There is “detach with love” and then there is “disengage with compassion.”
You haven’t heard of the second one? That’s because I’ve only recently developed it. Here’s why:
During my years in Al-Anon, where I first heard the phrase, I always struggled with the “detach with love” concept. For some reason it felt difficult for me to access. The idea of loving someone and simultaneously detaching from them felt contradictory.
I tried though. I tried to detach and remain loving. I tried to love and divest myself of the desire for an outcome. I tried to detach from any hope or prayer, while offering love. It didn’t work. Love, by its nature, meant I was invested. Perhaps it would have been easier if it wasn’t my spouse I was trying to detach from. Maybe a distant cousin or acquaintance would have been easier to love without investment. So, I gave it a lot of lip service, but in the end, I could never get my head or heart around the concept of detaching from someone I loved.
Perhaps is semantics. But for me, it mattered.
In the end, I was only able to detach when I turned my love on myself. I suddenly realized the most loving thing I could do was to entirely detach from the sick/addicted person in my life, because it wasn’t loving toward me – or them.
Loving them wasn’t helping them get better, and it was slowly killing me. So, I did the loving thing and loved myself enough to leave. I detached. That was the only time I felt I could detach and be loving simultaneously. The difference was the focus of my love: I was loving myself.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve come up with a variation on the theme that actually works for me and my clients, with whom I’ve shared this concept.
Disengage with compassion.
Love never enters the equation, therefore it’s never called into question whether you love the person or not. It’s not about love; It’s about compassion. And it’s easier to be compassionate when you disengage from the drama-trauma cycle
Disengaging means you can stay in the situation and feel empowered to choose the behaviors you wish to interact with. If they’re unhealthy, or unloving, you can choose to no longer engage them. Furthermore, you can do so with compassion.
Compassion looks like holding space for the other person to do what they’re doing without judgment by you. Compassion looks like holding your own boundaries and respecting theirs. Compassion looks like understanding, without expectation. Compassion doesn’t require you to invest in the other person or the hope that their behavior will change. Compassion helps you to remain neutral during challenging times.
So, if, like me, you have ever gotten stuck with the “push-pull” essence of “detach with love,” I suggest you try disengaging with compassion. You may find the simple word shift empowering.