Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!




Chapter 8 Developing Detachment

Tools for Handling Control Issues

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.

What is detachment?

Detachment is the:

  • Ability to allow people, places, or things the freedom to be themselves.
  • Holding back from the need to rescue, save, or fix another person from being sick, dysfunctional, or irrational.
  • Giving another person the space to be him or herself.
  • Disengaging from an overenmeshed or dependent relationship with people.
  • Willingness to accept that you cannot change or control a person, place, or thing.
  • Developing and maintaining of a safe, emotional distance from someone whom you have previously given a lot of power to affect your emotional outlook on life.
  • Establishing of emotional boundaries between you and those people you have become overly enmeshed or dependent with in order that all of you might be able to develop your own sense of autonomy and independence.
  • Process by which you are free to feel your own feelings when you see another person falter and fail and not be led by guilt to feel responsible for their failure or faltering.
  • Ability to maintain an emotional bond of love, concern, and caring without the negative results of rescuing, enabling, fixing, or controlling.
  • Placing of all things in life into a healthy, rational perspective and recognizing that there is a need to back away from the uncontrollable and unchangeable realities of life.
  • Ability to exercise emotional self-protection and prevention so as not to experience greater emotional devastation from having hung on beyond a reasonable and rational point.
  • Ability to let people you love and care for accept personal responsibility for their own actions and to practice tough love and not give in when they come to you to bail them out when their actions lead to failure or trouble for them.
  • Ability to allow people to be who they really are rather than who you want them to be.
  • Ability to avoid being hurt, abused, taken advantage of by people who in the past have been overly dependent or enmeshed with you.

What are the negative effects of the inability to develop detachment?

If you are unable to detach from people, places, or things, then you:

  • Will have people, places, or things which become over-dependent on you.
  • Run the risk of being manipulated to do things for people, at places, or with things, which you do not really want to do.
  • Can become an obsessive fix it who needs to fix everything you perceive to be imperfect.
  • Run the risk of performing tasks because of the intimidation you experience from people, places, or things.
  • Will most probably become powerless in the face of the demands of the people, places, or things whom you have given the power to control you.
  • Will be blind to the reality that the people, places, or things which control you are the uncontrollables and unchangeables you need to let go of if you are to become a fully healthy, coping individual.
  • Will be easily influenced by the perception of helplessness which these people, places, or things project.
  • Might become caught up with your idealistic need to make everything perfect for people, places, or things important to you even if it means your own life becomes unhealthy.
  • Run the risk of becoming out of control of yourself and experience greater low self-esteem as a result.
  • Will most probably put off making a decision and following through on it, if you rationally recognize your relationship with a person, place, or thing is unhealthy and the only recourse left is to get out of the relationship.
  • Will be so driven by guilt and emotional dependence that the sickness in the relationship will worsen.
  • Run the risk of losing your autonomy and independence and derive your value or worth solely from the unhealthy relationship you continue in with the unhealthy person, place, or thing.


How is detachment a control issue?

Detachment is a control issue because:

