By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Detachment in Social Relationships

It is indeed so hard for us weak, vulnerable, and naturally insecure human beings to be detached from outcomes, such as whether those we like also like us, or whether we get that ticket to the job or graduate program we desire, or whether we are able to attract people to some event we are involved with in our work or in an apostolate. But if we do not try to acquire detachment from outcomes, we can end up in a very painful earthly purgatory as we beat ourselves up over what we may have done wrong (sometimes we even imagine things that we may have done wrong as somehow being related to certain outcomes that in fact had nothing at all to do with our actions). Especially painful for many is the common situation where a friend or loved one intentionally decides to distance himself or herself from you.

What is the solution so that we can receive the peace of mind that Jesus offers us in such a disappointing social situation? Here are some tentative stabs at the problem:

1. Humility: We are not the center of the universe nor necessarily the center of the preoccupations of others. If we experience unexplained rejection or coldness from others, it may very well have nothing to do with us but with issues and problems that are highly personal that an individual needs time and respectful distance to resolve. Humility gives that person the time out he needs to get his house in order and to be ready to, again, resume, if called for, normal relations in the future.

2. Charity: Related to the above described humility is the giving to the other of the benefit of the doubt, the giving of a presumption of good intentions. If you have experienced the authentic goodness of someone, that goodness remains in spite of a certain distancing.

3. Accessibility: Regardless of events, we remain respectfully accessible to any resumption of a normal relationship, if the other so freely chooses.

4. Prayer: Intercede for the other who may possibly be in difficult personal circumstances or turmoil.

5. Trust: Trust that the same God that surprised you with the blessing of knowing someone will surprise you with further blessings through that same person or others presently unknown.

6. Examine Yourself: In the above prescriptions, I am assuming a no-fault situation. Yet, in some cases, there are in fact defects or simply morally neutral tendencies within ourselves that can drive others away. It may be time to take a personal inventory, possibly with the aid of a trusted friend or spiritual director. It can't hurt to do so even if we are not at fault.


By the way, as a matter of cautious clarification, the above assumes that the social relationship was not abusive in any way. When abuse is involved, then a complete and permanent break is obviously well-justified. We are not obligated in any way to pursue the optional gift of intimate friendship with abusive personalities of any kind, just as we are, for example, not obligated to marry anyone simply because they wish to marry us. This clarification is necessary in an age where I see dysfunctional personalities multiplying because of so much increased confusion about healthy behavior.