Thoughts on Attachment

The Buddha taught about suffering and the end of suffering. The Buddha said that attachment is the source of all suffering. Freedom from attachment is freedom from suffering.

I think the Buddha was actually referring to a certain type of attachment. Attachment in the Buddhist sense is more along the lines of clinging to things that change, expecting to find permanency and stability in things that are not permanent or stable. Expecting to find lasting happiness and peace in things that are fleeting.

Attachment, in the psychological sense, is a natural and positive force in nature. It is a survival mechanism in humans. As helpless babies, our lives literally depended upon our caregivers. We needed to be sure that there was consistent care for us. We needed to become attached to our caregivers. A baby who experiences secure attachment becomes a HAPPY child, a safe child. A baby who experiences insecure attachment results in an unhappy and fearful child.

Whatever kind of attachment we may have experienced as babies, we can’t seem to escape that deep conditioning. We try to recreate this experience when we grow up. After attachment theory in babies started to become popular, psychologists discovered that much of the same can be applied to love relationships. There are three basic attachment styles – avoidant, secure and anxious-resistant.

Avoidant – I am somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; I find it difficult to trust them completely, difficult to allow myself to depend on them. I am nervous when anyone gets too close, and often, others want me to be more intimate than I feel comfortable being.

Secure – I find it relatively easy to get close to others and am comfortable depending on them and having them depend on me. I don’t worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to me.

Anxious-resistant – I find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I often worry that my partner doesn’t really love me or won’t want to stay with me. I want to get very close to my partner, and this sometimes scares people away.

Though most people fall into the secure category, we can still find ourselves acting more avoidant or anxious at times. I think that is a natural part of the ebb and flow of intimacy. That is, the ebb and flow of being close to someone while also maintaining personal identity. At times that we are feeling confident and have a strong sense of self, we are able to move very close to others without feeling threatened or afraid. At times we are feeling a little lost, we may need to move away from others a bit to make sure to remember who we are. I think this is natural and healthy. Overall, there is balance. Overall, there is interdependence. We have needs and we are needed. We can be close but maintain our own identities. We can be close and not be afraid of abandonment because we have faith that there are others who will care for us. We have faith that we are still lovable even if rejected by our object of attachment. We can be open. We can be vulnerable.

Relationships in which the couple have a secure attachment to each other are more successful. They have greater interdependence, commitment, trust and satisfaction.

A mutual, secure attachment to a lover you admire, respect and are compatible with is a beautiful thing! It can be a source of great pleasure and comfort. It is well worth the risk of a broken heart. Enlightened beings can and do love like this. When two of the Buddha’s disciples died, he is quoted as saying, “It’s as if the sun and the moon have left the sky.” In CS Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, he mentions how distraught Jesus was over the death of Lazarus. He goes on to say:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

–For more of Becca Thielen’s reflection on mindfulness in daily life, check out her blog, This is Dhamma.

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3 comments on “Thoughts on Attachment
  1. scott rupp says:

    Becca: Good blog entry. Well reasoned, well written. Brought a better understanding of attachment for me as I have had a number of questions about attachment and clinging and how they relate to love and relationships. Quite timely for somethings I am going through in life right now. Thank you for writing this article.

  2. Troy says:

    “A mutual, secure attachment to a lover you admire, respect and are compatible with is a beautiful thing! It can be a source of great pleasure and comfort. It is well worth the risk of a broken heart. Enlightened beings can and do love like this.”

    I believe this statement is entirely false and contradictory.

    I do not believe there is such a thing as a beautiful suffering. Attachments are caused by suffering. The most beautiful loves are the ones that are not attached. Attachment is not love. Assisting your partner in a way that causes personal growth is love. To babysit another person’s ego is not love nor is it beautiful. If you’re not growing you’re not in a relationship. Instead you’re in a fearful arrangement that is more like a security blanket.

    I disagree with some buddhist teachings as well regarding suffering. The cause of suffering is not grasping, attachments, ignorance or excessive passions. Those are post actions and is the effect of the cause which is an belief distortion regarding one’s identity. You are an omnipotent, omniscent being and if you believe otherwise as if you are your mind, emotions, energy, physical body, or possessions then you will fear its loss or change. The reason why grasping happens is because the one who does is attempting to maintain their identity so they work hard at creating or maintaining what they think they are. And this hard work is the act of grasping. However, the cause of the grasping is the distorted belief.

    In a relationship the distorted belief that your partner is your other half is an attachment. They are not your other half. In truth you are whole and complete. If your identity includes your partner then you will suffer any deviation out of the “mutual, secure attachment”. Love then becomes conditional upon external circumstances meeting your current belief system. If either partner deviates then we are no longer capable of loving them as we would suffer too much to be capable of unconditional love.

    Two people in a relationship who are complete and whole independently of each other are the only ones that can unconditionally love each other without suffering. In other words, your partner’s actions can never harm you in any way.

    Unfortunately, most psychologists give advice in how to make relationships work by teaching how to make the ego work for them and virtually discard what makes a relationship meaningful.

  3. Leslie says:

    I totally agree with Troy! Well written! This was an interesting article to read

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