Welcome to Following the Whispers blog

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Hope you enjoy your stay. I blog here whenever I feel the need. This blog was created at the time my memoir came out, in February, 2009. Its motto was: creating a life of inner peace and self-acceptance from the depths of despair. Now, my focus is sharing this journey we call life.

“Only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth, and that is not speaking it.” Naomi Wolf

“We are called human beings, not human doings.” Wes Nisker, Buddhist teacher

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs…(And) if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Theodore Roosevelt

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Telling the Truth Tuesday: Detachment

I have a tendency to empathize so much with other people's stuff that I take it on. That is not empathy - that is co-dependency. I do this with everyone - not just family and close friends. Maybe I need to take the training that future therapists take to teach them how to remain objective while listening to others describe extremely painful situations.  It's called detachment and I have yet to learn how to do it, but I'm working on it.

I think it has something to do with personal boundaries. One of the effects of having been sexually abused as a young child is that boundaries are blurred. There is confusion about your body and your mind and your spirit and what is your responsibility and what isn't. You blame yourself for what happened long after you know it wasn't your fault. You feel responsible for fixing it, but you can't because you are six years old.

As an adult, if you haven't worked through these issues, these same kinds of boundaries can surface. I have worked on them - a lot. Yet sometimes something bubbles to the surface where I take responsibility for something that isn't mine. It starts with empathy - you are in pain over something in your life. I want to help you feel better. I start by listening. Then, before I know it, if I don't remain conscious inside my own skin, I am offering advice, telling you how to deal with it, and trying to take over your process.

Detachment. They used to say in the Al-Anon program, Detach With Love. Listening is where I must start. And stop. Don't offer anything. Unless I'm asked. Just my ears and a part of my heart.

How about you? Are you able to detach when those you love are in pain?


Jessica Bell said...

Gosh no. I think it's something I have to work on too actually. I even feel deeply hurt when I see an animal suffering on TV. It's kinda ridiculous. :-/

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

This is an area where I do well, actually...I think I need to be *engaged* more instead of more detached. But there's someone close to me that is too engaged...and it causes her a lot of pain, I think.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I could probably engage more as well. I think men are naturally detached though.

Suze said...

No, I'm not. We stumble about in our love of others, Karen-- always imperfectly.

Keep being you.

Melissa Sarno said...

I think I'm pretty good at detaching when someone is in pain. Maybe too good. I always want to fix things, make them right, make them better, but I often step away to let people heal on their own.

Karen Walker said...

Jess, yeah, me, too. Or if I see an animal lying in the road - next thing I know I'm in tears.
Elizabeth, a healthy balance of engaged and detached is what I'm striving for.
Alex, I think you're right.
Suze, I can't be anything but "me." Sigh!
Melissa, that's a wonderful way to be - that's the piece I need to learn - stepping away and letting others heal on their own.

Mason Canyon said...

I think I need to work on detaching. I've always said I'm too tender hearted. I'm like Jessica, I cry if I see an animal suffering on TV or just watch a sad story.

Thoughts in Progress
Freelance Editing By Mason

Dafeenah said...

Oh my you could literally be living inside my head. I have to be VERY careful. I always feel that EVERY problem in the world is somehow MY fault and it is MY responsibility to fix it and do NOT try to help me because I will take your head off because it is MY job not yours. Definitely something I am still working on. Baby steps.

Anonymous said...

Yes, detachment. I like you learned this well, too, in Alanon, the times I went to it. We CAN sympathize, even empathize. This is good, but not taken to the extreme. Then as you say it's co-dependency.

I just saw your comment on my Blogger post. You did it in ebook--Hooray!! Is it up yet? On Amazon? I'll go check right now to see....
WordPress blog of Ann Best, Memoir Author of In the Mirror
Ann Best, Memoir Author on Blogger

Ranae Rose said...

I'm not any good at detaching myself either. If I see/hear of something sad I'll think about it and it'll drive me crazy for days, or longer. I can't even detach myself from a cartoon (I went around weeping like an idiot for three days after I watched 'The Little Match Girl' that came as a bonus feature on the Disney movie 'The Litle Mermaid'). Sometimes I wish I could be more hard-hearted.

Karen Walker said...

Hi Mason, tender-hearted is not a bad thing in and of itself.
Dafeenah, yes, baby steps.
Ann, it's not an ebook yet - I'm working on it - you inspired me!
Ranae, this is a tough one for us tender-hearted folks, but I don't want to become hard-hearted. Just don't want to cross boundaries.

