Letting Go of Attachment to People—the Buddhist Way.

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“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to.” ~ Lao Tzu


According to Buddhism, all our struggles stem from attachment.

I chuckled the first time I heard this. How is it possible that all my problems are because of attachment? As I scrutinized my life, I realized it was true. My arguments with others emanated from attachment to my opinions. My anger was because of attachment to particular results that didn’t manifest the way I expected. The sadness I experienced when I lost objects was also a result of attachment. And most importantly, agonizing over the loss of people in my life was because of attachment.

Now, we might think that attachment is limited to material things, but this isn’t true—it’s also extended to people. And by far, this is the most dangerous form of attachment. It’s hazardous because human beings are quite unpredictable, and they’re susceptible to change more than anything else in life. The reason is because we are conditioned by nature, and conditions change pretty often.

The most important thing to understand is that attachment doesn’t happen overnight. It starts to take place after spending a good amount of time with someone (it could be a family member, a coworker, a friend, or a lover). We don’t really get attached to the person, but to the experience we have with them. We get attached to the range of emotions that this particular person stirs up in us—good or bad.

Consequently, our mind identifies an emotion as either pleasurable or pleasant, and we crave it more often. Then, when attachment develops, we fear losing the person. In other words, we fear losing the emotions that they make us feel. We especially get attached to people who make us happy, because we are prone to believe that we need an outside factor to complete our sense of happiness.

The palpable solution is to break our attachment. The concept of detachment terrifies us at times, but the truth is that it’s not as frightening as it sounds. When we detach from something (or someone), we don’t entirely let go. It’s just that we start relating to things and people differently—in a much healthier way.

Detachment is essential because, let’s be honest, no one is happy being dependent on anyone or anything. Even if we claim that we’re happy with our attachment, there will come a time when circumstances will prove us wrong. Dependence on others feels good only when the causes and conditions are in our favor. But when conditions change (as when people leave or stop being available) then we realize that attachment to others causes us misery.

When we detach from someone, we stop expecting so much from them. Also, our happiness becomes authentic. Instead of looking outside ourselves to complete our happiness, we understand that we are already complete and can achieve full happiness on our own. Any happiness coming from the outside is merely an addition to our already existent happiness—but it’s not dependent on the absence or presence of the object or person.

Let’s not forget that that the person to whom we are attached becomes happier as well, because they’re no longer pressured to fit into the image we have of them, or what we expect of them. They start giving as much as they can, not what we expect them to give. In this way, we can experience true love for people, which is quite different than the attachment kind of love.

In order to let go of attachment to others, Buddhists advise us to start looking within, so we can love ourselves. The fact is, we always seek in others what is missing within ourselves. It doesn’t mean, for instance, that if we start loving ourselves, we stop wanting others to love us.

On the contrary, we still want to be loved, but we also appreciate the nature of love that’s being given to us. We accept whatever we are receiving, instead of trying to manipulate it. Also, we take into account that this love we are receiving now might not last for as long as we might hope. But instead of fighting to keep it, we understand its ephemeral nature and simply enjoy its current presence.

Not understanding impermanence is another major problem that’s standing in the way of our attachment. According to Buddhism, if we truly contemplate the impermanence of things, we’d be aware enough to not be attached to anything in life—object or person.

If I know that this table is going to break tomorrow, I wouldn’t still cling to it. I’d enjoy whatever time I have left with it, instead of wasting energy trying to keep it. Understanding the impermanence of all phenomena in life helps us to stop fighting transience.

Another way to detach from others is to understand that attachment comes from the mind. As Eckhart Tolle says, “Know that you are not your mind.”  We are so much bigger and deeper.



Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Deviant Art

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina


The Simple Buddhist Trick to being Happy.

