Parenting and the Art of Detachment

Parental feelings against a disordered eater. As parents of someone struggling with disordered eating, one of your greatest tools to cope with the stresses that come up will be the tool of “Detachment”. Hearing this word may bring to mind images of cold, steely indifference. In fact, detachment is anything but that. Quite simply, detachment is the ability to see the limits of our power over other people, places and things.

We can love others, but we do not have the power to control their lives. That power rests within each of us as self-determining individuals. Detaching from a loved one who is struggling to overcome an eating disorder will involve examining our own anxiety and powerlessness in watching someone we love make choices that are harmful.

Detaching will feel strange and uncomfortable if we are so used to being overly emotionally enmeshed with others. In our interactions with those from whom we need to detach we will be actively practicing “holding our tongue”. Where previously we might have offered advice, or issued threats or bullying tactics in order to get our loved one to act in the way “we want them to”, now, with the tool of detachment, we will acknowledge that the power to change rests within our loved one, and we will make statements acknowledging that. Detachment also means allowing others the dignity to create their own life and reality. It is a paradox, but the more we take our hands off of another persons life and give them the “space” to make their own choices, the more they will step up and begin to take responsibility for their own actions. Building detachment as an element of character takes determination and effort but the rewards are worth it. Detachment will transform the way we experience and express love and concern. Previously we saw co-dependent over involvement as love.

All the major religions speak of the quality of detachment as a manifestation of love. In Buddhism it is the experience of equanimity. In Christianity, it called being in the world but not of the world. When we disengage our emotions from the actions of our loved one that is practicing detachment. Detachment also means focusing more on our own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Often, in being overly emotionally enmeshed with a loved one, we have lost sight of ourself and have become completely consumed with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of our loved one.

Beth Burton-Krahn, CEDRIC Counsellor

Posted in: Relationship with Others

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  1. S January 23, 2007

    I wanted to thank you for keeping me on the “article list” as once a month it seems to be a gentle reminder to be good to myself. I look forward to reading it and I can usually find something that really resonates with me and this month was no different.

    While reading Beth’s article on Detachment, I became acutely aware that she was speaking directly to me. Not because I have a child suffering with disordered eating, but because I have a 17 year old son who is making some really bad choices right now that I have taken on as my own. His mistakes have become black marks against me somehow. I feel like it is my fault and I am the only one that will be able to fix them. I will stay up all night worrying on my next move while he lies peacefully sleeping in his bed…not a care in the world. After reading that article, I realize I need to detach in order for him to grow and in order for me to sleep (note* it is 4:30 a.m. when I am writing this) At this point, I am not sure how I can do that but a good start is by reading Beth’s article 6 more times so I fully understand what part I own (if any) in this mess.

    Thanks again for popping in every month. It helps me slow down and listen. I find I have been so insecure in my own self that I have been asking anyone who will listen for their advice. I still need advice but perhaps I have the answers all along and I just don’t want to listen.

    Keep up the great work ladies, it really makes a difference.


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