On feeling adequate: Unsticking


(Fifth in a series. You can read the last post here.)


If you want to feel like an adequate human being, there is no more valuable emotional skill than detaching.

Detachment is a form of surrender, the ability to stop trying to control reality and still believe things will be okay.

“Surrender is the moment of accepting reality on the unconscious level,” writes Stephanie Brown.

The individual knows the deepest truth, regardless of wishes or explanations to the contrary.  Defenses used in the service of denying that reality (denial and rationalization, defiance and grandiosity) no longer work….  When true unconscious surrender has occurred, the acceptance of reality means that the individual can work in it and with it.” [1] 

Surrender is essential to sanity.   “Think about it,” I suggested in Monkeytraps: 

Imagine someone unable to ever surrender control.  How could they drive on a freeway?  Fly in an airplane?  Eat in a restaurant?  Let their kids ride a school bus?  Permit a dentist to drill their tooth?  Or a surgeon to remove their tonsils?  Trust a therapist with their secrets?  Stay sane during a hurricane? [2]

Other forms of surrender are faith, tolerance and trust — each in its own way essential to adult functioning, emotional balance and peace of mind.

But detaching is especially valuable for people in difficult situations or going through troubled times.  It’s the ability to take a step back , to disengage emotionally, to refuse to dance with a painful experience.  To say, “No thanks, I’ll sit this one out.” 

And this ability is vital to control addicts, whose deep sense of inadequacy stems from the habit of fighting battles they simply cannot win.

Like Anita, who got arrested when she could not stop stalking the boyfriend she thought was cheating on her.  Or Barbara, whose rage at her husband’s affair finally drove her to swallow a large bottle of Excedrin (I’ll show him).  Or Carl, who after the 9/11 bombings stopped going to work and stayed glued to his TV screen, because watching CNN made him feel he knew what was happening and so could protect himself and his family. [3]

I think of detachment as the ability to unglue myself from the stickiness of the world.  You know what I mean.  The world pulls at us constantly, demanding our attention, energy and caring.  Always things to do, problems to solve, people to worry over. 

Some pulls are important and necessary and it would be irresponsible to ignore them.  But control addicts can’t distinguish necessary from unnecessary, healthy from compulsive.  They try to do everything, solve everything, worry about everybody.  Then they fail, and get exhausted.  And feel inadequate.

They’re not inadequate, of course; just unrealistic.  They keep trying to do the impossible.

To feel like an adequate human being, you need to stop doing that. 

To unstick yourself from an endlessly sticky world. 

(To be continued.)




[1] Treating the alcoholic: A developmental model of recovery (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1985), 15-16.

[2] Monkeytraps: Why everybody tries to control everything and how we can stop (New York: Lioncrest, 2015), 239.

[3] Ibid, 251.



2 responses to “On feeling adequate: Unsticking

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