What Is Non-Attachment, And How Can I Learn It?

Updated May 6, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
”Not being completely attached to material objects can help people build a resilient mindset. The more one is focused on cultivating self-mastery, relationships and mindfulness, the less stress one tends to experience, as well as feeling more content in life.” - Aaron Dutil, LPC

Interested in practicing non-attachment?

Do you stress out over things you can’t control? Do you often feel bogged down by an internal dialogue of stress, fear, guilt, and obligation - even when you know there’s nothing you can do? If so, practicing non-attachment might help you. When you understand non-attachment and how to practice it, you may find that it’s one of the most beneficial things you can learn for your mental health and overall well-being.

What is non-attachment?

Non-attachment is a term that’s often, but not always, used in a spiritual context. In simple terms, non-attachment is the ability to detach yourself from things that control or affect you in a way that’s maladaptive to your well-being. You don’t have to engage in a spiritual practice to utilize non-attachment or to benefit from it. Forms of therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) emphasize mindfulness and the ability to detach from thoughts that aren’t serving you. This relates heavily to non-attachment because it has the same goal in mind; bettering your life, and yourself, and modifying your thought processes to be more advantageous by learning to let go.

Non-attachment definition

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines non-attachment as “lack of attachment (as to worldly concerns).” Non-attachment was first used as an English word in this sense in 1902, but its origins go back to ancient Eastern thought.

Buddhism and non-attachment

For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have practiced non-attachment to attain spiritual enlightenment. They set themselves apart from the world of attachments to things, locations, and people, focusing on becoming more like spiritual masters like Buddha.

The same concept is contained in many great world religions, such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Taoism. In modern secular Buddhism, the goal is not to be more like someone else. It's to be who you already are but to become the best possible version of yourself.

A path, not an event

It's unlikely that you're going to become completely detached from worldly concerns. Progress may come very slowly. However, you can still start on the path to non-attachment. It's a path, not an event; a practice, not a single action.

Indifference versus non-attachment

Indifference means apathy, callousness, carelessness, and disinterest. If you’re indifferent, you’re inattentive, insensitive, dispassionate, and you may even be negligent. That isn’t what non-attachment is. In fact, you can practice non-attachment and still feel love, passion, interest, and excitement. 

Non-attachment can help you to embrace your empathy and connection to the people world around you. It allows you to set yourself free from what you can’t control or fix so that you can spend more time and energy focusing on what you can. You can focus on being the best person that you can be. Additionally, you can work through your challenges or other things you’d like to change without attaching to them or letting pride, ego, and unmalleable external input hold you back.

Is non-attachment healthy or unhealthy?

Non-attachment: it sounds like something you want to avoid. Babies need to feel attached to their mothers and fathers, as psychologists tell us. Having a healthy attachment to a spouse can result in a happier and more peaceful marriage.

Certain medical terms describe the loss of attachment as a negative thing. For example, clinical attachment loss refers to a measurement of the amount of periodontal support for a tooth that’s been lost. When you have gum disease, you may experience this unhealthy loss of attachment.

So, if a loss of attachment is unhealthy in this sense, is it always unhealthy? The short answer is no; non-attachment is different. It can be very healthy and may have many benefits for anyone who comes to understand and practice it well.

Benefits of non-attachment

There’s much that can be gained by practicing non-attachment or implementing the concept into your life. Benefits of non-attachment can include a clearer mind, a better mood, more mental space for the things you can control (as opposed to the things you can’t), less fear of the loss of control, and less fear of change. In relationships, it can also help you to avoid unhealthy or toxic codependent dynamics. Since non-attachment can lower your stress levels, you may also experience the physical and emotional health benefits affiliated with lower stress when you practice this concept in your life.

No one has a flawless or straightforward journey to letting go of unhealthy attachments, so go easy on yourself. A large part of this process is using self-compassion and allowing your thoughts to exist without letting them control you. If you struggle with letting go of unhealthy attachments or fixations, a licensed counselor or therapist can help.

Are there any downsides to non-attachment?

Non-attachment can be a difficult thing to learn, especially if you grew up in an environment where accumulating things was a high priority. Letting go may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever attempted, but when it happens, you feel free.

Once you understand the true meaning of attachment, you may realize that you don’t have to push things away. You may see that you can let go when something is no longer necessary without rushing towards the loss.

In writing about fear, one journalist suggested that indifference to fear was going too far for a non-Buddhist. First, we know that non-attachment is not indifference. Also, you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice non-attachment. So, the main downside is when you misunderstand or misuse the concept.

How to practice non-attachment

So, how can you practice non-attachment in a world full of things, places, and people that you want in your life? Here are some ways to implement non-attachment in your life.

Ilona Titova/EyeEm

Let go of what's past

Start by letting go of what no longer exists in the present. Let go of what no longer serves you. A Buddhist story illustrates this idea:

The Buddha and his monks were traveling. He asked if someone built a raft to cross the river, should they hold onto it after they reached the other side? The boat wouldn’t be needed anymore. Carrying it would have been a great burden. If they left the boat, they could deal with other obstacles more readily when they came to them. By being detached from their desire to keep the boat, they would be able to make better progress.

