What comes to mind when you hear the term “addiction”? For me, I think of substance abuse, alcohol, and opioids, but I was recently introduced to a different form of addiction (and it’s one that most of us struggle with): unhealthy attachments to habits, possessions, and relationships. It’s the kind of addiction that shows up in your everyday life in ways you might have never suspected.
So while you may not struggle with an addiction to opioids or alcohol, you might have an unhealthy attachment to, say, your smartphone, social media, or other types of entertainment. When you find yourself losing track of time as you play your favorite app game or watch just one more episode of your current favorite show, it may be a sign you have developed an unhealthy attachment to those things — especially if they become your priority in the moment over other important values, whether it be time with family and friends, time in prayer, or work obligations. Or, you may have an unhealthy attachment to clothes or other kinds of possessions, telling yourself that buying another pair of shoes or trading in your old phone for the latest model will make you happy and bring fulfillment.
These types of attachments can be unhealthy because a habit like this “blocks our relationship with others, and ultimately, with God. It makes us blind to what really fulfills us, and perpetuates a cycle of want, and then disappointment, and then more want,” writes fellow Grotto writer Maria Walley. When you’re too focused on what is happening on the screen in front of you, you close yourself off from experiencing God in that present moment.
The saints were very well aware of the harm that forming unhealthy attachments could have. They didn’t want material possessions to inadvertently serve as a distraction from their ultimate purpose of focusing on their relationship with God. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Martin de Porres, and St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta all took drastic steps like this because they knew that, if they developed a dependence on certain possessions — whether it was money, a particular food, or status — then it would crowd their heart, making it difficult to make room for God’s love.
They also knew that a dependence like this could slowly chip away at their ability to freely choose what’s good. And so they chose to completely remove those temptations to become attached to anything that distracted them from God’s love in their lives. St. Francis renounced his wealth and St. Mother Teresa chose to live among the people she served. They were practicing detachment.
Like the saints, we can benefit from practicing detachment by avoiding unhealthy attachments. But what does detachment look like in our modern lives? Most of us can’t realistically leave behind everything and go live the life of a hermit on a mountaintop. Instead, we are called to live out detachment in our everyday lives in a way that is unique to our situation. Here are three tips for practicing detachment in your life so that you can focus on what really fulfills you.
Identify Unhealthy Attachments
In order to start practicing detachment, you have to identify those unhealthy attachments you have in your life. Some common unhealthy attachments include:
- Social media (likes, comments, approval from others)
- Entertainment (TV, Netflix, music, books, magazines)
- Prestige (at work, with friends, etc.)
- The happiness of others at the expense of your own wellbeing
- Looking a certain way (preoccupation with clothes, appearance, etc.)
These are only a few examples of attachments that could play an unhealthy role in your life. You may find that, through personal reflection, you are able to identify other areas of unhealthy attachment in your life. Ask yourself, “What attracts my attention throughout the day?” and then explore whether those objects of your attention are helping you love more deeply or enrich your interior life.
Identify your “why”
Once you identified those attachments that are preventing you from freely seeking God and finding true fulfillment, it’s important to specifically identify why it’s crowding your heart and holding you back. For example, if you struggle with an unhealthy attachment to social media, you might say to yourself, “When I spend hours on social media throughout the day, I lose out on opportunities to deepen my relationships with my family/friends/significant other and I barely get any work done, which leaves me feeling disconnected in my relationships and stressed about work.” Taking the time to specifically spell out why this attachment is so harmful helps to build the rationale for making a change.
Now that you’ve identified an unhealthy attachment you want to work on, and you know how it’s negatively impacting your life, you’re ready to start practicing detachment. You might be tempted to tell yourself that you’ll start limiting your phone use tomorrow or that you’ll scale back on your internet shopping while at work next week, but the best advice is to just start right now. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Now’s the time to start scaling back.
The next time you find yourself mindlessly reaching for your phone (I find myself doing this a lot when I’m waiting in line somewhere), put it down and try to notice what’s going on in your environment. Put your phone in a drawer at work so you aren’t tempted to pick it up. Simply pick one small change and implement it today. Over time, you’ll find that the hold from this attachment will lessen over time, freeing you to better focus on what really matters in life.