Interpersonal Relationship Skills: A Detached Style

by Dennis Bradford

in moral well-being

There are two companion posts on interpersonal relationship skills.  One focuses on a secure attachment style and the other focuses on an insecure style.

Nearly everyone has either a secure or an insecure style.

Sages are the exception.  Theirs is neither a secure nor an insecure style.  (The fact that there are so few sages probably explains why psychologists tend to ignore them.)

What is the best attachment style?  It is neither secure nor insecure.  It is beyond either.  It’s actually not an attachment sytle at all.  It’s being detached.

You may be thinking, “What?  Isn’t a secure style balanced and aren’t sages, if there are any, balanced?”  Good question.

Consider an analogy.  What’s the best way to handle distressing emotions like fear, anger, and grief?

The first step, as I argue elsewhere, is to avoid either acting with that emotion as motivation or trying to ignore it.  Both extremes are foolish.  Both perpetuate the emotion:  one by keeping it alive actively and the other by keeping it alive passively.  If so, both fail to deal effectively with it.

So the first step is just to accept that it is real without doing anything else.

More, though, should be done.  Taking a time out is helpful, but it’s only a first step.  At least it avoids being unbalanced.  If you find yourself at either extreme, take a more centered approach.

However, if you have taken a centered approach, your work is not yet over:  while avoiding reacting badly, you still haven’t reacted so as to disable the emotion and master it.  You still haven’t reacted really well.  There’s a second step to be taken.

Similarly, with respect to interpersonal relationship skills, if you have an insecure attachment style, if your style is either avoidant or anxious, the first step is to take a centered approach.

Someone who has a secure attachment style with respect to interpersonal relationship skills already takes a centered approach.  So, if your attachment style is insecure, you’ll need to take a step that those with a secure approach have already internalized.

Centering is insufficient for mastering interpersonal relationship skills.  Though it avoids doing badly, there’s another step to be taken to react really well.  It’s true that taking a centered approach to interpersonal relationship skills is better than taking either of the insecure approaches, but your work is not yet over:  while avoiding the extremes, you still haven’t reacted so as to master relationships.

It’s not an accident that the final step to be taken in both the case of emotions and in the case of interpersonal relations is the same.  The reason is that both are based on “ego delusion.”  Mastering either emotions or interpersonal relations requires dissolving the delusion.

Mastery requires detachment.

Detachment is the dissolution of ego delusion.  Since your ego is your sense of separation, detachment is letting go of your sense of separation.  It’s the transition from a scattered life to a unified one.

Both a secure attachment style and an insecure one are egocentric.  If there were no separation between you and that other person, it would be impossible for there to be any kind of attachment between you and that other person!

There are only two kinds of attachments:  egocentric and nonegocentric.  Since the only nonegocentric attachment is to awakening (enlightenment, nirvana) [because its goal is the dissolution of egocentricity], interpersonal attachments are egocentric.

That’s a valid argument.  Is it sound?

My suggestion is simple:   why don’t you find out for yourself?

The only way to find out for yourself is to let go of your egocentricity and observe what happens to your interpersonal relationships (and emotions).   In particular, it’s impossible  to think your way to a right understanding of mastery.  What is required for you to find out for yourself is mastering some effective spiritual practice (like zazen) or other.

If you do, since egocentricity poisons love, you will discover for yourself that all your interpersonal relationships will become more loving.  Why?  By letting go of trying to gain anything from others for yourself, you’ll be able to focus of what is best for others.  After all, selflessly promoting what is best for others is loving them.  Isn’t love one of your ultimate values?

If this makes sense to you and you are not yet practicing, I encourage you to start “sitting” immediately.

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