What Does it Mean to Detach?

“Everyone is telling to me detach. But what does that even mean?”

This question was recently posed by a worn out, stressed out Mother whose son is actively dependent on painkillers.

Having recently broken house rules related to stealing and using his drug of choice, he was put out of her home and resorted to sleeping in his car at a grocery store.

Detaching is a term you hear often around families of someone in the death-grip of addiction.  So what does it mean to detach? How exactly does a parent, spouse or other loved one detach, as they’re being consumed with terror and grief?


When a Loved One is spiraling, emotions can be impossible to control.  This is why learning to modify your responses is critical.

Creating separation and space when navigating a tumultuous situation in order to regroup is vital.

Normally we want to cling tighter to someone who is in deep struggle.  But often, those decisions stand in the way of a healthy outcome.  Fear-driven thoughts will tell us they will fall and fail if we don’t step in, but that belief is what keeps us locked in a toxic cycle with them.

Letting go is a learning process.

Learning what to let go of, is of the utmost importance.

We can absolutely maintain love, positive support, and encouragement for the person – while letting go of their circumstances and allowing natural consequences and outcomes to run their course.

I asked a few families who have had to walk this road, to give their definition of detaching:

“It means we can’t do it for someone else”

“To detach means to choose peace, quiet and tranquility over chaos and drama.”

“I detach by letting go of my daughter so she can figure out her life. Respecting her enough to allow her to get the victory and dignity of working it out, no matter how dreadful things seem.  Both of us need to find a healthy place.”

“Knowing my place—which isn’t to micro-manage anyone’s life but my own.”



Food. For. Thought.

At some point, we have to retract our hands from another’s life in order to allow them to develop the strength of character to soldier through their own challenges. As an adult, they are being called up, to learn to face life and deal with it on their own.

And we are being called back, to allow it. To let go.

We simply must for the sake of the greater good.

There came a time when I had to take a seat as my grown son left my care, and headed far from home to create a new life for himself.  Early on in the process, as I was trying to reconcile myself to our “new normal,” a friend said to me; “Your son is leaving a kid, but he’ll return a man.”

Over the course of the next few years, that is exactly what happened.  My son was faced with taking the reins of his own life, and it made a man out of him.

Isn’t that what we want?   For those we love so much to become whole enough to face life as strong, healthy, capable adults?

As hard as it was for me to withdraw my control and involvement, it led to greater health for all of us.

Every time I found myself interfering with his journey, I realized it was because I didn’t trust the outcome. I was trying to force my version of how events were supposed to play out. And really, that just doesn’t ever work.

Finally, I released that madness and the result has been amazing peace.  If we can find our way to wholeness, there is hope for any family—because ours was a mess.



For me personally, letting go had to include attaching on to something else. When I let go of my habit of trying to steer and manage outcomes, I turned toward faith. That was where I found my own strength and peace, as well as an anchor of hope to lean on for everyone’s well-being. Faith moves mountains, and restores peace.

Letting go of outcomes also prompted me to press deeper into practices of self-care, exercise, meditation, healthy activity, and other friendships and relationships.

Healthy things replaced the habits and problems I had been so deeply entrenched in.

That’s when my life began to heal.  And eventually, to thrive.


Detaching with love for me means keeping the love you have for someone intact—while realizing you don’t have to participate in the destruction or drama of their choices, dysfunction, or disease.

It means focusing on what you do have control over; which is yourself, your own actions, words, and behavior. The focus is shifted on to the best way to take care of yourself, regardless of the madness that may occur around you.

We need to step back from the chaos of storms as they arise, turn inward and find stability and inner peace in the midst.

Will we fail at times?  Yes, sometimes miserably. That’s when you forgive yourself…get back up, dust yourself off, do the next right thing, and keep pressing on.

One thing is certain, the healthier you strive to become, the more likely your life will improve.

It’s important to take good care of yourself.   You want to give your life and the people you love the best of yourself, not what’s left of yourself.

Detach – Love the person, let go of the circumstances.

Still learning,


Author of Unhooked

Book 2: Unbroken, Navigating the Madness of Family Dysfunction, Addiction, Alcoholism and Heartache” coming soon!


For information, comfort, encouragement and support:

Codependents Anonymous

Parent Support

Family Recovery Support