So I’ve been talking about boundaries for a few weeks now, and as promised, we uncover another key aspect of boundary work that are crucial to having healthy relationships: Letting go and choosing. Letting go. For such a lovely phrase, it sure can instill anger and fear in the best of people, because letting go means allowing the unknown to happen, to let go of control and actually trust the process to work everything out. And when it’s your spouse, your sibling or worse your child, that is no easy task.
Watching the train wreck in slow motion can be gut wrenching and downright terrifying for some, because the stakes are so high. When your loved one is making some very poor choices, your first inclination may be to go to them and try to “fix” it by either rescuing them, arguing with them, or pulling strings elsewhere to help secure a better outcome. Sometimes you go in and do things yourself, helping “to make it easier” for them to succeed. Oh my. We have some work to do, don’t we?
I think healthy detachment is one of the most misunderstood concepts, and therefore not utilized enough. One’s cultural influences along with family of origin “rules of operation” can often be pretty codependent, where “being there” for your sister, mother or cousin can translate into rescuing and other controlling behaviors…and NOT doing so in some families can be tantamount to treason. That’s why I drove home some of these concepts on the podcast this week along with sharing them here. It’s a huge concept that is the underpinning of healthy relationships…and boundaries cannot work without it.
So what does healthy detachment really mean? Let’s get into that a bit.
1. Letting go of the outcome. Now this can mean anything, but usually circumstances are what we’re concerned about. Will my brother go to work, will my child succeed in school, will my spouse be more responsible, will my coworker actually do her work….In other words, these are all outcomes outside of your control, because the choices well – they belong to your brother, your spouse, your child and your coworker. Not you.
2. Working through your own grief around the outcomes so you actually CAN detach. We cannot truly let go in love if we still have some strong feelings (usually anger, fear and frustration) because we haven’t yet sat in the vulnerable feelings underneath those “protector feelings”. Detachment will allow you to finally grieve the sad reality. When you get to sadness, you know you’ve done some work. You’ve given up the tug of war.
3. Recognizing and finding empathy for them. It’s really difficult to even grab understanding for the other person while you are still so pissed and hurt! Feeling so invested in their process makes it almost impossible to do. When we detach a bit, and remember times when we struggled, when we screwed up, and especially how long it took us to be able to confront a reality we’d been avoiding. Now we can see how hard it must be for them. It’s not condoning bad choices- it’s just understanding them better. Unhealthy choices come from struggling people.
4. You’re not responsible for other people’s feelings, choices or behaviors. I know you know this on the face of it, but deep down? When you’ve been manipulated into thinking you’re mean and uncaring for not lending them any more money? That they are making their own choices? That maybe some of their consequences are due to said choices? Process this with safe people who will lovingly remind you.
5. Owning our choices. Yes – this means turning the focus back to yourself. Here’s where it can become very difficult, because now you are focusing on what YOU need to choose…especially if they make bad choices – what will you need to finally pull the trigger on? Let go of completely? To set firm limits that are REAL, we must do so and let the chips fall. Where they fall is where reality has been all along, anyway. We don’t like this part, because we still feel responsible for others’ feelings and choices, and we don’t want to be the bad guy. We also need to be ready to really lose what we will lose. And that can be really, really hard.
So as you can see, letting go can actually be a lot of work…grieving, working through, and choosing in the end. Just remember, no one does well being micromanaged or judged. So get them out from under your microscope – and slide the petri dish of all of your raw feelings under there instead. The magic will come from that kind of introspection…and healing.