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Self-Respect Effectiveness to Detach with Love

DBT Skill of the Month #4

Luckily for some, February is the shortest month of the year, as, unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is sometimes viewed as The-Day-That-Must-Not-Be-Named. Love is wonderful and, in the spirit of being dialectical, love hurts. And this includes all kinds of love-romantic, familial and friendly. Sometimes, when love is especially challenging, we can choose to detach with love.

This term originated in Al-Anon, the 12 Step fellowship for loved ones of alcoholics, and is now used widely to indicate being responsible for our own lives while allowing others to be responsible for theirs. Detaching with love includes allowing others to make their own decisions, regardless of whether we agree with said decisions. Detaching with love can be viewed as part of one’s application of the Interpersonal Effectiveness skill of Self-Respect. This skill teaches us how to best take care of ourselves while participating in relationships with others. Some of the important Self-Respect concepts include sticking to one’s own values, being fair to oneself and not over apologizing. Here are three scenarios where we can detach with love to keep our self-respect.

  1. You are a parent and have an adult daughter who is abusing alcohol. You have frequently told her how you feel about this behavior and how it goes against your values. Detaching with love means purposefully not spending time with her when she is drinking and not ever making excuses for her behavior while intoxicated. It does NOT mean, however, going into her home unannounced and emptying her liquor cabinet.
  2. Your husband is confused about his next career move and cannot stop obsessing about it at all times. You have already given him your opinion but he feels immobilized by fear of failure, keeps talking about it and cannot make a decision. Detaching with love means validating his fears while simultaneously not getting caught up in discussing the content. It also means taking some time by yourself when needed to recharge.
  3. Your best friend keeps giving his abusive ex-boyfriend more chances, which consistently lead to more heartbreak for him. He knows your stance on his ex but continues to want to discuss him with you and even spend time with you and him together. Detaching with love means continuing to spend quality time with your friend when his ex is not present and when getting back together with his ex is not the topic of conversation.


Emmi Barnoski, LCSW

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