Increasing Emotional Attachment

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We have written a lot about how emotional detachment is used as a strategy to combat feelings of helplessness in a world perceived as hostile. The decision, usually made unconsciously in childhood, is that feeling nothing is preferable to being constantly subjected to emotional pain, and so the emotional thermostat is turned off.

People are usually pretty content with this strategy into adulthood, and would probably go on this way indefinitely, except for the pressure they start to feel from their partners in romantic relationships, pressure to connect on a more intimate level. All of a sudden a way of being that was helpful to them becomes a hindrance. The very real threat arises that they will lose their partners if they can’t find a way to get back in touch with their emotions.

The problem is that what happens inside the skin is a private affair, something the community has no access to and can therefore only explain by proxy. We can all get together and talk about the type and intensity of our emotions, but there is no measurable standard because by definition we can only make contact with our own emotional states.

This sets up a difficult situation if you are trying to recapture felt emotions because you have no barometer to compare what you are feeling against. For many with emotional detachment the result is expectations that remain largely ephemeral and ideals that might not be attainable for anyone in practice.

This is why we see the process of increasing emotional attachment to life and people as working best if you can do away with all judgment and comparison. Many displays of emotion by others are histrionic anyway, the external show is much more intense than what is internally felt, which sets up unrealistic expectations. The better route is to mindfully focus in on your own experience. Recognize and communicate any emotion you feel, however low on the scale of intensity you think it is.

The key is to actively work with your partner to make your relationship a safe port that acts as a visible counterpoint to the dangerous situation in childhood that led to the strategy of emotional detachment in the first place. We have used the metaphor of a single spark being capable of turning into a raging inferno. You’ve got to see and protect that spark though, to realize what it’s capable of becoming, or it will go out and you’ll be left in the cold. Don’t place a value judgment on the emotions you do feel, just notice that there are no bad consequences of feeling them in your present relationship like there were in the hostile conditions of childhood.