Attachment: Learning to Let Go

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As humans we all become attached at some stage in our lives. As children we become attached to our parents and other caregivers. In this scenario, attachment is seen as extremely healthy and necessary for an infant to grow.

According to Attachment theory insecure attachments in childhood can be damaging to children throughout their lives. As adults we may also have patterns of attachment, both at home and in the workplace. We can become attached in many ways.

Attachments come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes we are attached to other people; sometimes we are attached to particular kinds of situations, or substances for example. Obsessive attachments, as we know become, addictions. When these kinds of attachments become obvious in our personal lives, then we will often seek help.

One of the biggest attachments can be our partner, or our beliefs about the way our life should be. I remember coaching an immensely successful and caring man whose marriage had broken up. He was in absolute despair. He was depressed and many months after separation could not get back his motivation, or any zest for life. I suspected that he must miss his wife very much. Surely such depression had come about because he had felt as if he had lost the love of his life? No, he admitted he was no longer in love with his wife. He also felt that they were both in many ways better off without the marriage. After a little while he admitted that a few years ago, he had fallen in love with another woman. He had not pursued this love interest though, because he believed that marriage should last forever.

At that time, his belief served him well and preserved a marriage which he realised had a solid base. But when his wife decided she no longer wanted to be in the marriage; a situation he had no control over. His belief became a big problem for him. His belief that marriage should last forever was literally sapping the life out of him. After a simple reframing of his belief he felt much more optimistic and accepting of his situation.

In the workplace, we can often become attached to a particular culture or a belief about the way things should be done. We can become attached to our perceptions of others and also about how relationships should look in the workplace. People who resist change are usually people who are attached to how things should be.

I have worked with organisations where leaders and managers have become attached to their viewpoints about their employees and their capabilities or lack of them. Or they become attached to an attitude or belief about the information they are receiving.

A number of years ago I worked with a manager, who believed that staff surveys were too much of a snapshot, they gave staff the opportunity to have a dig. They even had the view that only the staff that had a grudge filled in the survey, the more valued workers did not have time to fill in the survey: They were too busy doing “proper” work. This manager was not a new or narrow minded leader as a rule. Indeed he was a specialist and a very credible senior manager. Despite attempts to try to give him a different insight, he preferred to be right and his view prevailed. His survey results never did improve.

In childhood attachment can bring certainty in an uncertain world. As adults, attachments can bring us pain and suffering, when we have to – often with great resistance – detach. Or we have to admit that we perhaps were thinking or believing amiss. We can exacerbate the very uncertainty we are trying to stave off.

Adult attachment in any form is unhealthy, whether it is a belief a person or a habit. Often we don’t even realise we are attached to something or someone, until we have to face physical, emotional, or intellectual change. An attachment is actually a reaction to fear. It’s also human nature, so it’s nothing to feel bad about!

So what is the answer? We all need to form relationships with people and situations. We need to build a framework of beliefs and ideas so we can function. Below are some of the ways we can better navigate through our lives.

  • As we grow into adults we should recognise when we are attached to people and instead reframe this into healthy connections. Connection is a healthy way of relating without the fear base that attachment signifies. We can intimately connect with our very close relationships. As you connect with others you are freer and are more equal.
  • If we are attached to objects and situations, for example your car or buying new dresses every month, or your home. In these situations attachments will only become painful when we are perhaps buying new dresses every month and we lose our job. Or our partner gets a new job and we have to move to Australia and this means giving up the family home. Then we need to reframe our relationship with these things. Explore other options and be open to something different. If we do this in advance of any change, then we keep our minds open and avoid unnecessary pain.
  • We need to let go of our need to be right. Attachment to beliefs, attitudes and ideas can limit our life tremendously. Our reality is shaped by our beliefs. What we focus on becomes our world. By keeping an open mind and being prepared to examine our beliefs and thinking: being prepared to change them when necessary; we keep fresh and open to what life brings.
  • And finally we can be purposefully positive. We need to recognise when we are being negative and how this might be limiting ourselves and others, in our lives and our workplaces. Holding onto negative views and conclusions will ultimately prove us right in the end.

If we could recognise when we are attached and with kindness to ourselves relinquish our attachments and replace them with more caring and mindful alternatives, then our lives would be happier and lighter.

What do you think? I’d love to have your views and any examples or strategies that you might want to share. Wishing you happiness, openness and connection!

Article by Christina Lattimer

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