Love or Attachment?
by Diane Linsley

For most of my life, I experienced confusing feelings of anxiety,
anger and sadness whenever I heard the word "love."

Love and God are the two most misused words in the world. Every
person thinks they know what these words mean, but few people
truly understand them.

These words have been used to dominate and control people for
centuries. It's no wonder that just hearing these words can evoke strong feelings in people. As you become more aware, you will notice your own reactions to these words, and you may begin to question what these words mean to you.

Other Words for Love

The most damaging relationships in my life were the ones in which someone said, "I love you." Since few people know what love is, these words can mean almost anything. Here are some examples:

"I like you (the same way I like chocolate), and I want to possess you for my enjoyment."

"I'm attached to you, and I don't want you to leave me, so I'm going to imprison you and never let you leave the house or speak to other people because I don't want you meeting someone else."

"I am your parent, and you are my property. Your job is to make me look good in public and obey me so I can feel powerful."

"I'm trying to save your soul. You must believe what I believe, or you can't go to heaven."

"I want to use your body for my own sexual gratification."

"I want your money."

"I don't want you to know that I've been lying to you, so I'm going to distract you with the words that you always fall for. And it's your own fault for being such a sucker."

Love and Codependency

If any of these examples triggered you, you're not alone. We've all experienced being manipulated by someone who misused the word "love." And we've all been guilty of doing it ourselves to some degree because we were not taught properly. Now we can become more aware and heal ourselves.

In spite of my past trauma, I'm not negative or bitter about love. I've experienced being truly loved by a few close friends and my grown children. Once you've experienced true love, you'll only want truly loving relationships. Let's explore the difference between true love and immature "love."

When my son was 12 years old, he said something that shocked and upset me. He said, "Why don't you love me like grandma does?"

I didn't know how to explain to him that his grandmother's indulgent, controlling and codependent behavior was not love. I was trying to raise my children to be healthy, responsible adults. But my efforts were being undermined by my ex-husband and his family.

In the guise of love, they were trying to make the kids dependent on them so the kids could not grow up to be independent, self-sufficient people who could think and act for themselves.

Why would anyone want to make another person dependent on them? This happens in all types of relationships, not just with children. And it's not love. It's fear, jealousy, pride, greed, lust, desire, attachment, possessiveness and many other things. But it's not love.

Stages of Relationship

If you can see unloving behaviors in yourself, then congratulations! You have awareness. Every person has an ego, and every ego is dysfunctional. Awareness is the beginning of overcoming the ego. Of course, when we become aware of something that is unloving in ourselves or others, it hurts. That's good. If it didn't hurt, we wouldn't be motivated to change.

In Transformation through Intimacy, Robert Augustus Masters discusses the four stages of intimate relationship: ego-centered, codependent, co-independent, and being-centered. The vast majority of relationships are in the first two stages.

A person can only be as loving as their stage of development allows them to be. When you have people in different stages of development, there are unavoidable misunderstandings. My son at age 12 didn't believe that I loved him. He related better to his grandma, who was closer to his stage of development. This happens in romantic relationships, too.

You cannot have a two-way, being-centered relationship with someone who's not ready for it. I learned this the hard way. But while you are waiting for someone to come along, you can have a being-centered relationship with yourself. That's why I teach about self-compassion.

"The man who loves himself enjoys the love so much, becomes so blissful, that the love starts overflowing, it starts reaching others. It has to reach!...One thing will become absolutely clear to you: that if loving one person, yourself, is so tremendously ecstatic and beautiful, how much more ecstasy is waiting for you if you start sharing your love with many, many people!" ~Osho

Attachment is not Love

People often confuse love with attachment. In Love, Freedom, Aloneness, Osho says that true love is detached, which is a neutral state that is neither attached nor indifferent.

Enlightenment is an incredible experience of letting go of attachments. That's why it's so blissful. It's the experience of Oneness. In this experience, you feel an immense love for all people and all of creation. There is no need to possess or control anyone when you are one with All That Is because there's nothing outside of you.

The initial euphoria of enlightenment fades over time, and the ego eventually reasserts itself, requiring constant vigilance to keep it from taking over your life again. But the realization of enlightenment stays with you. You can never be completely deceived by the ego again. You see the ego clearly in yourself and in everyone around you (which can be disconcerting and downright depressing sometimes).

