Not My Jacket, the Power of Detachment
Whether by intimacy, guilt, abuse, shame, violence, manipulation, hook or crook, there are those who will burden you with the responsibility for their lives, problems, wants and needs. Even worse, they will blame you the minute something goes wrong. They are the pimp who responds to a prostitutes who has been savagely beaten by a trick by saying, don’t come crying to me. You should have run faster. Now where is my money?
In prison, the term jacket refers to a similar phenomena. A jacket is a burden one is compelled to carry; a negative label one is required to wear, much like an article of clothing. The worst prison jacket is that of a child molester, a one way trip to hell. They only way to discard a jacket that is not your own is the recovery process known as detachment.
Detachment is the act of identifying the owner(s) of a particular problem or issue and insisting that said owner weed his own garden; take care of his own property. It is the act of removing yourself from those who would impose upon you vexations that are not yours to carry, of divorcing yourself from the people and situations that unduly burden you as quickly and cleanly as possible. Stated differently, detachment is the determination not to be thrown under the bus. Regrettably, the process is not always easy.
Intimate relationships and the ‘ties that bind’ make detachment difficult if not impossible. Usually, those closest to us, e.g., the spouse that compels us to bear the burden of his/her addiction or grandparents who are forced to raise their grandchildren because their own offspring can’t or wont, are more likely to saddle us with unwanted baggage than a total stranger. And due to love, concern or misplaced guilt, we are pressured to don these jackets, even if we are not legally required to do so.
At other times, due to a sense of powerlessness, or because we need what the other party supplies, we are unable to detach. Employment situations are a prime example of this harsh reality. Because our employers hold the key to our jobs and economic well-being, we are relatively helpless when they fail to pay us a fair wage, treat us unkindly or place us in harm’s way. Such is life.
However, we are still free to lay the groundwork by which to emancipate ourselves from other people’s drama, even if detachment is years away. Equally as important, detachment does not equal conflict. It does not require fireworks, even when it involves those who have cut us deeply. It may not always be easy, but detaching with love is a relationship behavior that works. Melody Beattie, The Language of Letting Go, Daily Meditations and Codependency, Hazeldon Publishing, 1990, p. 234.
In summary, there is little to be gained by endless suffering, especially when we don’t have to.If someone has an addiction, problem, feeling or self-defeating behavior, that is their problem not ours. If someone has acted and experienced a particular consequence both the behavior and consequence belong to that person, not us. If someone is in denial, or has a limited ability to love and be loved, that is their cross to bear not ours. Ibid at 128.
So learn to detach from those who burden us with personal problems that are not our own. Our first obligation is to assume responsibility for and to manage our own issues. Not those of family, friends, co-workers or the world.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum