Last week we discussed ‘hate’ as an impassioned feeling that has a high connection to relapse. We are likely to act on anything we feel that embroiled about. Relapse prevention has to be more detailed than using mere feelings such as ‘hatred’ as a tool for distancing yourself from the pathological. This usually doesn’t work because hate is passionate and increases your sense of attachment to him.
Instead, let’s consider emotional detachment and its powerful ability to change the course of your thinking and actions. Almost all religious traditions use some form of emotional detachment. Christianity, Zen, Hinduism, and other religions all have techniques for detachment. These religious ‘interventions’ are referred to as ‘detachment,’ ‘holy indifference,’ ‘non-attachment’ and ‘asceticism,’ of which detachment is one practice. I particularly like the phrase, ‘holy indifference,’ because it reminds me that the practice can be holy if approached with the right motive and heart.
The strength of detachment is that it gives you back the power over your emotions and the actions that come from your emotions. Women complain that they feel ‘powerless’ over knee-jerk reactions in their emotions (hatred), their thinking (intrusive thoughts, obsessions) and their behaviors (impulsively contacting him). Detachment is a way of ‘creating a spacer’ between a feeling, thought, or desire, and the action that follows. A spacer is the point of control and choice.
In emotional detachment, you step outside of the situation as if you were the third person watching what is occurring. I tell people to pretend they are ME! So, you are now Sandra, standing over here watching how YOU are going to handle this highly emotionally charged moment. Taking a moment to say, “What would Sandra tell me to do?” or “What would my spiritual beliefs tell me to do?” gives you back the opportunity to act in your best interest. Your best interest is always non-reactivity—the ability to not have a huge reaction to what he has said or done (except in the case of physical violence, in which you should immediately escape). This emotional detachment is also what I teach in my ‘Starve the Vampire’ technique—the stepping OUT of an emotional reaction and starving him with your non-reactions.
That’s because pathologicals live for this kind of drama. Every highly charged interaction reminds him of how much control he DOES have over you and your emotions. If he can get you emotionally cranked up, then he has your complete attention. Then he can crank you up further, and he can control you through what he does with your emotions. This makes him feel powerful and will increase his contact with you.
Emotional detachment reminds you that you don’t have to respond to the same old cycles of baiting from him. For your own sanity and dignity you can choose the path of peace, which is ‘holy indifference,’ or in the 12-Step traditions, “turning him, the situation, and his behaviors over to God.” The old cycles of baiting you with taunts of, “you’re crazy,” “you don’t love me,” “you’re a witch and I’m with someone else,” can be the ending of torment instead of being the fuel for the fire of torment. When you practice non-attachment to these kinds of acts or words, there is nothing to fuel the fire to keep this taunting alive.
Additionally, when you practice the ability to hold your emotions in check, you are stopping the flow of adrenaline into your body. In the past I have talked quite a bit about anxiety, fear and aggravation and how these emotions release adrenaline in your body, which sets off even MORE emotional agitation, sleeplessness, hyper-vigilant reactions, and anxiety. Learning to not respond by stepping back from his words and thinking like I would think about that—(“Oh, Sandra would say he’s just being a pathological—look how he uses those feelings to try to make me react. The disorder is just being what it is. Wow, he really IS sick.”)—helps your body to not react and not create an avalanche of adrenaline crashing throughout your body.
The cycle of baiting, in the past, would have instead created thoughts in you like, “I HATE him—I could just kill him—He’s an ass! He’s doing this on purpose to hurt me, so I’m going to hurt him!” Then you would say something or go home and do something that would continue this cycle. Sometimes, you would re-contact him just so you wouldn’t feel your own hate for him—contact him to make you stop feeling so intensely.
Now, practicing emotional detachment or holy indifference, you can view it like you are watching a Lifetime for Women movie. You see this woman who looks remarkably like you being taunted by this extremely sick man. You notice her body language (relaxed and not tense), her facial features (flat and indifferent), and what she says (tonality of her voice is mono-toned and not angry). She simply walks away or hangs up the phone or does not respond to her cell that is ringing with him on the other end of the line. You see the shocked face of the sick man as ‘nothing happens’ in the interaction. The screen fades to black. The scene is over.
If her mind is trying to allow adrenaline to be released, she steps back and reminds herself, “I am not responsible for this man’s disorder. He is being who he is—pathological. I don’t need to respond to a disorder.”
Emotional detachment and holy indifference remind us that we are not responsible for a disorder that is incurable and untreatable. This man’s needs and fate are in hands much larger than ours, which is exactly where his needs should be. Removing your hands and your interventions in his life allows God to do whatever He feels is necessary in this person’s life. You can’t influence the outcome. You can only influence how you react.
(**If we can support you in your recovery process, please let us know. The Institute is the largest provider of recovery-based services for survivors of pathological love relationships. Information about pathological love relationships is in our award-winning book, Women Who Love Psychopaths, and is also available in our retreats, 1:1s, or phone sessions. See the website for more information).