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Emotional Detachment: What is it? And how is it accomplished?

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lordhasaplan? posted 6/6/2012 09:56 AM

From experience as a first class codependent I can say for months I struggled in the wake of the infidelity to find a place and way to detach and care for myself. Emotionally detaching from a dead marriage and abusive marriage can be extremely difficult. I heard from many on SI to develop indifference and detach. Learning to detach is vital if you ever hope to regain your health, happiness, sanity and sense of oneself. I believe this is an essential and healthy step in the process of recovery from this trauma.
Emotionally detaching requires that you change many of your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. Detaching is about disarming your spouse’s control over your happiness by eradicating his or her ability to hurt you. Before I began to detach, I needed to change my view and accept the following:

1. Love does not conquer all. What we have experienced through a relationship involving infidelity isn’t love; it’s abuse. You can love and let go, you can love and protect yourself.

2. You can’t fix or rescue someone from being abusive, sick, dysfunctional and lost in their own highly distorted reality. In fact, trying to rescue usually backfires and hurts you. The more you try to rescue, the more you will be hurt and emotionally abused.

3. This was really hard for me to get, but there is truth in this. You give your spouse the power to hurt you. When I finally detached her actions reflected her, hurt her, were not a reflection of me, or hurt me anymore.

4. You’re not responsible for your spouse’s happiness, failures, shortcomings or bad behaviors.

5. Continuing to hope for the best from someone who consistently gives you the worst is a set-up for more pain and disillusionment.
There’s no shame in admitting that you need to walk away from a relationship that’s destructive and toxic. It’s vital that you begin to develop a rational perspective and distance yourself from an ongoing hurtful relationship that you can neither control nor change. Many people remain in abusive relationships well beyond a point of personal pain and devastation that defies reason. You need to come back to your senses and see your partner for who she is and your part in it.

Here are some detachment techniques that worked for me:

1. I focused on being solely responsible for my own well-being and happiness. I would catch myself when you begin to have thought that centered on her, “If only she could . . . If only she would . . .” and knock it off. Coulda, woulda, shoulda is the language of codependency and hurt. This mindset keeps you in a beaten down phase and makes it easier for an abusive spouse to control you. Take back the control by meeting your own needs by making different choices and acting on them. By focusing inward for solutions and happiness I would focus on what I needed to be happy and protected in those moments. I found those thoughts were tied to my feelings of doubt in myself and reoriented my focus back to me and what I needed in that moment.

2. I worked on accepting that I can’t fix, change, rescue, save, make someone else happy or love someone enough to make them whole. Don’t just pay lip service to this. Really wrap your brain around the fact that as long as you’re in a dysfunctional relationship, no matter what you do, it will never be good enough. Understand that no matter how much you do for your spouse; they will always expect and demand more. Acknowledge that the more you appease, compromise and forgo your own needs; the more entitled, demanding and ungrateful they’ll be. I know for many of us we gave so much that it allowed the abuse, in fact set the selfish entitled mentality of our spouses to go unchecked.

3.I had to eliminate the emotional and mental hooks to my spouse or marriage. A hook is typically an emotional, psychological or physical stake that you have in the other person or the relationship. For example, for me GUILT is a big hook that kept me mentally connected to the relationship. I had many thoughts of “I’d feel guilty if I left because of its impact on my son etc.” Other hooks include shame (e.g., of failing or not being strong enough), loss of status (e.g., being perceived as a nice or good guy), loss of material assets or access to children, perfectionism and your own need to control others, situations and outcomes. Once you can step back and let go of these notions and outcomes you realize they are false notions and only serve to provide power to a dysfunctional relationship. Fact is we can all have healthy relationships and lives without these hooks, they serve as heavy anchors that tie us to a poor relationship.

4. I had to focus on “DOING” for myself. Do something that removes you from the abuse and centers you. Meditate, exercise, read, walk, or whatever your version of centering is. Create pockets of sanity and safety with friends and family or physical spaces like your office, the gym. Find activities that will take you out of the line of fire and minimize your exposure to the abuse. Find a hobby or activity that makes you feel good about yourself and restores your confidence and esteem.

These are a few of my detaching strategies, Do any of the vets have others? I know this was a hard concept to grasp let alone enact in the wake of the infidelity. I hope this helps others focus on a few things or ideas that might help.

UR_AN_IDIOT posted 6/6/2012 10:52 AM

Good information.

JanaGreen posted 6/6/2012 10:56 AM

This is wonderful, thank you.

BelleStar posted 6/6/2012 11:30 AM

Great post! It really spoke to me and my need to emotionally detach.

I remember a line from a movie where the young girl finally figures things out and tells the goblin king who is begging her to believe in him and do as he says and she looks at him and says "You have no power over me" and his world shatters.

I want to figure all this out and be able to look at him and realize he really doesn't have any power over me and tell him so!

2oldforthis posted 6/6/2012 15:04 PM

This is a very good post.

and at times it is totally necessary to save yourself from more hurt.

and thank you!

[This message edited by 2oldforthis at 3:04 PM, June 6th (Wednesday)]

beachbunny posted 6/6/2012 16:29 PM

Thank you so much, I cried as I read this. This is me. I tried so hard, I'm glad I did, I worked on myself relentlessly, which ended up shoring up my self esteem, but of course, fixing "me" doesn't fix WH or my marriage.

It has taken me all of my 41 years to get to the point of accepting things & grieving relationships that are unhealthy. It hurts so much when you try so hard & you love someone so much, but you have to let them go because they are just constantly hurting you...both intentionally & not...

