to try.  Don’t let fear motivate you to remain stuck.  Get yourself out of your own muck.  You’ll be amazed at the results.