Understanding detachment

The original idea of detachment comes from Eastern mystical traditions, non-attachment being a basic idea in Buddhism, which entered the Western mentality in the second half of the twentieth century, and in this twenty-first century, through another idea Originally Buddhist, mindfulness, is spreading massively at great speed, with the obvious danger that this entails: misinterpretations, mercantilism, ideas drawn from its context, adaptations to the Western lifestyle that are rather deformations of the original concept, etc . We must remember that all this doctrine of mindfulness and also of detachment is engendered in spiritual, even monastic, environments, seeking enlightenment. That’s why I want to expose some ideas about the real meaning of detachment.


Detachment is the opposite of attachment, it is lack of attachment. And attachment, is an affective, powerful and lasting bond, established between two people, directly related to empathy, fluid communication between people and of course with love. Attachment is a biological characteristic, because it brings us closer to the one we know understands us, supports us, gives us security, etc. It appears in childhood with respect to parents, which the child sees as protective and loving figures, who are always there for him. But it also appears in adult relationships, as the adult continues to value, but not to the level of need of the child, a security, emotional support, someone who is there unconditionally, having someone like that is of great value to anyone.

Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988) considers that creating stable intimate emotional bonds with particular individuals is a basic component of human nature, already present germ in the newborn and continuing through adulthood to old age. Psychologically, a relationship with attachment in the adult can take several forms, from a relationship of friendship to a romantic relationship. In addition, one also distinguishes between attachment with security and attachment with insecurity (Cindy Hazan, Phillip Shaver, 1980).

The relationship with attachment and security is based on positive opinions of the person about himself, about his partner and their relationship, both are comfortable with both the intimacy and the independence they leave each other, balancing the two vital aspects. On the other hand, in relationships with attachment and insecurity, there is a fear, an insecurity, a lack of confidence that makes the person suffer when it seems that the relationship weakens, even if it is a false impression, which leads to want to control, tie To the other, to take away independence for fear of losing him. Obviously, this latter form of attachment usually results in relationships with a good deal of suffering, while attachment securely reveals itself as a healthy relationship, as many studies seem to confirm.

The relationship with attachment and security is based on positive opinions of the person about himself, about his partner and their relationship, both are comfortable with both the intimacy and the independence they leave each other, balancing the two vital aspects. On the other hand, in relationships with attachment and insecurity, there is a fear, an insecurity, a lack of confidence that makes the person suffer when it seems that the relationship weakens, even if it is a false impression, which leads to want to control, tie to the other, to take away independence for fear of losing him. Obviously, this latter form of attachment usually results in relationships with a good deal of suffering, while attachment securely reveals itself as a healthy relationship, as many studies seem to confirm.

Attachment and intimacy

Intimacy in a relationship implies that the person reveals something important about himself, opens himself to the other, the person feels validated, understood and cared for, and so naturally there is an attachment to that person with whom we know we can trust our privacy. The person knows that he can reveal his true thoughts, experiences, feelings, desires and fears without fear of rejection or criticism, is entrusted to care and emotional support, may even lead to the will to engage in physical intimacy in the case of potential romantic couples.

A series of studies (Collins and Feeney) show how each style of attachment relates in a different way to the willingness to self-revelation, willingness to trust, and willingness to engage in physical intimacy. The secure attachment style is usually related to more self-disclosure, more trust in peers, and more physical intimacy than other attachment styles in which fear of loss, and therefore some mistrust, makes its appearance.

In short, attachment in the human being, when healthy, that is, without fear, without dysfunctional dependencies, is a relationship of trust, enriching, a knowledge that there is someone available in whom to trust, permanently, stable. It is a safe value, so to speak. So when we talk about detachment, we are referring to avoid insecure attachment. Is true that a enlightened person, a Buddha, don’t need even the secure attachment, but who can say is enlightened now a days?

Detachment misunderstood

Here are some examples that misinterpret the concept, copied from some web sites.

When love blossoms completely, everything simply is. The fear of tomorrow does not arise and, therefore, there is no place for attachment, dependence, marriage or any kind of contract, binding.