  • It is a way of depowering the external locus of control issues in your life and a way to strengthen your internal locus of control.
  • If you are not able to detach emotionally or physically from a person, place, or thing, then you are either profoundly under its control or it is under your control.
  • The ability to keep distance emotionally or physically requires self-control and the inability to do so is a sign that you are out of control.
  • If you are not able to detach from another person, place, or thing, you might be powerless over this behavior which is beyond your personal control.
  • You might be mesmerized, brainwashed, or psychically in a trance when you are in the presence of someone from whom you cannot detach.
  • You might feel intimidated or coerced to stay deeply attached with someone for fear of great harm to yourself or that person if you don't remain so deeply involved.
  • You might be an addicted caretaker, fixer, or rescuer who cannot let go of a person, place or thing you believe cannot care for itself.
  • You might be so manipulated by another's con, helplessness, overdependency, or hooks that you cannot leave them to solve their own problems.
  • If you do not detach from people, places, or things, you could be so busy trying to control them that you completely divert your attention from yourself and your own needs.
  • By being selfless and centered on other people, you are really a controller trying to fix them to meet the image of your ideal for them.
  • If you are not able to accept the things you can change and let go of the things you cannot, you run the risk of placing yourself into a struggle to fix or change the uncontrollables and unchangeables in your life.
  • Although you will still have feelings for those persons, places, and things from which you have become detached, you will have given them the freedom to become what they will be on their own merit, power, control, and responsibility.
  • It allows every person, place, or thing with which you become involved to feel the sense of personal responsibility to become a unique, independent, and autonomous being with no fear of retribution or rebuke if they don't please you by what they become.
What irrational thinking leads to your inability to emotionally detach?
Some irrational thinking that leads to your inability to emotionally detach from persons, places, or things who are toxic or unhealthy for you are:
  • If you should stop being involved, what will they do without you?
  • They need you and that is enough to justify your continued involvement.
  • What if they commit suicide because of your detachment? You must stay involved to avoid this.
  • You would feel so guilty if anything bad should happen to them after you reduced your involvement with them.
  • They are absolutely dependent on you at this point and to back off now would be a crime.
  • You need them as much as they need you.
  • You can't control yourself because everyday you promise yourself today is the day' you will detach your feelings but you feel driven to them and their needs.
  • They have so many problems, they need you.
  • Being detached seems so cold and aloof. You can't be that way when you love and care for a person. It's either 100% all the way or no way at all.
  • If you should let go of this relationship too soon, the other might change to be like the fantasy or dream you want them to be.
  • How can being detached from them help them? It seems like you should do more to help them.
  • Detachment sounds so final. It sounds so distant and non-reachable. You could never allow yourself to have a relationship where there is so much emotional distance between you and others. It seems so unnatural.
  • You never want anybody in a relationship to be emotionally detached from you so why would you think it a good thing to do for others?
  • The family that plays together stays together. It's all for one and one for all. Never do anything without including the significant others in your life.
  • If one hurts in the system, we all hurt. You do not have a good relationship with others unless you share in their pain, hurt, suffering, problems, and troubles.
  • When they are in trouble how can you ignore their pleas for help? It seems cruel and inhuman.
  • When you see people in trouble, confused, and hurting, you must always get involved and try to help them solve the problems.
  • When you meet people who are helpless, you must step in to give them assistance, advice, support, and direction.
  • You should never question the costs, be they material, emotional, or physical, when another is in dire need of help.
  • You would rather forgo all the pleasures of this world in order to assist others to be happy and successful.
  • You can never give too much when it comes to providing emotional support, comforting, and care of those whom you love and cherish.
  • No matter how badly your loved ones hurt and abuse you, you must always be forgiving and continue to extend your hand in help and support.
  • Tough love is a cruel, inhuman, and anti-loving philosophy of dealing with the troubled people in our lives and you should instead love them more when they are in trouble since love is the answer to all problems.


How do you develop detachment?
In order to become detached from a person, place, or thing you need to:
  • Establish emotional boundaries between you and the person, place, or thing with whom you have become overly enmeshed or dependent on.
  • Take back power over your feelings from persons, places, or things which in the past you have given power to affect your emotional wellbeing.
  • Hand over to your Higher Power the persons, places, and things which you would like to see changed but which you cannot change on your own.
  • Make a commitment to your personal recovery and self-health by admitting to yourself and your Higher Power that there is only one person you can change and that is yourself and that for your serenity you need to let go of the need to fix, change, rescue, or heal other persons, places, and things.
  • Recognize that it is sick and unhealthy to believe that you have the power or control enough to fix, correct, change, heal, or rescue another person, place, or thing if they do not want to get better nor see a need to change.
  • Recognize that you need to be healthy yourself and be squeaky clean and a role model of health in order for another to recognize that there is something wrong with them that needs changing.
  • Continue to own your feelings as your responsibility and not blame others for the way you feel.
  • Accept personal responsibility for your own unhealthy actions, feelings, and thinking and cease looking for the persons, places, or things you can blame for your unhealthiness.
  • Accept that addicted fixing, rescuing, enabling are sick behaviors and strive to extinguish these behaviors in your relationship to persons, places, and things.
  • Accept that many people, places, and things in your past and current life are irrational, unhealthy, and toxic influences in your life, label them honestly for what they truly are, and stop minimizing their negative impact in your life.
  • Reduce the impact of guilt and other irrational beliefs which impede your ability to develop detachment in your life.
  • Practice letting go of the need to correct, fix, or make better the persons, places and things in life over which you have no control or power to change.
What are the steps in developing emotional detachment when needed?


