From Clingy to Zen: How Attachment Causes Suffering (and How to Spot It!)

Listen to full article here “From Clingy to Zen: How Attachment Causes Suffering

Are you fucking kidding me right now?!?!? My thoughts in that moment as I saw my romantic evening replaced by the gruesome crime scene I was staring at. A bathtub full of turds surrounding my splash happy baby like sharks circling fresh meat. No sexy time for this girl, looks like I’m going fishing. But first, let me cry the ugliest cry —eveeeeeer. After a full year of struggling to adjust to this new stay-at-home mom life, grappling with the idea of my new identity, I was in the beginning stages of succumbing to injuries sustained from this significant life change. My expectations were different. My sleep was low. I was suffering as I struggled to adapt. Unbeknownst to me, I didn’t understand just yet how attachment causes suffering.

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Understanding Attachment

If you were to google “attachment” right now, you’d come across many articles discussing an “attachment style” or “attachment theory”. There is a lot to say about this particular topic. But just so we are on the same page, as we go into the concepts of “attachment”, I am drawing from the roots of ancient wisdom. It never ceases to amaze me how relevant these ancient teachings are in modern society today, especially when reflecting upon how attachment causes suffering. 

The Nature of Attachment 

While the Buddha is most commonly associated with the quote above, both Stoic philosophy and Buddhism place great emphasis on recognizing the role of attachment, and how it causes unhappiness, ultimately leading to unnecessary suffering.

In this sense, attachment is when an individual emotionally becomes a stage 5 clinger to a person circumstance, or thing. A very high emotional stake gets placed on a false belief system, leaving the individual to see things NOT as they truly are, but as they desperately want them to be.

Whether their happiness is dependent on hard-lined expectations, an identity they tied their self-worth into, or an important relationship; once it pivots into an unfavorable direction —let the suffering begin!!!!

How Attachment Causes Suffering

The challenge with attachment is most of the time we do not recognize how our clinginess to a person or outcome can negatively influence not only our well-being but in which the way we interact with the rest of the world. Sadly, attachment masquerades as a false sense of control over our destiny, when in reality, it’s us trying to puppeteer people and situations just so we can keep a tight grip on the reins. An attempt to maintain control.

As you read in the beginning, my personal experience with attachment resulted in me having a breakdown weeks later. That’s my testament to how my attachments caused my suffering. It stemmed from a belief system deeply ingrained within me. I not only had false and rigid expectations of what this new lifestyle would look like for me, but I also struggled with the transformation of my identity from a professional to a stay-at-home role. Woof!

The roles that placed us on pedestals at one time in our lives, without them, we don’t feel valuable. Negative emotions housed from our attachments keep us focused on feeling like failures. Feeling like we aren’t good enough. We ruminate on past events and circumstances, even other relationships that failed. Within our heads is this negative feedback that plays on a continuous loop. One negative emotion triggering another and another. 

SO ex-haus-ting!!!!!!

Plot Twist: Major Life Changes

Before I decided to be a stay-at-home parent, I lived a very fast-paced life. Hair done, nails did, and traveled all the time. I not only was a start-up events business, but I also sat as the “Events Chair” on the board of a nonprofit organization I was highly active in. Daily, I was surrounded by people constantly, networking left and right— shaking important hands, and kissing other people’s fussy babies. I was like Jennifer Lopez y’all in the movie “The Wedding Planner”. 

I also had a very self-sufficient 14-year-old son, and was very much so in the honeymoon phase of my marriage —STILL, after being with this man for 7 years!

And just like that…poof! My everyday life, and interactions…stopped.

Writing about those moments now reminds me of a podcast I listened to a couple of years ago. Featuring Aubrey Marcus, a philosopher in his own right in the realms of holistic health, interviewing author and modern Stoic, Ryan Holiday. Their discussion mainly revolved around Holiday’s new book at the time “Stillness is the Key”. It was during this interview that I heard Holiday share this notion for the first time: “We’re (people) like sharks, we think we have to move to live.”

While Holiday may not be the original person who first shared this metaphor comparing sharks to today’s grind culture, his words struck a chord in me.

