I’ve spent years thinking about this. I’m learning to practice it regularly and often find myself challenged by it. I talk a lot about it with people, our struggle to cultivate balance that works for us. How do we balance investment with detachment? We frequently find ourselves oscillating between the two, trying to find a balance that works for us. We do it with everything- relationships, goals, jobs, conversations, literally everything.
We come across it every day. “I want my kid to be happy. I think a), b), and c) will make him happy.” “I want my friend to have a healthy relationship, but she’s married to an idiot. She’s totally settling.” “The agency I work for isn’t optimizing their marketing tools. They’re selling themselves short!” “My brother isn’t putting enough into his retirement. He’s irresponsible, and he’s going to have to pay for it later.”
I’m far from having found the perfect equation to balancing investment with detachment. I have, however, found a few helpful tools.
Look at how we make meaning: “a), b), and c) will make him happy.” “She’s totally settling.” “He’s irresponsible, and he’s going to have to pay for it later.” These are all assumptions we’ve used to make meaning of someone’s behavior, and we can take it to the next level. “My kid is academically talented. If she applies herself, she’ll have her choice of schools and careers; she’ll feel empowered and confident. She will have a happy and successful life. If I send her to this elementary school and keep her on this track it means that a) I’m a good parent because I want my daughter to be happy and successful and b) she will, in fact, be happy.” It’s pretty hard to detach from the outcome of something you believe makes you a good parent or that will make your child happy. Allowing ourselves some space to explore how we’ve arrived at this meaning helps us reevaluate our process. We can dig around to see how we’ve come to subscribe to our beliefs. Sometimes we’ve been caring around these beliefs and narratives for a lifetime.
It’s common for us to personalize what people do. It can feel almost as though they are doing it at or to us. “If she stops doing this, it means she respects me.” “If he does this, it means he respects me.” We become entrenched in the stories we tell ourselves about what others do. Looking at how we make meaning will allow crucial insight into what we need to do to balance our investment with detachment.
Be honest with ourselves: We can ask ourselves, “Is this for them or me? Why do I feel so unflinchingly passionate about this?” When we look at how we make meaning of something, we also need to practice honesty. Sometimes we’ll come up with the same answer that’s always felt true, “because I love them, and I want them to be happy.” Sometimes we’ll realize that it’s because we’re equating control with love or worthiness. “If they take my advice, it means they love me/that I’m worthy.” or “If I impose my advice, it means I love them.” We can come to many different conclusions. It’s important that we’re curious and honest with ourselves about our intentions. We often tell ourselves that we’re doing something because we love someone. I don’t know about you, but most people I know don’t experience lectures or micromanagement as love. Intellectually, we know that that’s probably where they come from, but it doesn’t give us a felt experience of love.
Practice compassion (with ourselves and others): By looking for reasons and ways to have compassion for ourselves and others we give ourselves space from frustration. When we understand why someone chooses what they choose or behaves in a certain way, it helps us to shift from feeling infuriated to feeling love and patience. It’s another way of making meaning of behavior that depersonalizes someone else’s choices or behavior and replaces it with empathy and understanding.
Ask ourselves how it affects us: Some people and situations affect us more than others. We might not be terribly affected by a sibling’s choice of how they choose to manage their retirement account as we are by the choices made by our employer. Luckily, even when it seems as though there’s no way around the deep effects of someone or something, we have some choices. We have a choice in how much we personalize things or in the perspective with which we align ourselves. I like to ask myself, “How does this affect me?” I like to follow it up with, “What can I do about it?” (which can be a little tricky sometimes because of ideas like lecturing someone or imposing my view seem like viable options. They’re not.) I also like to ask myself, “Am I trying to stop someone from learning from their experiences?” I’ve been surprised by how many times the answer is, “Yep, I definitely am.”
It’s hard to let go of the things that win our investment. But finding our balance between investment and detachment is a precious gift that we give to ourselves and our loved ones.
Love and Be Loved,