* Also see the post entitled ‘Defining Attachment,’ which explores varying levels of attachment, including enmeshment and entanglement *
Releasing attachments to old experiences can be challenging. Especially so when they’ve left you feeling hurt, betrayed or otherwise unsettled.
Perhaps you felt like you built your life around the thing, person or situation that’s no longer in your life, and the attachment is the only residual tie to the deep love you experienced.
It’s as if the loyalty to your pain is a distorted way of expressing the love you felt.
(This brings to mind the song ‘Landslide‘ by Fleetwood Mac).
This goes deeper than simply missing someone, which is a fleeting feeling of nostalgia which arises and leaves you with a sense of warmth at the memory of a shared connection. Attachment is accompanied by a sense of lack; a feeling you cannot be whole without the thing, person or situation that has gone. There’s an underlying energy of emotional dependence which may have deep roots in survival fears.
Attachments can leave you feeling like you’re unable to move forward in life, clinging to a hope that you’ll (one day) be reunited with what’s been lost. In doing so, you’re overlooking the fact that a connection to you is the thing you’ve been missing all along. It’s important to develop a sense of your own power and your capacity to support yourself in all ways, body, mind and spirit.
Whatever you’re attached to may or may not be healthy in and of itself, or it can be the attachment that’s unhealthy. Especially if you’ve given something outside of yourself the responsibility for your peace of mind, well-being and security. The key is to draw the threads back into yourself and take back your power.
Be compassionately honest with yourelf. Are you resisting letting go of attachments? Look for areas in your life where you’re feeling stagnant or unfulfilled. It helps to look at how well you nurture your dreams and desires, and take the time to actively move towards them. If you feel reluctance about moving forward with your life goals, examine whether you’re unconsciously waiting for someone or something to return, or for some kind of closure.
Do you find yourself distracted by thoughts of a thing, person or situation that has gone? Are you obsessing over what went wrong or how you might have done things differently? If you find you spend an inordinate amount of your energy and time focussed on them, you’ve likely formed an unhealthy attachment.
What’s in it for you to stay attached? It may be hard to admit, but here’s where being honest with yourself helps. There is always a pay-off of some kind. It could be that you fear your own success, and by focussing on a recent ‘failure,’ you remain in a familiar, if slightly uncomfortable, state of stasis.
Perhaps you gain some satisfaction from going over just how ‘wrong’ another person was in their treatment of you, and languishing in the role of victim or martyr for a while. It can be comfortably satisfying in that it’s one way of having your needs met as others support and uplift you. It’s not sustainable, though, nor is it empowering for you or anyone around you.
Are you seeking closure, and hoping that if you focus on the situation, a solution will present itself? If you feel the ending lacked closure, it can be really difficult to move on. It’s important to find closure for yourself, in whatever way you can. Try creating a ritual to lay to rest any old tendrils of attachment: hold a memorial service or write down your feelings and burn them by the light of the moon.
Sometimes, especially in the case of dysfunctional or abusive relationships, you feel your dreams die with the end of the union. This can be doubly devastating, and the attachments may lie there. Have put your own needs and dreams aside to support someone else’s story? If this is the case, you may continue to look for your dreams where you believe you left them. Remember that they have always rested with you, and you can take them out to nurture them whenever you like.
What have your attachments taught you? Once you know where you’re attached, you can begin to look at what wisdom you’ve gained. When you detach from the emotion, what can you learn about yourself and any patterns of relating? Going back to the initial description of attachment, discern whether you have in any way tied your survival to what you’re leaving behind. Can you feel whole in yourself without it? If not, why not?
Examine whether you were trying to fill a perceived hole in yourself through the attachment to the person, situation or thing that’s now gone. Does the attachment point you to any early traumas or losses in your life that need healing? At one point, before this came into your life, you were whole and healthily independent (and interdependent). Examine where or when you may have traded that for perceived benefits or fulfillment you stopped giving to yourself.
Can you find gratitude for the experience? Gratitude begins building the bridge to forgiveness and letting go. It’s not easy to feel grateful for things that feel so uncomfortable and even painful. Wherever you can bring gratitude in, begin there.
Use your feelings as a guide: perhaps you can feel grateful for the experience of having had this thing, person or situation in your life for as long as you did. Don’t force it if you don’t feel it. If you can’t stretch that far, start with gratitude for the people and things you have around you now that support you every day. Re-visit the attachment every once in a while and see if you feel any more gratitude surrounding it.
