Why Non-Attachment Is Necessary for Emotional Security

Last night I arrived at my yoga class to witness a school-aged boy having a complete meltdown. He was screaming and mumbling something about not wanting to leave.

I had a number of internal reactions to this moment. I admit that at first, I said to myself, “Where are his parents? Why are they not getting him out of here?”

It would only be a minute later that I watched the owner of the studio and his teacher deal with the situation with a great deal of compassion, warmth and caring. She was not trying to get him to stop crying, rather, she was trying to understand what happened and did so with a great deal of nurturing and very few words.

He stopped crying soon after. He recognized that this woman was only there to help him with his overwhelming emotions. It was the end of the day. I totally understood. He was exhausted.

‘Our children didn’t come into the world to be our puppets. They came here to struggle, fumble, thrive, and enjoy — a journey for which they need our encouragement.’― Dr. Shefali Tsabary

This woman’s ability to tune into what he needed the most during a crisis represented true emotional security.

You must be able to access the present moment and not filter someone else’s pain through your own emotional needs. In effect, you become detached from the outcome and are focused on simply being with someone who needs your help.

Watching children and the adults that interact with them is a good way to learn what both emotional security (or secure attachment) and non-attachment (from a spiritual perspective) are about.

You need both to be successful in these situations.

Our Anxiety Distracts Us From What the Science Actually Supports

Over the years, research into attachment has been misunderstood by the mainstream.

Decades ago, the interpretation of the research convinced working mothers that they would be emotionally destroying their children by going to work. It was never true, but since the researchers only studied the relationship between children and their mothers, it became a semi-logical and popular conclusion.

Then someone studied fathers and foster parents and realized that children need one primary relationship for the brain to develop emotion regulation skills. Our biology needs relationships (or rather, at least one primary relationship) to do what it is meant to do.

In modern times, we have seen the advent of attachment parenting which claims that children’s needs must be attended to sensitively (I am all for that) and that there are techniques or things you should absolutely do to make sure your child is “secure”.

It led to an almost epidemic of parents becoming overly concerned about their children’s development and their performance as a parent. This heightened level of availability (otherwise known as anxiety) is not based on actual science.

The science actually highlights the importance of children having time for exploration away from their parents. Attachment, from the relationship science perspective, has always been about balancing the need for closeness in a crisis with the need for separation and exploration. It is biologically what we need to develop emotion regulation skills. Parenting to form a secure attachment is actually easier than what is promoted in the “attachment parenting” movement.

It simply requires being present and emotionally available. The problem is that this requires all of us to become fully individuated grownups.

‘There’s a difference between a ‘tight’ connection and a secure attachment. A tight attachment — together all the time — might actually be an anxious attachment’.— Dr. Alan Sroufe

Our increase in anxiety and perhaps in anxious parenting comes from a lack of understanding of the fact that while we need to be available for our children to come to us in a crisis, we also need to be non-attached to the outcome.

We need to be able to let our children go when it is in their best interest to be independent. We need to learn to not hold on to them simply because we are going to miss them or they are fulfilling our emotional needs.

Attachment theory is really a call for much more conscious parenting and surrendering the illusion that you have all the answers.

Emotionally Secure and Non-Attached in Romantic Relationships

This concept also applies to romantic relationships. We spend much of our adult lives looking for “the one”, only to realize that the most loving thing we may need to do for someone is to let them go.

Learning to enter relationships in a conscious manner and still being able to detach from the outcome is not an easy task. That is what non-attachment is about.

True love requires both. Most of us, however, live in a place of toxic insecurity. We either fear abandonment or we fear people getting too close. This is not our fault.

Most of us have been hurt through relational trauma and our reactions to new relationships are based on this history of hurt. Getting to the place where you can be the woman at the start of this article who can simply be — without agenda — for a child is the ultimate measure of how far you have come in your own personal journey.

We should all be capable of being there for someone else without worrying about our own needs, but this is actually a really difficult place to get to without understanding how to be present and disconnected at the same time.

We’ve eliminated from marriage those things that fuel our essential drives for autonomy and freedom. It becomes a trap that actually prevents us from growing up.’ — Dr. David Schnarch

I am actually unsure how most of us are able to get to a place of non-attachment without dedicating ourselves to some type of spiritual practice.

Every day our relationships with children, friends and significant others are providing us with the opportunities to practice being both emotionally secure and non-attached. We often don’t see these opportunities for what they are. If we did, we may take more care to slow down and be present — but what is really needed is the dedication to the work of becoming who you are meant to be.

We are not meant to be perfect, we just have to keep going on our journey to becoming the best adult we can ever be.

Why a Yoga/Meditation Practice Helps

How do you become an adult in this crazy world? It actually takes a lot of effort and the process is not always fun.

It is a journey of aligning your mind, body and yes, soul so that you live your life with a sense of greater purpose. It requires a lot of healing work (even if you don’t think you have healing work to do) and it takes commitment to care for yourself.

Clients often ask me how they get started. If you have committed to therapy or have sought mentorship in some other way, you have already started your journey. Anything that speaks to you that can be of assistance in helping you connect with yourself so you connect with others, is a great place to start.

Many people seek to start in a yoga or meditation class. I think that’s a wonderful idea. Meditation helps to relieve symptoms but it also highlights where you may need more support. Your relationships can also show you the areas that need more work.

Meditation will increase attention and focus and will help teach you some emotion regulation skills so you do feel more emotionally secure, but the spiritual learning of practicing non-attachment to outcomes for everything is part of a lifelong journey.

Use your relationships as the opportunities they really are for practice, but remember the differences between emotional security and non-attachment.

Take the time to assess which one needs more of your attention and commit to growing these skills within yourself instead of just looking for them in someone else. Your future self will thank you.