Detached Compassion Part 1


“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”  ~ Viktor Frankl
For many of us one of the most painful things to witness in life is to see someone you love make consistent choices that cause them suffering.  Especially when your loved one has been in an abusive situation for a long period of time, maybe even years.  Witnessing behavior that is less than who they really are is painful!
As a professional coach working with people’s behavior, health and wellness, I fully understand that every person ultimately has to make their own choices despite the fact that they may be conflicted or felt ill equipped to do so.  I ‘ve learned through experience that one doesn’t have much influence over other people’s life, even when one may think so. People have to see their own barriers, fears and inner conflicts in order to be ready to make changes in their lives. And nobody can do it for them.
I remember years ago working with a client who was a few months from retiring. She contacted me because she found making lifestyle changes on her own difficult to maintain. Her main reason was that her son had been a substance addict for all his adult life and she had spent much of her energy and her own money helping him stay sober. My client’s son lived with her off and on for long periods of time, moving out when they couldn’t get along, to only return when he couldn’t hold a job.  Over two decades my client financially supported her son’s rehabilitation without long-term success. Furthermore, she supported him through trade school so he could redirect his focus on doing something more with his life other than living for his substance abuse.
My client’s relentless compassion was formidable. But then again, many of us have relentless compassion when it comes to helping loved ones. We become involved when we come to know about their struggles and pain and automatically want to help. It’s not easy to maintain objectivity under these circumstances, especially when it involves an abusive or dysfunctional relationship. A dysfunctional relationship could be defined as anything or anyone that has a negative effect towards our loved one; a person, gambling, food, drug addiction, even a behavior that impedes them from living authentically…and the list goes on.
​Over the years, I too have found it heart wrenching to watch a loved one chose to remain in a dysfunctional relationship either with someone or something and not have the courage to say no. But, however we try to help, counsel or just listen, we benefit from realizing that they are ultimately on their journey, not ours. Unless one choses to avoid at all cost speaking or knowing of people’s problems, over time I do believe that we can learn to become “more” proficient at being objective. Buddhism refers to this type of objectivity as, detached compassion. This awareness helps us practice compassionate detachment just a little more, as we cross paths with our loved ones on the road called life. They alone need to discover what it is about their internal processing that influences them to live they way they do.
When my client made a commitment to finally make her well-deserved lifestyle change through coaching with me, I’ll never forget what she told me. She began to recount that the most painful thing she had to do was to stop enabling her son. She found out that she was just as addicted to him as he was with his drug substances. He wasn’t strong enough to stop the never-ending drama loop, so she did. What came after was an almost unbearable action she took. She did not answer the front door when her son was begging and crying for her to let him in. She said that she went upstairs to her bedroom turned on the television loudly and cried for hours. She knew something had to change “I just had to surrender to something bigger than me and stop thinking he’d change. I love him with all my heart, he is my flesh and blood and I brought him into this world, but I was dragged into his drama for too long, losing sight of myself..…and maybe even stunting his personal growth. We were both emotionally ill, she stated. My primary excuse for enabling him was that I was trying to change him, and because of that I loss sight of the fact that I was the one that needed to change. I couldn’t possibly believe that my son would not or could not fight for himself, either way, a choice. But after more than twenty years, I learned to grieve the loss of a son I would never have the way I wanted him to be and accept the reality of his relationship with drug substance”.
If there is ever a time when you find yourself getting too emotionally involved and feel stressed or worried about a loved one’s problems, I invite you to step aside for moment and ask yourself some of the following questions: “What kind of support does my loved one need from me?” “Have I allowed myself to get too involved when I know this person is not willing to make a lifestyle change?” “What is my expectation, and why do I have an expectation?” “How can I still be involved yet take care of my needs while I listen to my loved one’s problems?” “Where do I need to practice compassionate detachment?” “Am I working really hard at trying to convince my loved one to change without realizing that it’s backfiring?”
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