For me, detachment is a recovery "permission" I give myself regarding any person or situation I want to control, but can not.

For example, I cannot control another person's behavior, so I must practice detachment.

To be more specific, my ex-wife has no desire for the two of us to be friends. As much as I'd like for us to be friends, we aren't. I can not control my ex-wife into being friends with me. So I must detach from that situation. I must cease to invest emotional energy into wanting and wishing the situation would change. I can still act friendly toward her, I can still want her to be friendly toward me, but by detaching, I let go of the outcome. I let go of the mental agony of trying to figure out how we can become friends. I let go of worrying about a situation that is beyond my control.

Here's another example. In the town where I live in Florida, there is heavy "seasonal" automobile traffic during the winter months. Each winter, the so-called snow-birds migrate to South Florida's warm climate, clogging the roads, driving too slowly, driving in the left-hand lane, and in general, getting in the way of the local drivers. For many years, I complained, whined, criticized, honked, gave dirty looks, and felt entirely justified in treating out-of-town drivers with rude contempt.

But I have learned to detach from this situation. I can't control it. Complaining doesn't help. Being rude certainly doesn't help. It's the perfect situation for me to practice my recovery. It's a great way to find serenity in the face of complete powerlessness.

Maybe the best definition of detachment is accepting my powerlessness over another person, situation, or thing.

Also, I've learned what detachment is not.

Detachment is not an excuse for treating another person cruelly. For example, detachment is not banishing someone from my life who fails to live up to my expectations.

Detachment is not withdrawing emotional support or intentionally setting boundaries to create conflict and strife.

continue story below

Detachment is not another form of denial, in which I pretend a real problem in my life is non-existent.

Healthy detachment acknowledges the problem, accepts powerlessness over it, and chooses to no longer invest needless emotional energy into the problem.

Detachment is the healthy alternative to obsessing about a matter or seeking to manipulate or control a situation into conforming with my perception of what is best.

Where problems with people or significant relationships are concerned, detachment is giving the problem to God, who does have power. I step aside so God can solve the problem to the ultimate benefit of everyone involved, including me. It may take years for me to see God's plan unfold, so I must detach from seeking to control the timing as well.

In God's time, in God's way, by God's grace, to God's glory, the situation will be resolved.

If someone's problem is causing me harm or endangering me in some way, then I must detach. But I must also do what is necessary to protect myself. It may mean leaving that person (not abandoning), seeking an intervention (with professional help), or getting legal help. Again, detachment is not the denial of pain—detachment is always an action or a decision that brings me relief from the pain.

Detachment releases my attention and focus from a troubling problem, person, or situation over which I am powerless, and turns my focus and my attention to changing the things I can change.

Detachment leads me back to serenity.

next: The Calm Center

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, November 15). Detachment, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 23 from

Last Updated: August 8, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

More Info