Step 1: It is important to first identify those people, places, and things in your life from which you would be best to develop emotional detachment in order to retain your personal, physical, emotional, and spiritual health. To do this you need to review the following types of toxic relationships and identify in your journal the people, places, or things which fit the following twenty categories.


Toxic Relationships Needing Your Detachment
  1. You find it hard to let go of because being with the OTHER is addictive.
  2. The other is emotionally unavailable to you.
  3. The other is coercive, threatening, intimidating to you.
  4. The other is punitive or abusive to you.
  5. The relationship is non-productive and non-reinforcing for you.
  6. The relationship is smothering you.
  7. The other is overly dependent on you.
  8. You are overly dependent on the other.
  9. The other has the power to impact your feelings about yourself.
  10. The relationship is one in which you are a chronic fixer, rescuer, or enabler.
  11. The relationship is one in which your obligation and loyalty won't allow you to let go.
  12. The other appears helpless, lost, and out of control.
  13. The other is self-destructive or suicidal.
  14. The other has an addictive disease.
  15. The relationship is one in which you are being manipulated and conned.
  16. When guilt is a major motivating factor preventing your letting go and detaching.
  17. The relationship is one in which you have a fantasy or dream that the other will come around and change to be what you want.
  18. The relationship is one in which you and the other are competitive for control.
  19. The relationship is one in which there is no forgiveness or forgetting and all past hurts are still brought up to hurt one another.
  20. The relationship is one in which your needs and wants are ignored.


Step 2: Once you have identified the persons, places, and things you have a toxic relationship with, then you need to take each one individually and work through the following steps.


Step 3: Identify the irrational beliefs in the toxic relationship which prevent you from becoming detached. Address these beliefs and replace them with healthy, more rational ones.


Step 4: Identify all of the reasons why you are being hurt and your physical, emotional, and spiritual health is being threatened by the relationship.


Step 5: Accept and admit to yourself that the other person, place, or thing is sick, dysfunctional, or irrational and that no matter what you say, do, or demand you will not be able to control or change this reality. Accept that there is only one thing you can change in life and that is you. All others are the unchangeables in your life. Change your expectations that things will be better than what they really are. Hand these people, places, or things over to your Higher Power and let go of the need to change them.


Step 6: Work out your thinking and reasoning as to why there is no need to feel guilt over letting go and being emotionally detached from this relationship and free yourself from guilt as you let go of the emotional hooks in the relationship.


Step 7: Affirm yourself as being a person who deserves healthy, wholesome, health-engendering relationships in your life. You are a GOOD PERSON and deserve healthy relationships, at home, work, and in the community.


Step 8: Gain support for yourself as you begin to let go of your emotional enmeshment with these relationships.


Step 9: Continue to call upon your Higher Power for the strength to continue to let go and detach.


Step 10: Continue to give no person, place, or thing the power to affect or impact your feelings about yourself.


Step 11: Continue to detach and let go and work at self-recovery and self-healing as this poem implies.


Letting Go


To let go does not mean to stop caring.
It means I can't do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off.
It's the realization I can't control another.
To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another.
It's to make the most of myself.

To let go is not to care for,

but to care about.

To let go is not to fix,

but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to affect their own destinies.
To let go is not to be protective.
It's to permit another to face reality.

To let go is not to deny,

but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but instead to search out my own shortcomings and correct them.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anybody,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires
but to take each day as it comes and cherish myself in it.
To let go is to not regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and LOVE MYSELF MORE.


Step 12: If you still have problems detaching, then return to Step 1 and begin all over again.