Emotional Detachment: Establishing Boundaries

Detachment is one of the most valuable techniques available to stop taking others’ behavior personal. Simply put, detachment means separating yourself emotionally from other people’s behavior.

Detachment occurs when you are able to separate the act from the actor, the person from their behavior, the sin from the sinner. If someone you love had the flu and cancelled plans with you, you would understand. You wouldn’t take it personally or blame the person for being inconsiderate or weak. Instead, in your mind, you would probably separate the person from the illness, knowing that it was the illness, rather than your loved one, that caused the change of plans. This is detachment.

Learning to detach often begins by learning to take a moment before reacting to behavior. In that moment you can ask yourself, “Is this behavior coming from the person or the disease?” This distinction makes you better able to emotionally distance yourself from the other person’s behavior.

But it is important to remember that emotional detachment and establishing personal boundaries are  not the same as building walls. Your goal is to heal yourself and your relationships with other human beings, not to coldly distance yourself, especially from the people who matter most to you.

When someone causes a change in plans, or sends harsh words or other unacceptable behavior in your direction, you can choose to take it no more personally than you would take the flu symptoms. With the flu, it is the disease, rather than the individual, that is responsible.

By seeing the person as separate from the disease, by detaching, you can stop being hurt by groundless insults or angered by outrageous lies. If you can learn to step back from this person, just as you would from the sneezing of a person with a cold, you will no longer have to take those effects to heart.

Reality requires you to know what you are thinking and trust your own judgment. You can use your adult judgment to determine which words make sense and which are used to be hurtful. Any solution using your judgment will be good enough to get the job done. He/she is not doing what reality requires. Since he/she doesn’t know what reality requires, he/she can only prevent, plan and seek to control potential, future pain and that is antagonism. If you are tired of this useless third‑grade game, you can do the unexpected and use these responses:
• “I am sorry you are so angry.”
• “It makes you angry when that happens doesn’t it?”
• “I don’t blame you for feeling that way.”
• “I know you mean well and want to best for me, but I prefer to do it this way.”
• “I can tell you’re angry, you are shouting.”
• “I hear what you’re saying, I appreciate it and I’ll be fine.”
• “I totally agree, I’m just not sure it would help.”
• “That would be nice wouldn’t it.”

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Shared by: Aaron Karmin, LCPC, Contributing Blogger