To detach from someone means becoming less attached to their behavior and feelings, reevaluating your perception of your connection to them, and adjusting the level of emotional investment you have with them to a place where it feels manageable.
“Emotionally detaching from someone involves taking a step back from your relationship,” licensed psychologist Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., tells mbg. “Perhaps this person (a friend or family member) was once a treasured member of your inner circle, but you’ve learned that the relationship is no longer healthy for you. By beginning to see this person differently, it allows you to detach–that is, to put less weight in that person’s behavior towards you.”
According to licensed clinical social worker Noelle McWard, LCSW, being detached means choosing not to engage with that person’s behavior and no longer allowing yourself to be emotionally pulled into reacting to it.
“Detachment is a re-centering of your attention and energy on yourself, not the other person,” she tells mbg. “When you place your energy and focus back on yourself, rather than on trying to control the other person’s behaviors and attitudes, you are in a better position to make better decisions about how it is best for you to engage in the relationship.”
She notes learning to detach takes conscious intention and practice, which is possible, although it’s a difficult skill to master because humans are wired for attachment. That said, she adds, “There is a saying to ‘detach with love.’ This means that I can love you from afar or in close proximity, but [I] won’t engage with the parts that are hurtful to me.”