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Compassionate Detachment

Posted Feb 11 2011 11:06am
A friend recently told me about some deep troubles. This wasn't even a client. It was a friend, and yet, I remained within a mindset that some (especially Buddhists) call compassionate detachment.

Compassionate detachment might be defined as the manner in which we relate to others when we allow them to deal with their own problems and they are therefore free to choose to become responsible for their own issues, while simultaneously we express a loving concern for the nature of their current predicament, and also simultaneously we are not invested in the outcome (this definition is the compilaton of numerous definitions of the expression found on the web).

The operative words here are that we remain detached enough so that we do not step in to attempt to resolve their problem, their pain, their issue for them.

It does not mean we care less for them. It does not mean they - and the outcome - are not important to us.

On the contrary, it means we care so much, that we deliberately step back - much like the anxious parent observing a baby take its first tottering steps will also step back in order to let the baby manage on its own - so that the other person will come to that point where they decide to resolve for themselves.

Clearly - just as in the case of the baby, where we are on the lookout for sharp table corners or dangerous steps, where the baby might hit his head or fall down - we are also lovingly present to help the individual with a problem or an issue.

But not to rescue.

When we get into rescue mode, we are generally working for our own agenda
  • We may need to feel in control
  • we may need to feel strong and invincible
  • We may need to get the payback of the other person's gratitude for what we did
  • We may need to get the payback of allowing ourselves to feel good about ourselves becasue of what we did (because without it, we find it hard or impossible to feel good about ourselves)
So as rescuer, we are generally not working so much on the other person's issue, as on our own...
Another reason to be compassionately detached is to realize that some persons leach our very life energy out of us ... in their need to discuss their problems, and in their need to be listened to ... over and over and over again ... they become energy vampires. Your will know very quickly when you are with someone like that, because you will feel weak in some fashion after spending some time with them.
So what does that mean?
  1. You are not compassionately detached
  2. You have very poor boundaries because you are willing to listen to something so draining over and over again telling yourself that you are being a good friend, or wife or husband, or mother, etc., while in fact you are enabling the other person's sense of helplessness or of being a victim of life or cirumstances.
You are a much better friend, a much better partner, parent or child, and also - a much better therapist, counselor, healer - if you remain compassionately detached, and in that fashion promote self-responsibility and autonomy of action in the other individual.
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