Non-attachment means moving through life without letting things, people, or places have such a hold on you that you make wrong choices.

Don't let things own you

No one’s perfect. Most of us have fixated on something in our lives that we can’t change, whether that’s an insult, another person’s actions, an aspect of our physical appearance, the loss of an opportunity, or a breakup between ourselves and a former romantic partner. But what if you didn’t let those things hold you back? Yes, it can feel devastating when you’re rejected by a job you want or someone you care about, but you can’t let those losses define you. If you do, you might not be able to see the other doors that open for you in life. Let yourself feel the grief that comes initially, but don’t let it own you forever. Believe that good things will come, and the next time a door opens for you, walk in with positivity and confidence. Statistics on success show that people often fail multiple times before they succeed, so do not let the past hold you hostage. Learn from it, and continue forward.

Recognize the signs of impermanence around you

Understandably, many of us spend our lives seeking stability. However, the inevitable truth is that things change. Part of non-attachment is understanding that the people and the world around you will change. Not only do you have to allow your life to change, but you must allow yourself to change. Your kids will change, your friends will change, your routines will change, and your living situation might change. Nothing in life is exempt from change, and making the conscious effort to come to peace with that can help you feel a greater sense of peace in life overall.

Find your place in the universe

You are a unique individual. Everybody else is different, too. Some things interest you, some things you’re passionate about, and some things just don’t suit your fancy. Take the time to learn these nuances about yourself.

As you stick with the objects, activities, and people that delight you, you will find where you fit into the grand scheme of things. Your place in the universe may keep changing, but in each moment, you can move toward those things that are expressions of who you are.

Mantras and questions for self-reflection

Mantras are an excellent way to practice non-attachment in your life; especially when you’re faced with something you’re attached to or want to let go of in real-time. Have a couple of mantras or statements prepared, such as, “I will embrace this change,” “I can use this change positively,” or “This is something I can’t change. With that in mind, what can I do to navigate these circumstances?” These mantras and self-reflective questions can help you adjust and gain an eventual sense of calmness.

Challenge your thoughts 

First, allow yourself to feel your emotions without judgment. This is an activity that’s commonly practiced in both group and individual counseling. Work on becoming aware of your automatic thoughts and how they affect your actions. Moving forward, when you notice a thought related to an attachment that doesn’t serve you such as “I keep getting rejected and will never get hired” (which would relate to an attachment of the idea that you won’t get work and that your past experiences with rejection define you), you can say, “I can’t prove that I won’t get hired. Logically, I understand that I will likely get hired in the future.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to move toward your goals or increase your chances; it’s about combating the negative voice in your head.

Interested in practicing non-attachment?

Focus on what you enjoy

When something distressing happens, you're usually troubled by it because things aren't meeting your expectations. Maybe you thought it was going to be a clear day, so you planned your wedding for that day, but a large rainstorm hit instead. You feel that the most important day of your life is ruined, and you may become upset, anxious, or depressed. You may argue about it with your future spouse. You might even call off the marriage.

Yet, it wouldn't have to be that way at all. You know the weather isn't completely predictable, even with modern meteorology. A more realistic and beneficial attitude would be to accept things the way they are.

Have your first dance in the rain. Turn off the lights in the reception hall and light some candles for ambiance. Find something in the situation that you can enjoy. Clinging to the desire for your wedding to be on a clear, sunny day would only cause you to suffer. When you let that go, you can enjoy what is.

Practice non-attachment in parental love

Parents must walk a fine line with their children. Their children need help to meet their needs. That's why parents can be cited for neglect when they don't take care of them properly. Yet, at the same time, children need to gain their independence, because they won't be children forever.

When you practice non-attachment in parenting, you tend to your child's needs without demanding something of them in return. You allow them to explore their world as much as they safely can, given the level of maturity they have at that time. You teach them without demanding that they agree with you on everything. Your child feels accepted and free to follow their own life path.

Accept responsibility for your own happiness

Non-attachment naturally leads to accepting responsibility for your own happiness. As you let go of trying to control others, you finally realize that no one can reliably make you happy but you.

The fact that others can't always make you happy doesn't mean others don't care for you. It only means that you're the one who's in the best position to know what it takes for you to be truly happy and has the power to do that every time you realize you aren't happy.

Learn more about non-attachment from a therapist

The idea of letting go can seem scary. You may feel like you're letting go of your control. The truth is that you're enhancing your personal power and gaining control over your life. The process can go more smoothly, though, if you have a guide to help you along the way.

Some people prefer to work with a spiritual leader or a yoga guru. Others prefer to talk to someone who can help them with the mental problems that too much attachment has caused them. You can speak with a licensed counselor at Regain.us for online therapy whenever you're ready. It's affordable, convenient, and you can have sessions whenever and wherever works for you. Best of all, it can help you move toward greater personal freedom, fulfillment, and happiness.

Online therapy has been found to be comparable to traditional in-person therapy. In fact, the National Center For Health Research assessed dozens of studies and found online therapy to be just as effective at treating anxiety, depression, and PTSD, among other mental health conditions and concerns.

For Additional Help & Support With Your ConcernsThis website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started
This website is owned and operated by BetterHelp, who receives all fees associated with the platform.