I was standing still, feeling like I was gasping for air, watching as the world kept passing me by. 

The true transition from childhood to adulthood is the realization that you are but a tiny puh-tata (potatoe) in this life and that the world does NOT revolve around you. The final stage of the transformation from child to adult is realizing that when things change, it’s not because you’re not good enough to maintain your grasp on the situation or a person. Or that you’ve lost your vigor and are too “old” to keep up.

It’s simply that you now understand that the only constant in life — is change. 

I Spy With My Little Eye…Pinpointing Attachment(s) in Your Life

As fascinated as I am by the words of Buddha, and have found many similarities in the ancient teachings between the Eastern and Western worlds, I found that I am drawn to the Stoics as there is something about their approach that resonates with me more.

The principle of detachment is pretty central when it comes to the teachings in Stoic philosophy, as it involves pinpointing and examining our attachments (amongst other cognitive dissonance) through mental exercises. 

For the Stoics, they were huge advocates of employing self-reflection and introspection as techniques. By shedding light on these attachments and how they cause us to suffer, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, leading us to a much larger and more meaningful life.

Transitional Periods in Your Life

In a woman’s life, there is no shortage of how attachments cause you to suffer, subconsciously influenced by various dynamics.

Attachment for you might manifest in your professional identity area. Going into retiring from working 40+ years in hopes of relief by reclaiming your time and your new “do you Boo Boo” agenda. However, it’s not as satisfying as you thought.

Or perhaps a mother who forever fantasized about the day when she didn’t have little kids and a messy house anymore and then the time comes for them to move out.

Your attachment might be tied to hard-line expectations. Outcomes or the results of something: Congrats, you’re divorced, be happy! But you can’t because you are struggling with processing and hating the other person for everything they put you through. 

You didn’t get that promotion you believe you deserved. 

You are still unemployed because you can’t find a job that pays you what you used to make. So you’re going to sit jobless mad at the world.

You wake up one day and everything on your body starts falling apart and drooping a little lower. Gray hair, more Nair!!!! Ugh.

Or perhaps your attachments are sunk into various aspects.  

A loved one has passed, leaving you feeling completely helpless and overwhelmed from thoughts about your purpose. About your identity. This is one of the most sensitive and trickiest of circumstances.

I could go on and on about all the dynamics in life to where one might hold attachment. And I only listed some of the major ones. You can be attached to your cell phone, social media apps, or your shoes even!

The key now is to identify them.

What’s important to note is that your attachment(s) are personal and intimate to you. They are not to be judged by the outside world, nor should you compare yours to another. 

Repeat After Me: Self Reflect, Introspect

Here I share with you some of the questions that I have found that have been helpful for me. You can ask yourself these same questions if you’d like. They are mainly here as a source of inspiration for you to use. Please change them into personal prompts that work especially just for you.

  1. What are some areas in my life where I feel a strong emotional investment or attachment?
  2. On a scale of 1 – 10, 1 being the least uncomfortable/painful, where does my attachment sit?
  3. Do I hold an attachment in an area in my life that will inevitably change/run its course (death, looks, children growing up, retirement, etc)?
  4. Am I struggling to accept or come to terms with those types of change? Why?
  5. Is there any truth behind my beliefs about this?
  6. If I release this attachment, could it potentially have life-harming effects on me?
  7. If this attachment causes suffering is it more stressful to hold onto or let it go?
  8. How much would life change if I could shift my attachments into preferences? You know, like turning them into things I genuinely enjoy, acknowledging their impermanence, cherishing them while they’re around, and gracefully accepting their departure when the time comes.

Call out those attachments girl! 

Carry These Insights Like A Bouquet….

I’m not going to lie to you, detaching from your attachments will be no walk in the park. Ugh, just ask my husband.

But, trust me when I say it’s worth it. 

Everything I do here with Stoic Dahlia, all our discussions, it’s all worth it. Pain is beauty, right?

If you want to experience REAL BEAUTY in your life, then start noticing the imperfections in things. Get back in touch with reality. Remove the filter. Learn to appreciate everything in life as it naturally unfolds.

Let go.

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