A man I know told me, "I want to be attached." Not surprising. Attachment is natural to every heart. And he has suffered painful losses from his own studious detachment—it has deprived him of so much, robbed him of the sweetest joys in life. So now he wants to go back and get what he's missed out on. He wants relationship, he wants to enjoy a sense of closeness with the ones he loves. He wants to hold on more, and not let go so much—he wants attachment.

But if he wants to enjoy the sweetness of attachment again, he will need to address the reasons he became so detached in the first place. You see, toxic detachment is really only a child of toxic attachment.


The real story behind toxic detachment

The reason my friend became so detached was to avoid the pain and problems he created when he felt attached. You see, attachment comes in many flavors, some positive, some negative. Some constructive, and some destructive. Some sweet, and some terribly sour.

Egoism turns attachment from something beautiful into something horrible. It is well known that an attached person can become a terrible drag. Everyone hates the kind of junk that is normally associated with attachment: obsession, demandingness, excessive expectations, greediness and grabbiness, excessive clinging. These things show ego-styled desire and attachment.

If people want to be attached without being toxic, they should consider this important fact:

For love to be viable, your detachment must be equal to your attachment. You need to be able to hold on and let go at the same time.

If you can't do that you will mess up by becoming too greedy, or selfish, or jealous. And then seeing that, if you are like most people, you might retreat into a more dispassionate and detached kind of relationship, just to try to avoid the problems that arise when you care "too much." So we close up our hearts, feel less, want less, give less, live less. That's toxic detachment.

A person becomes excessively detached in reaction to the pain of destructive attachment. They are driven by the failures caused by their toxic attachment to run away from relationship, to distance themselves from love. What they call detachment is simply stark raving fear. It's a form of self-protection.


You always hurt the one you love

Many people start out passionate, and willing to invest their heart and soul in relationships. But then they find that when they invest wholeheartedly in someone, their ego also tends to get more involved. They have more desire, more feeling, more hopes and expectations, and so their tendency to mess up and become greedy, jealous, or reactive is greater.

You always hurt the one you love,
The one you shouldn't hurt at all.
You always take the sweetest rose,
And crush it till the petals fall.

You always break the kindest heart,
With a hasty word you can't recall.
So, if I broke your heart last night,
It's because I love you most of all.

—words from a popular song

If you don't have enough space on your own desires, the treasures of love and intimacy can bring out very negative impulses in you. In the famous book, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, three friends set out together to search for gold. They begin as great friends, but when they find the gold, the troubles start. They become greedy, distrusting, jealous, paranoid of one another—and eventually they end up hurting each other, and losing the treasure.

The same thing happens all too often in relationships. When people strike gold—meaning, all the passions and pleasures that relationships hold—they begin to act strange sometimes. Not only in romantic love, but even in deep friendship. All relationships of value inspire intense feelings. And too often, we don't handle those feelings with much grace.

For example, a friend of mine told me:

"You know, when you're a young girl, your tendency to fall in love with people is high, and your natural tendency to want to cling is high. You want to cling onto a best friend, even. You tell her everything. You want to see her all the time. You make your home in her, in a way.

"But then, sometimes, among best friends, there can be intense nastiness, and jealousy, and cattiness. Me and my best friend at school adored each other passionately—AND we had one of the most hurtful relationships imaginable.

"And I've noticed that same pattern in myself as an adult. When I start to get attached to anyone as a close friend, I start to have certain concerns and egoic reactions.

"It's like, everything they do and say matters too much to you, and you react to it all in ways that are very self-centered. You're jealous of their other friends, you're hurt if they don't pay attention to you, or hang out with you. You're over-reactive to what everything means to YOU."

That's a perfect description of egoized attachment. It lacks the detachment needed to counterbalance it—and sufficient love to offset the selfish motives involved. If you're going to desire powerfully or feel strongly about someone, you need sufficient love and morality not to hold onto your desires, expectations, and disappointments too tightly—to let them go when needed.

We crush "the sweetest rose" by holding on too tight. Fine to enjoy a rose, its scent, its beauty—but one needs to hold it with sensitivity, so as not to destroy it. That's why, when we love someone deeply, passionately, truly, we need to learn to hold on and let go at the same time.

It hurts to let go without holding on—because then you experience the emptiness that my friend was suffering when he said, "I want to be more attached." And if you hold on without letting go, you suffer all the tragedies that toxic attachment creates.

Obviously, toxic attachment is not limited to young girls. In men, toxic attachment takes a similar form. The guy may suddenly become involved in elaborate seduction strategies—moves by which he's going to impress the girl and thereby attach her to himself. He's trying to portray himself as exceptionally groovy, manly, or virtuous—to seem like he's a hero, the best catch in the world, or whatever he thinks would win her affection, her loyalty, her commitment. Next thing you know, he is being greedy in relation to the object of his desire. Grabby, insensitive, and crude. He gets carried away in his enthusiasm to get what he wants from her, and of her.

