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Attachment vs Detachment In Relationships 

Attachment vs Detachment In Relationships

“But Do YOU Want To…”
Finding The Balance Between Attachment And Detachment

I have always been a little different from my family and friends. While they are more outgoing and expressive, I am more reserved and introverted. In hindsight, I should have realized that these traits were stemming from being a “daddy’s girl”. However, my father and I are still very different. He is always willing to be expressive when it counts, and he loves us with a fierceness I cannot adequately explain.

In time, the more my introverted tendencies grew, the more I detached myself from my feelings and shunned the idea of dependency on other human beings. It showed in all my relationships. I was always there but still aloof enough to remove myself from the situation with minimal damage, sometimes without the other person noticing. Similarly, being overly attached found me placing my self-worth into the hands of individuals who could not have known how to help me to retain my identity.  

A Little History Of Attachment

The theory of attachment, as explained by R.S Fraley, recognizes that the bonds we made as children to our caregivers could deeply influence our relationships in adult life. In fact, more studies are being conducted presently to determine if our attachment in adult relationships are directly related to our bonds formed during our most impressionable years. Though numerous studies have been conducted, researchers are still at odds as to whether romantic relationships are a product of the attachment behavioral system hypothesized by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth, or if they are derivatives of a similar system that is influenced by the behavioral system.

It is still understood that attachment theory speaks to how individuals react to specific triggers. For instance, being separated from loved ones or persons we’ve deemed our safe base.

Attachment ultimately means different things to each of us. For instance, I am able to identify interactions within my familial unit (whether direct or indirect interactions) that have influenced my interactions in other interpersonal relationships. To some extent, my personal hang-ups with attachment can be linked to my mental health issues, but that is a different kettle of fish. Interestingly enough, It can all be tied back to a noted concept; Vulnerability.  

Being able to function in a space, fear-free and willing to open yourself up to the full spectrum of human interactions, is a gift many take for granted. The existence of attachment theory and this strange situation proves that is not as simple as letting go and just allowing yourself to be – though this is the first step.

Attachment and detachment remind me of the Yin and Yang symbol; you cannot have one without the other. Being exposed to negative experiences with vulnerability in our impressionable years can leave scars, even if it was not a direct experience. Simply hearing about a negative experience can lead us to decide, “well if it happened to X, I definitely don’t want it happening to me” and then we spend our lives avoiding situations that *may* lead to that outcome.

In the extreme, we become dysfunctionally detached, unwilling to ever allow ourselves the room to try to be open to new experiences involving vulnerability. We build impenetrable boundaries, become self-reliant to prevent hurt, and tell ourselves we are doing it to ensure we are never caught in delusions like X, or hurt by a particular situation again.

I’d tell you to trust me because I can list experiences where that was my conclusion, but if you found yourself agreeing to the things I said before, you probably wouldn’t trust me anyway. (This is slightly awkward now). But I bring this up to point out just how flawed this thinking can be.

Exploring the benefits of finding the balance between attachment and detachment in relationships, whether with family or friends

“Regardless of the potential dangers of letting down our guard and sharing ourselves deeply with another, to truly flourish in our lives, we need to open ourselves up to the joys–as well as the perils–of intimate relationships. True, trusting others not to exploit what we share with them may at times be a leap of faith. But without taking such risks, our existence can easily end up feeling sterile and unsatisfying.”

According to Dr. Scheltzer:

I could have easily missed out on building a relationship with one of my best friends from high school due to my need to be detached from everyone. Now, I can laugh at our argument from back then but viewing it from a different perspective, I had no right to ever approach her in such a manner.

I am very grateful that she stood up to me and demanded to be treated better, simply because she deserved to be. We all have valid reasons for not being willing to make ourselves vulnerable. But we must realize that while we are detached in order to protect ourselves, we may be doing someone else harm.

Using Discernment To Find A Balance

The same damage we are running from, we may be inadvertently inflicting on someone else. This is what I realized in that situation, and a few others later on in life. That phrase the internet likes to throw around, “you either live long enough to be the hero or see yourself become the villain” is very applicable here. This is not to say you should blatantly trust human beings; We generally do not have a good track record of being the best (cats are firmly number one – unless you’re a dog person).

Utilizing discernment becomes important. Discernment is a tool we all must become well versed in, keeping in mind to exclude ego where necessary. This is not something we can pick up overnight, especially if we must exclude ego. We are being asked to assess another human being’s character without judgment; we are bound to make some mistakes, but like all things, practice makes things easier.

The extreme opposite of being dysfunctionally detached is simply dysfunctionally attached. This involves being attached to the point where our entire purpose is consumed by how we are viewed by the people around us. Our vulnerability becomes our undoing. With so much of our validation dependent on how people perceive us and if our emotions and feelings are reciprocated by anyone around us, it becomes impossible to accept our own validations as truth. Being accepted is a wonderful feeling but when we compromise our morals and beliefs in order to accommodate another person, we lose sight of our own identity.

Seeking Validation From Friendships

I spent parts of my childhood seeking external validation from my friends. It was probably one of my hardest times. I did my utmost to please them and lost myself in the process. I realize now that these friendships existed to serve their egos, and it took me years before I realized that my worth and value would never be recognized by them regardless of how much we grew and forgave the past transgressions.

Our friendship had been built on my sacrifices and things I had to give up to satisfy them. As much as they claimed to love me, I doubted they respected me for me. Being able to recognize and admit this truth to myself was hard because in those moments I thought they were genuine friendships. Compromising my authenticity was a great transgression against self-expression, something that I continue to struggle with today.

Detaching From Attachment

Attachment and detachment are similar to yin and yang to me because finding balance in them bring harmony into your life. Allowing emotional attachments to occur in a way that does not have it consume or manipulate your self-expression and does not induce anxiety is the main goal. Being able to support your own upliftment is essential to positive psychological growth. We do, however, have to recognize that having others around us who share similar mindsets are critical to that one part that still seeks companionship.

The benefits of attachment/detachment are numerous. Learning to strike the balance between the two can only see us become stronger. Vulnerability is not a sin. It is a strength that we all can learn to harness. I know it is easy to say this but to actually practice it is going to be hard. It will be one of the hardest lessons to learn because our emotions and feelings are the ones that are on the line.

I cannot promise that it will be smooth most of the time. Instead, it might be filled with bumps and bruises along the way. After a while, once we learn how to trust ourselves and our ability to be discerning, we will reap the rewards of being able to master the two ends of a very wide spectrum.

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