You don't necessarily have to experience enlightenment before you can experience true love. Some basic principles, along with the practice of watching yourself (witnessing) are enough to get started on the path. And you don't need a romantic partner. You can practice loving every person in your life, starting with yourself and extending out into the whole world.

The advantage of having a romantic partner and/or children is that these relationships trigger more shadow material than other relationships do. So there's more grist for the mill - more ego dysfunction to observe and overcome.

Osho says, "All that is needed on your part is not to learn the ways of love, but to unlearn the ways of unlove. The hindrances have to be removed, the obstacles have to be destroyed - then love is your natural, spontaneous being."

How do you remove the obtacles? Watch your ego. Watch every thought and feeling that arises. Watch every fear, jealousy, and desire to control that arises. Just keep watching. As Bill Harris says, "You cannot do something that does not serve you and do it with awareness."

Attachment Styles and Energies

Attached by Amir Levine describes three attachment styles in romantic relationships: anxious, secure and avoidant. The author approaches this subject from a scientific paradigm, but I see some parallels with what I learned from Osho.

I've been in two relationships with men who had avoidant attachment styles, and one relationship with an anxiously attached man. They were all painful to be with, but the avoidant men hurt me the most.

I ended the relationships because they were not good for me. Allowing someone to hurt you isn't good for them, either. Leaving was the most compassionate thing I could do. These relationships gave me plenty of opportunities to observe my own ego patterns. Once I learned my lessons, I was free.

Osho says that if you love someone, "you will take every care of his needs, but....you will not fulfill anything that is really going to harm him....you will not fulfill his ego, although his ego will be demanding. The person who is too concerned, attached, will fulfill the ego demands - that means you are poisoning your beloved."

Hal and Sidra Stone, the creators of Voice Dialogue, identify three different energies that people have when interacting with others: personal, impersonal and withdrawn. These energies remind me of the anxious, secure and avoidant attachment styles. They also sound like the attached, detached and indifferent states that Osho speaks of.

People who do a lot of spiritual work develop more impersonal energy and the ability to witness with detachment. Spiritually mature people are in a neutral energy most of the time. They are also aware of their energy, and they can adjust the type and intensity of the energy, depending on who they are with.

The Stones suggest practicing embodying the three different energies with a partner until you become proficient at recognizing and controlling your own energy.

Love and Freedom

The foundation of true love is freedom. The moment one person tries to control another, love vanishes.

When you are very attached to someone (like your child or lover), the temptation to control them is very great. With awareness, you can look deeply into your attachment and the roots of your desire to control. You will see that it's rooted in fear. Rather than feeling ashamed of your fear, you can regard it as an opportunity to go deeper into meditation and become more aware. Try tonglen.

Witness how you react to the realization that all things are impermanent, including all relationships. Your child will grow up and leave you - if you have raised him properly. And your romantic relationship will eventually end in either a break-up or in death.

Witness the fear without turning away from it. Feel the anxiety and grief that arises when you imagine your loved ones changing, growing up or dying. Watch how you project your fears onto others and try to control them.

If you try to control someone, they will probably leave sooner. At the very least, you will destroy the love. That's what most people do because they don't know love. They only know attachment.

Over many years of looking deeply into these things, a person gradually develops compassion, which is the best word to describe enlightened love.

"Love is the only freedom from attachment. When you love everything, you are attached to nothing." ~Mikhail Naimy

Enlightened Love

True love is not the burning desire of wanting or needing. It's not the ego's grasping and clinging.

True love is peaceful, patient and understanding. It wants what's best for the soul development of the other, even if it means letting go. Hal and Sidra Stone say that the secret to keeping love in a relationship is to hold it with an open hand.

There is no love without freedom. As Belle says in Beauty and the Beast, "Can anyone be happy if they aren't free?"

"Love takes no prisoners." ~Junpo Denis Kelly Roshi, The Heart of Zen

Once you have tasted true love, you won't settle for anything less. Life after enlightenment is a continual striving to gain mastery over the ego and live in a state of love, peace and freedom.

This video about Disney's Aladdin explains why freedom is the foundation of love. This is a fun way to teach this concept to children (or your own Inner Child).

Here's a guided meditation for love and healing.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
interested in coaching with me.


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