Another example is the companion who is constantly jealous when his or her spouse gives attention to others. Or the mother who won't let go of her child, and tries to control his life way past the age where it's appropriate.

When we want what we want out of a relationship (whether it's attention, sex, or even love), and we are willing to forget the heart and soul of the person in our efforts to get what we want, that is egoic attachment.

Like the person who constantly writes you love notes and little reminders of themselves. When someone gets crazy about you in a selfish way, your ego might like the attention at first. You might consider it a compliment, a feather in your cap. But not for long. Toxic obsession soon wears thin. What the ego takes as a hopeful sign, the spirit sees for what it is: selfish, hurtful, and unloving. Toxic attachment is the beginning of the end. It destroys trust and good will between people.

For love to succeed, there needs to be more attention for each other as living hearts. That's a simple, beautiful kind of attention. Toxic attachment doesn't pay attention to the subtle emotions and being of the beloved—it is far too self-involved.

When there is loving attention and real care in a relationship, there can also be passion, desire, intensity, and attachment—without anybody getting hurt. That kind of attachment is fine, because it's not "all about me." To desire and be desired can be a great thing. Without intense desire for one another, human life would be flat. But desire is ruined when we lose sight of the beloved—which all too often we do.


The truth about "going for what I want"

Culture today is all about getting what you want. It takes that philosophy and applies it to love, to life, to people: "I WANT this person. I want them bad." So if a man becomes interested in a woman, or a woman in a man, their friends encourage them to "go for it" and "get what they want."

Okay, game on! They pull out all the stops. Use various strategies to get to one another. He takes her out to the finest places. She does everything possible to appeal to him. They're trying their best to attain the object of their desire. But they're both ignoring the truth: that if you try egotistically to get what you want, most likely you won't get it at all. You'll just push it away—because selfishness is ugly and off-putting. Or, even if you do get it, you'll soon ruin it.

"I did everything I could, but it didn't work."

Yes, you did everything you could to get what you wanted. No wonder it didn't work! When people go for what they want, they're scary. So you can do your absolute best or worst, but if you're doing that for selfish reasons you're doomed. Bottom line: egoized love and attachment don't work.

It's a bitter harvest that comes from any egoic strategy to gain someone's attention. Even in the best case, when you seem to win, and get the person you want, the relationship soon becomes distant. You simply can't keep a person's trust when you relate to them selfishly. They will not allow you to have their heart, to have the best of who they are—no way.

The "reach out and grab what you want" way of this world is really the way to self-impoverishment, loneliness, and utter failure. Only people who are genuinely loving can hold the loyalty and allegiance of other human beings. Even having babies won't secure true loyalty—though it might help nail a person down on the superficial level. But the superficial level is nothing. Practically, it might be helpful to have someone to live with, but if there's not a strong enough emotional bond, that can be death. You're chained to a broken-hearted person who's resentful and distant, but who's in it for the long haul because you had their children, or you bought a house together, or you got married. Whatever the glue is that holds the relationship together, if it isn't real love, care, and mutual understanding, it will always create heartache.


Ego vs. love

One thing that is overlooked when it comes to love is this: Ego (the selfish, lower self) doesn't want love, and it doesn't want to love. Ego wants separation, whimsy, and self-protection. It feels comfortable at a distance from people.

So, if you go with ego, ego will direct you toward its preferred condition—separation. Ego sabotages love at every turn. It drives the objects of desire away through the ugliness of its tactics, its ways, its attitudes and orientations.

When we see the "misfortune" of obsessive attachment, we're not seeing an accident of any kind. We're seeing a strategic way of avoiding love, and returning to the desired state of separation.

If you want what the heart wants, you want love, not separateness. And when you are living by heart, according to the heart's directives, desire can be a very good thing. A gift, even. After all, who doesn't want to be desired? It's part of what's so healing and beautiful about relationship that two people would really want one another—would know the value of one another enough to want each other that much. Whether they want each other as friends or as lovers, either way, it is good to be wanted.

The natural desires of our hearts, souls, and even our bodies, are pure and good—the exact opposite of egotistical┬ádesire, which is ugly and hurtful. To express the desire, the passions, the feelings that you have can be deeply nurturing to others—as long as you don't allow yourself to become selfishly focused on getting what you want, and forget to love the one you want.

Ego attachment or soul desire? Which will it be? It simply depends on which you choose to identify with—spirit, or ego. Your move.


by David Truman

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