Here we have a mess between transcendent, spiritual love, attachment, and everyday love; identifies attachment with fear and dependence, but in any case that may be true when there is attachment with insecurity, the dysfunctional attachment that we have explained. The healthy attachment is entrusted, without fear, the person feels intimately united with another. As for the idea of dependence, taken to the extreme, implies that we are told not to depend on anyone, and that is absurd, life is relationship, it is dependency, we need each other; Again, there is dependence healthy and insane, dysfunctional, there has to be a balance, and in attachment with confidence we have that balance.

Attachment is the desire to never change the couple.

Healthy attachment is no desire for anything, it is rather a relationship of trust, well established. It is clear that we are human, and we can make mistakes, and trust to get lost, but we do not think about it, we are confident, living and enjoying the person.

Love does not know attachment, because love does not know the possibility of losing dignity.

The transcendent love, of which we will speak later, has no object, it simply is, and then it is true that there is no attachment to anyone. But when we touch the ground and manifest love here in Earth, we materialize the love towards other people, and we also receive it from others, it is human and natural that the attachment to the beloved appears to be perceived as of great value for us. So this quote, true for a mystical, non-dual, global love, simply has no meaning in relation to others.

Love is universal. Once your understanding of love flourishes, there is no place for attachment. You can continue to change partners, but that does not mean that you are abandoning anyone. You may come back with the same couple again; There is no place for prejudice.

Again the same mess of confusing love itself, transcendent, with love manifested; following the letter of this statement as a slogan you can not trust that the person is there available, you are as gone, blown, jumping from flower to flower as the wind blows, which by the way, is usually the wind of desire: you join who you are interested in then, then you fly to another place. Surely there can be no attachment, not even the healthy, because you can not trust that person, may be today, but probably will not last too long, because it is uprooted.

The right meaning of loving with detachment

Let us return to the original source of the concept of detachment. Buddha about intimate relationships felt that a man and a woman in a loving and supportive relationship are like a pairing of a god and a goddess. He encouraged people to participate in relationships and enjoy them to their full extent, are wonderful opportunities to practice loving kindness, generosity and mutual support. Therefore, a committed long-term commitment is all the more an opportunity to deepen the understanding and cultivation of these qualities. What a huge difference from the slogans we have discussed before!

The problem is not to stick with the loved one, it is to be attached in an erroneous, dysfunctional way, as we have pointed out. Let us ask ourselves: to what extent am I using the love of my partner to fill a void in my own love and acceptance of myself? A truly healthy individual is one who is complete by himself, and does not need to depend on anything or anyone to feel whole and content. But that does not mean that we must go alone, isolate ourselves from others, or flee from stable relationships out of fear of dependency. It is simply not to depend on someone or something external to me as a necessary condition for my happiness.

That is the ideal: to love without feeling that you need the other. Sure, it’s great to know what the ideal is, but very few people are actually there, because it is necessary to be enlightened to really be so. But the fact is almost nobody is enlightened. We all have moments when we find feelings of loneliness, inadequacy or insecurity. It is a very normal human response to try to compensate for these unpleasant feelings by using someone else’s love to cover them. And here comes compassion, understood as an understanding of our weakness.

So. let’s not get caught up in ideologies of what attachment should or should not be, what is right or wrong. Let us not lose sight of the forest through the trees. A healthy relationship with a partner, is by nature where we open ourselves completely to another person, is a great field of work to understand the true nature of self and other. When we lower our defenses and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to another person, we have the opportunity to deeply explore the nature of our own egos, desires, and expectations. We can challenge ourselves to aspire to an enlightened relationship, which is marked by pure, unselfish and unconditional love. What emerges is an association of whole individuals who do not really need each other, but openly give and take loving support from one another. But that is the ideal. We do not force things, otherwise we imagine that we are already there, but in reality we are fleeing from ourselves, we are afraid of being hurt, of being dependent, of being bound. Fear is never, never a good choice. Let us be human, compassionate, and grow at our own pace.


About love and desire

I have written some very short stories, trying to show the radical difference between love and desire, I mean desires in general, not exclusively the sexual one, but others very powerful in our lives, like desire to be loved, to be respected, to be free, to receive, and so. As all bad writers,I needed to use real facts conveniently changed, due to my lack of literary creativity.  At the end, I have included a comment about the conclusions we can make about all of it. Let’s go!