Start to examine ways this thing, person or situation enhanced your life. You must have experienced some emotional satisfaction or you wouldn’t have stayed as long as you did. Start there. Did the person have a good sense of humour? Be grateful for the laughs you shared. Did the situation provide you with an income? Be grateful that you weren’t starving.
As you find ways to hold it in positive regard, you’ll notice that the charge around the attachment gradually falls away. There will no longer be a need to hold onto the emotional ties if you’re finding them fulfilled elsewhere. Reclaim your power!
Don’t make it personal. This can be challenging, especially with relationships, or if you’ve been let go from your job. Try not to spiral into a state of self-blame or taking on responsibility where it’s not yours. Sometimes attachments stem from the idea that if we’d only done something differently or been ‘better’ somehow, things would have worked out.
‘If only’ and ‘what if’ keep you stuck in false hope.
Depersonalize the situation and where possible remain an observer. Be conscious enough to express your emotions and detached enough to understand they’re simply a way to process grief and loss. Take responsibility for your role in the situation without taking on the blame, shame or guilt of others.
Have you in some way allowed for the person, situation or thing to define your worth? Look for ways to untangle the threads of attachment to that belief, and reclaim your worth on your own terms. It’s vital to not take a rejection or betrayal as a measure of your value.
Where do you let go easily? Look around at the multitude of changes that happen on a moment to moment basis, and how easily you integrate them. One hour becomes the next. Night turns to day, and back to night. When the mail arrives, you recycle the envelopes without a second thought. Trees drop their leaves.
All these changes are taking place regularly, everywhere you look, and most likely you don’t attach to the way things were. It’s only your belief that whatever it is you’re feeling attached to contributed something to your emotional well-being that you’re not able to find on your own. You can find it, and in looking for it in creative and new ways, you might also have some fun.
There’s no time limit on your healing. This is so vital I’m going to repeat it: there’s no time limit on your healing.
It’s not easy to let go of attachments, and there’s no formula for grieving or loss. Others might express frustration over your inability to move on as quickly as they’d like for you. That’s not your concern. As you let go, more pieces will arise that lead to deeper healing, so approach it as and when you feel ready. If you need to take time away from certain people or situations, do it.
You might find some aspects of the attachment linger for years, and that’s natural. Events like weddings or births can trigger old grief or longing. As long as you’re aware that when it arises it’s pointing you towards something in yourself, you can face it when it happens. It will gradually shift as you continue to focus on your own well-being and what makes you happy.
Since attachments often stem from some kind of emotional dependence and the expectation of your needs being met from without, it’s now key to focus on filling your own cup. Care for your self; body, mind and soul. Practice radical self-care.
If you’ve attached your sense of self or value to whatever has gone, it’s time to show yourself that you’re worth your own attention and love. Eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest and exercise and pamper yourself in loving ways. Hot baths, massages, gifts for yourself; whatever brings you the most pleasure.
Give yourself what you were looking for in the attachment. Celebrate each step you take towards wholeness while treating yourself with reverence. Remember how it feels to be alone and love the person you’re with (you). Find the good in you that you might have forgotten or overlooked while you were busy seeking it elsewhere.
Find reasons to laugh and cry and feel whatever comes up. Create healthy boundaries so you don’t refill the attachment wound with a similar person, situation or thing. Try to be clear on what the underlying pattern is so that you don’t move into a repetition of the same energetic dance.
Learn to refocus your attention. This takes practice, and consciousness. Every time you find yourself turning your focus to the attachment, or whatever you’re missing, try to make a different choice. What would make you feel slightly better in this moment? Can you think of something spontaneous that would make you laugh or something that would bring joy to someone else?
Every time you choose a different thought or focus, you send new messages about using your time and energy towards things you enjoy. Staying focussed on the attachment is akin to self-abuse. You’re revisiting the perceptions of your lack repeatedly, which drills them into your mind and consciousness, providing more evidence for the belief. It can be a vicious cycle. Focus instead on joy, pleasure, love and connection.
Reach out for help. Be courageous enough to be vulnerable. It may be difficult to open up to people about the level of attachment you feel, especially if it verges on obsession. Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to explain it to people you trust and care about. Tell them if you don’t understand why you’re so tied to this experience, and let them know you want to move forward.
If you need to seek therapy, do so. There’s no shame in sharing your challenges with an objective listener who has experience reading through the lines. It might be easier than trying to navigate the well-meaning yet sometimes unhelpful advice of friends and family. A professional (whether a psychologist or an alternative therapy practitioner), is not emotionally connected to you; their views will provide a more detached, yet still compassionate perspective.
* I am the author of this post. You may find the original, which was used with my permission, without attribution on Your Earth Angel (yourearthangel.com) *