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Elyane Youssef

Elyane S. Youssef is an extraterrestrial who was given birth by Earthlings. While living on planet Earth, she fell in love with art, books, nature, writing, photography, traveling, and…pizza. Elyane finds her joy in backpacking and bonding with locals. To see the faces she interacts with on her travels, you can follow Face of the World on Instagram. Besides getting on and off planes, she is in a serious relationship with words and hopes to inspire as many people as possible through them. Once her mission is accomplished on Earth, she will return to her planet to rejoin her extraterrestrial brothers and sisters. In case you’re wondering, yes, she is still willingly obsessed with Frida Kahlo. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also check out her macrame art on Instagram.

Christine Zambonetti Aug 27, 2018 5:51am

After all these years, I finally understand that my attachment style is quite messed up due to a mother who couldn't love me or provide the security that I needed. After my last relationship ended three years ago, I decided to work on myself and I have been happily on my own. I love being by myself so much now that I think it would take a very very special person to want to make me be part of a couple again. I provide all that I need for myself. I created my own security and it feels like I've been freed from my own prison

Nathan Saunders Aug 21, 2018 2:14am


Rebecca Magliozzi Feb 7, 2018 5:01am

Agreed. I am realizing all these years that a good portion of my misery was the inability to see the truth and let go. Some people don't have the capacity to deal with difficult, complicated things in life or to fight for others who are vulnerable and suffering Some people only have the capacity to truly care about their own needs and wants. It's hard for me learning to let that person go. But in the end, perhaps we both are happier apart.

Kat Domino Newman Jan 11, 2018 12:49am

TImely, clear and resonant. This article is like a blanket for my wounded soul

Ralph Graham Jan 6, 2018 2:41pm

Now to learn more and internalis this. Suggestions please and plus meditation?

Ralph Graham Jan 6, 2018 2:39pm

Doug, it's when you lose someting and it ruins your head that the need for unattachment comes up. The article explains that to be unattached - in this context- means to enjoy what we love even more, iinstead of being so fixed on and dependant the way many of us are and that leads to terrible grief and sometimes worse.

Mindi Burji Oct 15, 2017 6:12am

At last a quality post by EJ. Matters such as the one discussed in this piece are more of what people need to read. There's a lot of bad habits and patterns going on out there.

Brandi Mahurin-Wright Jun 10, 2017 12:41am

I love your bio; I too am an extraterrestrial or at least I feel like one most of the time. What a great way to describe your uniqueness to the world. Your article on attachment was very thought provoking but I'm curious about your view on attachment to God or the Great Spirit, or whatever you perceive as God? I can see such merit in letting go of unhealthy attachments and enjoying things and people while they are in our lives and staying present. I think you're onto something...

Dee Wagner Jun 10, 2017 12:03am

Another beautiful article, Elyane! Scientifically, there is probably some energetic attachment that does occur in our important relationships. The key, however, to what you are naming and what Buddhism teaches is what attachment theorists call a secure attachment style—to be able to disconnect without anxiety and/or depression. Meditation practice trains the ventral vagal nerve—one branch of the nerve that serves the parasympathetic nervous system. If you want to know more about the nervous system science, you can check out the articles I have written here in Elephant Journal on Polyvagal Theory.

Nicole S. Urdang Jun 9, 2017 9:50am

Excellent! Thank you.

Dagmar Lorenz Jun 9, 2017 8:22am

Fantastic read, divine timing!!! When this student was ready the master appeared ���

Missy Moody Jun 8, 2017 10:54pm

Elephant needs more quality like this�

Doug Adams Jun 8, 2017 1:54pm

I agree with somethings as well as don't agree with somethings. I feel love is to be attached. I don't see all attachment as unhealthy. But saying that? I do become very attached to people in an unhealthy way so I will try and understand why. I will try and, well I won't say curb that because again I feel some sort of attachment is good. But I will try and understand why I cannot let go of people when it IS the healthy choice. Thank you for a very thought provoking article.

MaryEllen O'Sullivan Jun 8, 2017 1:32pm

Wow ...perfect timing for me to read this. Good stuff...thank you

Casey Kay Jun 8, 2017 12:41pm

I really really love the way you portray buddhist thinking. I cant wait for yr another article.

Jen Godfrey Jun 8, 2017 10:33am

So good; as usual Elyane. I love your work :)