The beautiful couple


Liz Taylor & Martini’s boy

He was a very handsome sixteen boy, those who knew him said he seemed an Italian playboy, and she was only thirteen, and was the nicest girl of the neighborhood, those who knew her said she seemed the actress Liz Taylor when she was very young. They met for first time at a dance, it was first seeing love. She thought he was so handsome and strong, he thought she was so sweet and beautiful. They dated for seven years and eventually got married.

First problems arise just in the honeymoon, and were increasing, but even so they had their first son a year after being married. Which problems arise? Basically, he expected a certain behavior from her, never happened, and viceversa. Their inner desires, never expressed clearly, perhaps partly unconscious, never fulfilled. As a result: increasing frustration. In the following years the relationship became more and more damaged, hurting children of course. Eventually they became separated at their middle age.


The sisters

Perfect sisters movie

Perfect sisters movie

She was six years old when was born their sister, an event that caused an extraordinary illusion to her. She loves to help her mother to take care of the sister, and this love continued in the following years, even increased. She used to help her sister in the schoolwork, also she loved to play with her young sister. Their parents were delighted: so very nice sisters! Is not usual to see such behaviour, on the contrary, many times brothers and sisters are competitive, even rude among them.

When the young sister reached puberty, their behavior towards her older sister started to go wrong. It was inexplicable for the older, what happened? Sometimes the young ridiculed the old, sometimes ignored her, even sometimes she showed envious of her achievements. And things went worse with time. But the old sister resisted, and kept their loving behavior towards her. As a result, she became damaged a lot of times. When the old sister got married, the young aim was to sow discord between their parents and the sister’s husband, conspiring, talking bad about him, and she was successful. At a consequence, the old loving sister had bitter arguments with their parents. At last, the old sister had to accept that she could not continue in such way. Now both sister never speak, they ignore each other, even in family celebrations. And their relationship with parents, even with her husband, were damaged.


The boss and the assistant

The assistant movie

The assistant movie

He was a middle aged man, with an intermediate position in a large company, also a good marriage, and a good economic position. All his workmates love him due their always positive attitude, also thanks he love to help others. As a boss, he loves try to help their employees to develop professionally, almost like a teacher. She was twenty six years old when she started to work as assistant of the man. It was her second job after finish their studies. She was brilliant, and quickly she learnt the teachings of the boss about the company. They hit it off from the start. Even she invited him go skiing with her friends, an invitation he had to reject due his wife not skiing at all.

Eventually she fell in love with him, and gradually started to send “signals” to him, a usual behaviour in this situation, especially when one of the partners are married.  But he didn’t notice any signal, convinced about their friendly relationship. Indeed, he also love these woman, but was a friendly love, without any desire of possession. With time, she became frustrated due to the lack of reaction of the man, and started to behaviour bad: at times she didn’t greet him, even she avoid him, she stop to talk with him, even she ask for a transfer to another section. And still the man did not understand what happened: maybe I had made something wrong? The situation damaged him a bit, because he felt rejected for an old good friend, without any explanation. At last he realized what happened. Due to their helping nature, decided to get away from her, even against their feelings, because it was the only way he could help her. At a result, the old good friends and nice workmates didn’t speak anymore, only if necessary, and in a cold and professional way,  and the friendship was broken forever. And the man learned a new lesson: take care about to be too friendly with young single women, better to be cold with them!


Comments and conclusions

There are a common idea behind all this stories; in brief, desires can kill love, on the contrary people think. Is usual to think desire is non separable from love. But is the contrary, indeed. Frequently we think love and desire are almost synonyms. Is not true. I mean selfish desires, of course.  True love can produce desires: ones related with the welfare of beloved one. Is the case of the sisters stories, the old sister loves the young one, wants her welfare, but in this case the young don’t want the love of older, and she is not wrong at all: nobody have the obligation to accept to be loved. So selfish desires within a loving relationship can destroy it. No matter if the relationship is amongst spouses, sisters or brothers, parents and childrens, friends.

When we discover we really are made of Love, then we stop to look for it. Love wants to express, wants to externalize. When a loving person is able to express their love, he becomes blissed. So, he must to be grateful with people that allow him to love them, because through them he can develop himself, he can be who really is. Many times people think the contrary: “whether I love somebody, he must be grateful with me, right?” False, is the contrary, we are the ones who must be grateful when somebody let us love him.