Detachment vs. Apathy: How to Let Go of Control without Giving Up
At one point, “I don’t care” became my motto. After a sequence of unfortunate events that were beyond my control (war, losing a much loved uncle at 46, friends moving away), I went from feeling responsible for everything to not caring about (and not taking responsibility for) anything.
Over time, I convinced myself that I was better off not caring. I was freeing myself from disappointment and pain.
Turns out I was doing the exact opposite.
Instead of actively accepting how life’s events played out, I passively gave up on life. I became a bystander in my own life—I was drowning in apathy.
I didn’t care for the wrong reasons and from the wrong mindset.
There are two types of not caring: apathy and detachment (or unattachment, the word is not as important as what it signifies).
Apathy is one of the most dominant emotional states that rob us of freedom and happiness.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to move past apathy into a different kind of not caring—the kind that empowers, motivates, and liberates.
Below is my attempt to articulate this experience. I can’t say that I’m completely free of apathy and have totally surrendered control and aligned with life. It’s a work in progress.
Apathy vs. Detachment
I’ll start with a few thoughts about apathy and what it feels like.
- Passive indifference: We don’t care, and we don’t see the point in caring.
- Mind numbing and soul crushing:: We fixate on negativity that stifles our imagination, and suffocates our desires. We see only limitation and ignore the infinite possibilities that surround us.
- Bleak and defeatist: We assume the worst outcome (or meaning) in everything, past, present, and future.
- Draining: We feel depleted without any apparent effort or reason.
- Demotivating: Apathy leads us to feeling that we have nothing to look forward to, and/or there is nothing meaningful that we can do.
- Depressing: Negativity coupled with depleted energy and lack of motivation lead to depression and despair.
- Closed up: What apathy does is close our hearts and warp our perspective to see only negativity and limitation.
To sum up, apathy is not caring out of despair, and choosing to not participate in life and to be a victim of circumstance.
While detachment is not the exact opposite of apathy, it allows for not caring, but from a completely different outlook.
- Calm power: We’re not attached to a certain outcome. We feel an inner calm that is not easily shaken by what the future might bring. We feel at ease with ourselves, and life.
- Truthful neutrality: When we’re unattached, we don’t assume anything—good or bad. We let reality unfold as it’s meant to be.
- Liberating: When we’re not too concerned about what happens next, we can be free doing what we’re doing.
- Playful and curious: Instead of wavering between anticipation and dread, we revert back to our most natural tendency—curiosity. We do our thing with an unassuming heart, and meet life with curiosity instead of apprehension or indifference.
- Actively responsible: We don’t hold ourselves hostage to outside influences and what’s going to happen or not happen. We take responsibility for our choices and let go of worrying about the results.
- Carefree: We surrender to life. All is well, whether anyone cares or not. We let go of abstract ideals and expectations.
- Open to life: Our hearts and minds are not cluttered with negativity or positivity. We meet life with arms wide open. Ultimately nothing matters, so why not be free to do what we truly desire?
To be unattached is to be free from wanting to control the present or the future, in any way shape or form.
This is the kind of not caring that I would want to (and would love for you to) experience. So how can we free ourselves from apathy?
How to move from apathy to detachment
We’re not born apathetic. Yet it’s fairly easy to fall into its traps.
We all have been subjected to challenging situations where we felt powerless, or we didn’t matter.
Social conditioning doesn’t make it any easier with demands of conformity and normality. We turn into obedient robots and let society dictate how we live. No wonder apathy sometimes feels like the most normal state of being.
We can’t wave a magic wand and change how we feel. But we can start paying attention to what’s going on right now, in this moment. Then take action and let go.
Patterns of thoughts and feelings
From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to sleep (maybe even in our dreams), there are certain thoughts and feelings that run in the background.
Passive unease, discontent, boredom, or any form of obscure limiting negativity, are all indications of apathy.
Once we become aware of the feelings, we can breathe into them and choose to let them go (more on that below).
If you feel tired and depleted most of the time, look into what’s behind it.
There might be a physical reason (for example lack of sleep, or poor nutrition). Or it can be mental and emotional.
Low energy can be the symptom of not having something to look forward to, or dreading what’s to come.
The best antidote for anticipation and avoidance is calm action.
Wants, motivations, and expectations
Everything we do is driven by a want or need.
If there is an outside motive, we will end up being pleasantly satisfied or sorely disappointed.
Wanting approval or validation, security, or expecting others to act in a certain way, may lead to apathy after a few bouts of disappointment or unfortunate circumstances.
If we do something because we want to do it, or because it expresses who we are, what happens next doesn’t matter. We did what we wanted to do; the rest is not part of the equation.
This brings me to the most important step.
Action for action’s sake
Authentic action serves as its own motivation. It’s truly the best way to live a life of surrendered power.
When we do something because we want to, we don’t put too much thought into how others will perceive it or whether we’ll succeed or fail. The experience becomes its own reward.
If we want to connect with a person, we do it because we genuinely want to connect with him or her. Not because we want something back, or we’re afraid of being alone.
When we act from this place, the doubtful and fearful thoughts start to fade, because the end result doesn’t matter. Eventually, apathy becomes irrelevant.
Choosing to let go of residual emotions and judgment
If we don’t consciously choose to let go of apathy, we will continue to identify with it and carry it around for no reason, other than familiarity.
How to let go of the feelings?
When you notice the feelings, sit with them, feel the sensations in the body. And when the feelings subside, choose to let go. Repeat every time the feelings come up again. Think of it as an emotional cleanse that needs to be repeated on a regular basis.
When judgmental thoughts arise, notice them, and when the thoughts fade, consciously let go. And repeat as needed.
Letting go of emotional baggage and judgment will pave the way for authentic action and truthful living. This is where we’ll experience detachment and freedom.
Life is not easy. I don’t think it was ever meant to be easy. But it’s meant to be lived and enjoyed—freely.
The best way to experience life is to live it moment-by-moment, act-by-act, with more heart and sensory awareness, and less thought and bipolar expectations.
This is living with the right kind of not caring, where we become active participants in this amazing journey, and life never disappoints.