The alternative to control

What’s the alternative to control? Detachment. Just one word, but potentially the most challenging concept many of us will ever have dealt with. Just the associations of the word may feel cold or unloving. And yet, practising detachment is the most loving thing we can do for ourselves and those around us.

The concept is not new, but one that is studied and practised in many therapeutic circles, including 12 step meetings and co-dependency recovery circles. Essentially, it means working out where you end, and other people begin. It means recognising what belongs to us, and what is someone else’s. It can also mean letting go of an outcome, once we’ve put all our effort into working towards a particular goal.

What does detachment look like?

Although we will all experience this differently, detachment for you might mean some of the following:

  • Letting our child feel and express their emotions without leaping in to suggest a solution
  • Allowing our spouse to start a business we think doesn’t have a hope in hell of succeeding
  • Allowing an uncomfortable feeling to exist in a friendship without always being the one to apologise in an attempt to “fix” the situation

Essentially, it means dropping our desire to control or fix another person, situation or outcome. It means acknowledging that we don’t always know what’s right for someone else, or what journey they may have to go on to learn. Sometimes, helping people all the time robs them of the opportunity to grow and change by themselves. It may also put us in an uncomfortable parent/child-type relationship, which works for neither us nor the person we think we’re showing the light.

How do we detach?

First, we need to become aware when we’re doing the opposite – ie controlling. It can be helpful to set an hourly timer on our phone initially – you might be surprised at the number of things you’re trying to control without being aware of it! Jot them down. An example might look something like this:

9am: Tried to make my son feel guilty for not doing his fair share of the housework by sighing as I was washing up

10am: I keep sending emails to see if the publisher has read my manuscript yet

11am: Put lots of makeup on before the interview to try and make people think I look polished

12pm: Made myself eat something from every food group.

1pm: Bought a supplement I saw advertised on Facebook that’s meant to make me feel calmer

2pm: Texted my friend back a few days after she did – I want us to communicate less often

3pm: shouted at my children for the 10th time to get off their screens.

Etc etc.

This isn’t something you should beat yourself up about. If anything, it might hopefully make you smile to realise how often we all try and control people and things that we have no business (or ability) to change.

Once you’re aware of what you are trying to control – the next step is letting it go. This means we either:

Mentally detach (say to ourselves “universe, I’m releasing control of this situation now – you can do what you think is right” – then focus on something else).

Physically detach (walk away from a person or situation. This may also mean staying silent or not reacting when we might previously have responded in the past).

More on detachment in the next post…

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