This morning my son and I were chatting about all the new faces at his gym and how they quite possibly were people who had set a New Year’s Resolution to get in shape. The conversation got me thinking about setting goals—why people set goals in the first place and why some goals can never seem to be achieved.
It’s not uncommon, with the dawning of each new calendar year, to summon our willpower and re-commit to setting a goal we tried and failed to achieve in the past.
I suppose there are plenty of reasons why some of our desires don’t come to fruition but the reason that fascinates me the most involves the issue of emotional attachment.
I would define attachment as an intense need to have something happen so we can feel good. Typically, we form unhealthy attachments to external/physical things (i.e. something we think we can use to make us happy, like having the perfect body, financial accomplishments, being in a relationship, etc.) as a way to heal our emotional pain.
Although we truly believe we will be happier if we have the thing we need, being emotionally attached to an outcome can actually prevent us from getting what we want.
Using Mud to Wash Your Hair
When we are attached to something—when we really need something to happen so we can be happy—typically we are attempting to use a physical thing to meet an emotional need.
Using a physical thing to meet an emotional need can never make us happy or solve the problem we’re trying to solve—it’s about as effective as using mud to wash our hair. The thing we’re attempting to use to solve the problem was never designed to solve the problem. Mud can never clean our hair just like a physical thing can never heal our emotional pain.
If we are to address this issue of attachment, we first need to make an important distinction between a physical need and an emotional need so we know how to best meet our needs. Physical needs require physical solutions and emotional needs require emotional solutions.
When a person needs their body to look a certain way so they can feel confident, in effect they are attempting to use a physical thing (their body) to give them something emotionally (confidence).
Or, if a person needs their bank account to reach a certain number so they can feel successful, they are attempting to use money (a physical thing) to meet their emotional need to feel successful.
When I’m counselling my couples, it’s often the attachments that are at the root of the problems in their relationship—one person typically needs the other to behave in certain ways so they can feel good. For example, the woman might need her spouse to be intimate with her (a behaviour) so she can feel adequate, capable and good about herself emotionally.
What I’ve noticed is that whatever we needed emotionally, but didn’t get as a child, is typically the silent driver pushing us to achieve our goals. Often without us realizing it, we erroneously believe the physical outcome will finally heal our emotional pain and make us happy.
It's Okay to Have Whatever You Want,
Just Don't Need Any of it to Make You Happy
My perpetual need to feel wanted and loved via my relationships with men was at the root of my chronic pattern of attracting alcoholic men who ended up leaving me for other women. This pattern continued in three relationships until I finally learned to meet my emotional needs using emotions—I learned to love myself— rather than trying and failing to get love from an external source (the men in my life).
The Real Source of Pain and Suffering
A turning point came for me when I realized that the perpetual state of neediness and the constant pain and suffering it provided, was far worse than being alone. The need to be loved by a man was what made life hell, not being single. That one very powerful epiphany provided the motivation I needed to unplug from the vicious and insane cycle of seeking for and never finding happiness - of trying to use a physical thing to heal my emotional pain.
Instead, I finally saw more value in learning to love myself rather than needing someone to love me. Not only did loving myself heal my emotional pain, it was a far more peaceful path to happiness than the anxiety-ridden path of being attached.
So even though I still wanted a relationship, I no longer needed it. Through the practice of meeting my emotional needs and becoming detached, I ultimately ended up with more than I could have ever dreamed of in a relationship—a truly unconditionally loving, healthy and fully satisfying relationship. Using physical means to meet emotional needs will never really make us happy—like using mud to wash our hair, it can only ever give us a negative result.
So if you’ve set a new goal for yourself or maybe you’re revisiting one from the past that you haven’t yet accomplished, you might want to ask yourself is these important questions:
Why do I want what I want?
Is achieving this goal really going to give me what I need?
Am I trying to use mud to wash my hair?
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