I’ve had plenty of experiences in my life where I struggled with emotional attachment. Basically, I found my heart invested in someone and unable to let them go, even when I knew I couldn’t be with them. Maybe they weren’t interested, maybe we were no longer together, or maybe I knew that relationship wasn’t God’s plan for me. But regardless of what I knew mentally, I remained emotionally tied to that person.
It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that God called my attention to this tendency in a new way, and equipped me to tackle it head on. I started to understand reasons I stayed attached, even when I was never happy with it—and I got ideas to help me let go.
Why We Keep Holding On
Often, the first question we’re face when we’re attached is, “Why we can’t let go?” We know it’s unhealthy, and it stresses us out, so why can’t we move on? Basically it comes down to this: We’re not sure if we really want to.
Sure, we might feel tired with the situation. We might be mad at ourselves, embarrassed, ashamed and stressed. We can easily assume we want to let go and just can’t.
But the truth is, part of us doesn’t want to—even if we won’t admit it to ourselves.
Our inner self is in competition: Part of us recognizes the pain and the pointlessness of it, and another part of us continues to desperately hold on. That part of us usually clings to this person for multiple reasons: We think this person will meet our desires; we don’t believe we’re worth more; we figure that a little love is better than nothing. or we don’t believe God will bring something better.
We all know that famous verse, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Each of the reasons we hold on to are beliefs that are not true. If these are the core reasons why we stay attached, then each one has to be examined in the light—their truths thoroughly absorbed—in order to no longer hold us down. Each one of these motives can be remedied only as we grasp the reality of the situation and accept it.
Here are some keys for letting go of unhealthy attachments:
1. See Things as They Are
This happens first and foremost by seeing the relationship as it really is. This means recognizing its limitations. It means willingly facing the truth.
Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” Sometimes we have blinders on to what’s in front of us. We may cling to the belief someone will change, or that the situation is better than it really is. When we’re attached, we have to consciously take off the rose colored glasses every time we automatically put them back on.
Once we see clearly, we are invited to accept what we see, rather than trying to change it. We can relax our grasp, and rest from efforts that don’t work. We can choose to relinquish control, surrendering our need to make things different from what they are.
2. Realize What You Want Isn’t Here
While accepting things as they are, we have to tell ourselves that what we’re looking for isn’t found here.
We all want love. We also want peace and true joy. Those are our deepest desires. But in unhealthy emotional attachments, we are not at rest. We do not feel contentment and stability. The joy we have is flimsy and minimal—mixed with unpredictable anxiety or pain. Any love we experience is empty and practically cancelled out with the frustration we feel inside.
The idea that what we’re looking for isn’t found here is one we have to process internally. Only when we really, truly believe this attachment is only hurtful, will we no longer be interested in it.
3. Shift the Focus to Yourself
Attachment causes us to center our mental world around the person we are not meant to be with. Detaching involves making plans for our own life and asking ourselves honestly How am I doing? What can I do for myself? It means shifting out attention from what this person is or isn’t doing, how they may or may not feel, and putting it on yourself.
If you find you need healing, you need comfort, then you should put yourself in the place to get it. Ask yourself what freedom you need to start feeling better, and decide to move into it.
We also need to turn our attention to our potential, and how God sees us. Maybe we’ve been so worn down in thinking of the other person that we forgot how God values and cherishes us. It’s time to get that back.
God wants you to see His unconditional heart for you. He also wants you to treat yourself with the value He ascribed to you when He gave His life for you.
4. Truly Consider God’s Role
It’s important to remember we’re not alone in this. We’ve got a Father, literally right by our sides, who “gets” it—why we feel how we do, and what more there is for us. Not only is He by our side, He really is in control. It’s not arbitrary that we’re not with this person. We didn’t mess things up, nor did we miss His perfect will. He’s got a reason for the way things are.
Letting Go for Good
Fundamentally, letting go of attachment begins with a deliberate decision to do so. Every time you waver in that decision, remind yourself to do the above actions. You can also get around friends or family who will give you an objective view of the situation and help you think clearly.
You are not alone in this. Unhealthy attachment is one of the most common issues we have to face. The roller-coaster of emotions you experience is typical as well. On Monday, you might be fueled with anger and ready to let go, then Wednesday you sob with the desire to reach out to this person. Saturday you may call him or her, while Sunday you completely regret it.
That’s normal. And you won’t stay in that place. As time passes, these feelings will spread further out. The entire season is temporary. And you will in fact, get through it.
Celebrate every moment you feel a little freer, every action you take that focuses on your well-being. Let yourself cry if grief rises up within you. Just come back to remembering why you’re letting go in the first place. Recognize that while it feels awful now, it will truly get easier. And it’s OK when you fall back, as long as you decide to keep moving forward. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself—just as God is.