Betrayed60453 posted 6/6/2012 18:07 PM

Well said. Affairs are abusive and You can't fix someone. If you don't get hurt more, they just push you further away as they struggle with reality, a struggle made exponentially worse by the people they surround themselves with who explicitly or implicitly condone that warped version of reality they're trapped in.

#5 in the first group reminds me of the saying, "insanity is doing the same thing & expecting different results.". That's why I sister MC...obviously didn't work the first time.

Of your recommendations, #s2 & 4 hit home for me. The more I gave the less she did, which in turn made it easier to detach. As for 4, you're right on...find something you love, maybe something you couldn't do during the relationship and pursue old hobby, a new one, just anything that is for you. So many of us BSs are givers & fixers it feels odd at first, but you need something for you.

Exit Wounds posted 6/7/2012 11:15 AM

I REALLY think this should be in the Healing Library!
You may want to ask one of the mods about it.

lordhasaplan? posted 6/7/2012 11:34 AM

I apprecite that. It's something many of us struggle with but really never discuss the how. I was hoping by starting this with my ruminations other veteran SI posters might add their methods that worked to help detach as well. That way we can help those with ideas that worked for us.

Exit Wounds posted 6/8/2012 08:15 AM

LHAP, thanks, I know it helped me tremendously!

Heavy Sigh posted 6/8/2012 08:35 AM

I agree that No. 2 and No. 4 are the main points.

No. 2: Let go of the outcome. Set your sails in the right direction but stop baling water out of the boat to save it, when you're the only one trying.

No.4: My analogy: Put on your life jacket and put life jackets on the kids. Do things for yourself and the kids, and plan for what is best for them if the worst happens in the marriage. Either the WS starts baling the water out of a sinking marriage, or doesn't, but you'll survive and you'll have the kids' backs.

Action for oneself (the No. 4, expecially) helps with detaching. Pushing a WS and begging and pleading and waiting for change fuels obsession and isn't healthy for a BS.

[This message edited by Heavy Sigh at 8:43 AM, June 8th (Friday)]

TellitLikeItIs posted 6/8/2012 08:59 AM

Thank you ... I REALLY needed this today. You reminded me of why I'm trying so hard to change my unhealthy thought patterns and behaviours centered around "saving", fixing and hoping.
I'm printing this off and carrying it around with me so that I stay strong and focused on my commitment to myself this time around!

used2bestrong posted 6/8/2012 09:01 AM

Thanks, lordhasaplan. Great thoughts. I think that time spent with an unremorseful WS also helps with detachment. It has with me. I see who he really is more clearly now and I know that I don't want to be with the kind of person who could hurt me so deeply and not give a damn.

m334455 posted 6/8/2012 11:34 AM

You feel out of control because of your spouse's behavior so you try to control your spouse... but you can only control yourself. Realizing this helps.

Living in the moment. The past is over. The future may not come...

Realize that your spouse has the right to be whoever they want to be -- and you have the right to disapprove and do something about your disapproval.

Be gentle with yourself and know it takes time and you will not succeed every moment of every day.

lordhasaplan? posted 6/11/2012 08:45 AM

I think that time spent with an unremorseful WS also helps with detachment.

No doubt, I think it accelerates you ability to lock into yourself. Focus on your needs and allows you to see them for the hurtful persons they are.

Living in the moment. The past is over. The future may not come...

Amen, very hard to do for me for about 9 months. Focus on the moment, what’s to be enjoyed there, how this present focus changes your ability to enjoy life again is immeasurable.

jjct posted 6/11/2012 09:36 AM

lhap, this is a most helpful post. It sums up the process of detachment quite well.
My favorite part, that spoke to me:

By focusing inward for solutions and happiness I would focus on what I needed to be happy and protected in those moments. I found those thoughts were tied to my feelings of doubt in myself and reoriented my focus back to me and what I needed in that moment.

I found those feelings- of trying to find me & my happiness - tied to fear.
& that goes to an additional 'mental hook' (#3)
- of loneliness
- will I find another?
Also, not as much in my sitch, but another common 'fear hook' is fear of losing
- children
- possessions (houses, cars, insurance, retirement, etc.)

I love how your post has the overall theme of focusing within. Especially in abusive relationships, we are trained to focus and tend to the others needs & neglect our own, and the process of detachment can be hard, but finally focusing within is well worth it!
When you let go of the outcome; changing, fixing, managing, and constant drama-juggling,
it leads to a quiet, peaceful, and happy income.

The only other strategy I can think of is build one of those ginormous catapults and hurl your abuser into the next time zone.

lordhasaplan? posted 6/11/2012 09:45 AM

The only other strategy I can think of is build one of those ginormous catapults and hurl your abuser into the next time zone.

trebleclef posted 6/11/2012 18:01 PM

Thankyou! Very valuable and timely! Was just discussing this last night - IC mentioned pre-planning a deliberate change of focus onto something else that is important to you when grabbed by thoughts of WS. Eg - " How could WS do this to me?" = signal to pray for ailing father. Says it worked for her when trying to disengage from a relationship with a child predator. Worth trying.

takingtime posted 6/11/2012 18:20 PM

Great post. I really needed this right now. My WS is still in his "fog" and I have been trying to 180 but I have fallen so many times. Anytime he has seemed to give even a tiny bit I have fallen for it only to be hurt again. I will read this and read this until I am able to really emotionally detach myself. I do have to realize that I cannot fix my WS I can only fix myself. Thank you so much for such a great post!

woundedby2 posted 6/12/2012 00:55 AM

Excellent post, lhap.

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