Learning to Detach Helps with Anxiety

Anxiety can make you want to control, but learning to detach can bring peace. Perhaps you care too much and it’s time to let go.

She was holding on tightly. Too tightly. It was care, it was love, but in that embrace, she was suffocating the life out of the other, and destroying peace in herself.

She was not allowing the other to find their way through the pains of growth.

I know what it’s like. You become so emotionally attached to someone that they are glued to your soul. In a good sense, its love, but on the dark side, it can lead to control, manipulation, anxiety, worry, and fear. 

You see their warts, and you want to fix, rescue, or save them.

A heartbeat of anxiety pounds within your head and worry flows around you.

You’re consumed by it, but you know that there is nothing you can do. You’ve tried to control, manipulate, and bribe compliance, but the more you do this, the greater the anxiety grows. You try to take power over the situation, but it only backfires in your face.

There is a time to detach

I’ve noticed in these times of fear that a quiet invitation to detach comes. To let go that which I have been clasping on to.

I think that the best way I can describe this healthy form of detachment might be in two metaphors and a parable.

Space vehicles
I see the image of the Apollo rocket and its vehicle detaching. Joined through an airlock, there is a free flow of people and supplies. But there comes a time when they have to detach. One lets the other one go. It’s quiet and seamless. The other may not even know there has been a detachment, but there is a knowing that there will be a return.

I see myself letting go.

The release in the dance

Two dancers joined together. Hand to hand, eye to eye, waist to waist. There’s a closeness and a connection, but then comes a moment when one dancer is released to perform another movement. There is a healthy detachment with the hope of return.

Loving the prodigal

It’s a story with many layers, but in the parable of the Loving Father (Prodigal Son), we see a loving father releasing his son to go his own way. Its a detachment. He is letting the son go.

There is the hope of a return, but it’s not certain. The father is not dependant on a son’s approval or love for him to have peace. The father hopes and looks for the son to learn something about his very own loving and secure nature.

The son enters the darkness to return to the light.

Healthy and unhealthy detachment

Healthy detachment comes with love for the other and yourself. You realize that holding on is not helping them learn. It’s not helping you find peace. Your protecting them is not allowing them to learn from the natural consequences.

Unhealthy detachment comes with selfishness. It’s all about you and getting your needs met your way. You have no concern for them at all. Its the opposite of love, its indifference.

Poet or a chessplayer?

One of my favorite quotes is this.

“Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.”  G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

What he is saying that if you live your life like a chessplayer where you are trying to control all the pieces and manipulate an outcome, then it’s going to be very stressful and anxiety forming.

Whereas, a poet finds creative freedom by being attached to the ‘imagination.’

A prayer of release

Detaching requires wisdom. A knowing that it’s going to be ok on the other side.

This knowing is discovered through practice. The more you learn to let go, the greater you learn that you will be ok. That someone greater is still holding your hand.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr serenity prayer is a prayer of release and detachment. Its a prayer you might like to pray whenever those feelings of anxiety well up.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Reinhold Niebuhr

Anxiety can make you want to control, but learning to detach can bring peace. Perhaps you care too much and its time to let go.

Quotes to consider

  • If some problems have no adequate explanations, and never will have, then we must come to grips with confusion and learn to live in mystery.   Larry Crabb
  • Don’t try to change others, work on yourself instead. Your response to others is always your responsibility, and the right response ensures respect all round. David Riddell
  • If I am not for myself who is for me? And being for my own self, what am ‘I’? And if not now, when? Hillel the Elder
  • I’ve got this thing in my heart
    I must give you today
    It only lives when you
    Give it away.
    Bruce Cockburn

Questions to answer

  1. What feelings emerge when you consider letting go and detaching?
  2. Who is in control?
  3. Are you more the Chessplayer or more the Poet?

Further reading

Letting go by Anna Johnstone

A Simple Way That God Cares For Your Worn Out Soul

Does ‘Turning the other cheek’ mean I have to keep taking abuse?

Barry Pearman

Image cc: Natalie Grainger