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I'm lousy at detaching, and am aware of my tendency to over-empathize. Never thought of it as a blurring of boundaries, though, but maybe it is. People have always come to me with their problems, but maybe that's because they know I'll share their pain. And on the plus side, they're also willing to share their joys with me, too. Isn't that the definition of a friend? Someone who halves your pain and doubles your joy?

Darlene said...

Sometimes I find myself too detached, and other times I'm too attached. I guess it depends on the person and or prediciment. But, I know someone who will start offering ways to fix something, when usually, all I need is to get it off my chest. Great blog. AND, your hair looks GREAT!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I think a child who has been abused do carry it through their lives however they try to put it to the back of their minds.I know that to be true as my daughter was abused at 9 yrs of age by a family "Friend" she is 39 this year but every now and again it do come to the fore.

Arlee Bird said...

I think I'm a pretty good listener. I feel like if someone is opening up to me they are looking for some advice or affrmation, then I am more than willing to offer up my thoughts if they ask for it, but I try not to be condescending about it and just offer up possible suggestions to stimulate them to think and discuss what their options are.

Tossing It Out

Mary Aalgaard said...

It's an easy trap to fall into. I also use the Al-Anon philosophy, but need reminders.

Karen Walker said...

Susan, I love that - halve the pain, double the joy.
Darlene, that's the key - to discern when to listen and when to offer our thoughts.
Yvonne, I am so sorry about your daughter - oops I almost offered to help. Oy!
Arlee, sounds like you've got a good handle on this.
Mary, me, too.

Anonymous said...

I do not detach. I'm a pretty loyal huy and stick around until the end. Its difficult at times to be sure. But we grow stronger this way and are able to help people as we go along through life.

Helen Ginger said...

When someone's hurting or troubled, it's hard not to offer advice. I've learned to detach, though. But I do think wanting to help is the first inclination of most of us.

Jules said...

Lord NO and I take way more than I should. Funny while being sick I was thinking about this, speak less and listen more. Give only what is asked.

I am back but I fear my blog may not be showing up in your dashboard.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Karen Walker said...

Stephen, I'm not talking about detaching to the point of leaving someone. I'm talking about separating out what's my stuff from someone else's and what's my business versus someone else's.
Helen, yes, wanting to help is endemic to all of us. That's what makes it so hard to know when and how much.
Jules, I think it's on my blogroll but I'll double-check, okay?

Manzanita said...

I'm better at detaching as I'm getting older. There's that balance that we strive for.... not too cold and yet, don't take on the world's problems. Your empathy seems to make you a wonderfully caring person but I understand about being able to detach then.

Beth said...

I don't think I detach well. But I have some boundary issues too.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think I am way too detached. The plight of others just doesn't register sometimes. It's not that I don't care, I just don't get emotionally involved.

Melissa Ann Goodwin said...

OMG - I am amazed at how often you and are on the same wavelength! I have been processing this very thing this week, as I realized that I too, take on the burden of other people's unhappiness. It can overwhelm me and make me feel helpless. But it is not their fault, this is MY issue and I think it is finally clear to me! Thank you for your words on my post - too much the foggy. I'm off to N.E. for my mother's memorial service on Saturday. Hubba hubba with the red hair!! Hugs!

baygirl32 said...

I'm working on the detachment thing... my lines are so blurred they are non-exixtant when it comes to people I care about.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

In short, no. I'm not able to detach. In fact, I'd like to reach through my computer screen and give you a warm hug for this post. I'll settle for joining your following.
I found you through Julie's A-Z hop, and I'm glad I did.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

PS, looks like I already attached (I'm already following). ;0)

Hilary said...

Hi Karen .. excellent post - I certainly am learning to detach from others' problems - and because I have my own I'm dealing with .. I can more easily leave them behind .. but I do empathise and I do remember to ask and keep in touch .. but I can give no more. The other aspect - is is that it remains in my head and I worry for others!! I'm trying to eliminate that now ..

Karen - this is such an interesting topic .. thanks for expounding a little on it - and good to read others' comments .. I hope you have a good weekend .. cheers Hilary

K.C. Woolf said...

I've learnt to detach in my job, and there I can balance strictness and compassion. I try to do the same when people close to me are suffering - and fail miserably all too often.