12 reasons why attachment is the root of suffering

We’re all attached in some way:

Attached to our identity, our loved ones, our worries, our hopes.

We all care about what happens in life, of course we do.

But there’s a difference between caring about what happens in life and being attached to it.

In fact, the more attached we are to outcomes in life, the worse our life becomes.

Here’s what I mean by this…

Attachment isn’t healthy…

Attachment is not the same as interrelation or appreciation.

Relation and interdependence is healthy. In fact it’s inevitable and all life depends on the relationship and interworking between beings and processes.

The 18th Century German philosopher and writer Johann Goethe has a quote which I just love about interdependence.

As Goethe said:

“In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.”

He’s so right!

But attachment is different.

Attachment is dependency.

And when you become dependent on a person, place or outcome to satisfy and fulfill you, you surrender control over your life and your future.

The result is disastrous.

Here are 12 reasons that attachment does so much damage and how to transform attachment into active engagement instead.

1) Attachment comes in various forms

Before getting into the problems with attachment, let’s go over what it is.

There’s more than one kind of attachment.

Here are the three main types of attachment:

  • Attachment to a person, place, experience or condition that you’re currently experiencing. This is depending on your present reality to continue forever in order to remain fulfilled.
  • Attachment to a future person, place, experience or condition that you believe must come true in order for you to be fulfilled or get what you deserve.
  • Attachment to a past person, place, experience or condition which you believe should have never happened or must happen again in order for you to be fulfilled or find what you seek and deserve in life.

These three types of attachment all cause suffering in their own destructive ways, and here’s why:

2) Attachment weakens you

The first thing about attachment is that it weakens you.

If I run a marathon with the goal of winning that’s one thing: it can be motivating, inspiring and push me harder. I want very badly to win, but even if I lose I will think back on this event as a time of challenge, improvement and progress.

I wanted badly to win but I didn’t. No worries, though, I am going to keep training and maybe next time I will! I know I love running and am great at it, either way.

But if I run that marathon being attached to winning it’s different. I will begin to feel despair as soon as I notice I’m getting tired or not winning. If I lose badly, or even come second I may vow not to run another marathon again.

This was my one shot and I lost, screw it!

After all, I was supposed to win and I didn’t. Life hasn’t given me what I want, why should I have to put up with being disappointed so often and not getting what I deserve?

By the same token, maybe life hasn’t given me what I feel I deserve or need in the past or isn’t working out now in the present and this saps my willpower and drive as well, weakening me.

Attachment makes you weak.

3) Attachment misleads you

Attachment is a siren song.

It tells you that if you feel strongly about something then you deserve it to go the way you wish or can stage some kind of protest if it doesn’t.

Real life doesn’t work that way.

We often don’t have everything we think we need in life, or even much of what we want.

And yet meaningful and life-changing decisions and actions still remain possible even in imperfect and frustrating situations.

Attachment misleads us by making us believe that we’re only powerful and capable once we start getting what we want.

But many of our best accomplishments and experiences come out of frustration and imperfection and detaching ourselves from expectation about outcome.

Lachlan Brown talks about this in his new book Hidden Secrets of Buddhism, which I really enjoyed reading.

As he explains, attachment deceives us by making us depend on external things to bring us fulfillment.

We then sit around waiting for life to change and promising ourselves we’ll try something new once certain preconditions are met.

I’ll become more serious about my fitness once I get a girlfriend…

I’ll get more serious about my relationship with my girlfriend once I have a better job…

Then these preconditions never seem to happen!

Attachment to waiting on the world to change leads to us wasting our lives and becoming more dejected and more passive.

Lachlan himself struggled with these frustrations and talks about how he overcame the trap of outer attachment while still pursuing his goals.

4) Attachment creates false expectations

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Attachment to future outcomes creates so many false expectations that most often don’t come true.

And even when they do, we tend to quickly replace them with new attachments.

“OK, so now I have the most amazing career, friends and girlfriend. But what about living in a place that has better weather? This weather is seriously shit and it’s the reason I’ve been feeling so down lately.”

While it is possible you have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), this also sounds a lot like an addiction to attachment.

Your expectations about what should happen in the future or should be happening now or should have happened in the past are holding you back.

You’re limiting yourself and tying your hands behind your back by not approaching present reality as it exists in front of you.

The more you expect the more you set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. The more you suffer.

5) Attachment is built on denial

Here’s the thing:

If attachment worked I’d be all for it.

But it doesn’t. And it makes people suffer unnecessarily, sometimes for years and years.

Attachment turns ordinary life disappointments and problems into insurmountable mountains, because it simply doesn’t work.

In fact, the reason that Buddha warned about suffering wasn’t some esoteric ultra spiritual reason.

It was very simple:

He warned against attachment and how it caused suffering, because attachment is built on denial.

And when we deny reality it still hits us hard.

As Barrie Davenport writes:

“Buddha taught that ‘the root of suffering is attachment’ because the only constant in the universe is change.

“And change often involves loss.”

Simple, but very true.

6) Attachment is unscientific

Attachment is also unscientific. And however you feel about science, ignoring science can cause a lot of suffering.

For example if you ignore the laws of thermodynamics and touch a hot stove you’re going to get burned whether or not you “believe” in it.

Our skin cells completely regrow every seven years and who we are is in constant change.

Our neural processes themselves also adapt and change, which shows how much you can help rewire your neurons if you let go of attachment.

For some, the logical fact that even we ourselves are physically and mentally shifting can be scary.

But it can also be invigorating as you leave behind attachment to a static idea of self or attachment to past, present or future life conditions to bring you fulfillment or meaning in life.

7) Attachment makes everything conditional

Everything changes, even change.

But when you deny that or try to overlook it and remain set on being attachment to what should have happened or should happen next, you set a number of conditions on your happiness.

The same holds true for other areas as well, such as love.

If your love is based on attachment then it becomes highly conditional. You love this person because they’re always there, or always know the right thing to say, or are patient with you when you’re going through stuff.

So, if they stop being that way you won’t love them anymore? Or you’ll wish that you could go back to how they were before, at minimum…

You’ve attached yourself to a version or mode of who somebody else is and then begin to suffer enormously when the reality or your perception of that changes.

It’s a recipe for misery, breakups and romantic disappointment.

Attachment makes everything conditional, even love. And that’s not a good state of mind to be in.

8) Attachment is unsatisfying

Attachment not only doesn’t work, it’s highly unsatisfying.

When you’re attached to something you’re at its mercy, whether that “thing” is a person, place, experience or life condition.

Maybe you’re attached to the idea of being young and looking young, for example.

It’s understandable. But the more you cling to it, the more time will inexorably move on, leaving you frustrated and unsatisfied.

The normal aches and pains and perhaps sadness of aging will be replaced by real suffering, as time ages you against your will.

This is the thing about attachment:

As I said, it’s built on denial.

Everything that exists is changing, including you. We can’t cling to any of it unless we want to suffer even more and be even more disappointed in unnecessary ways.

9) Attachment writes checks it can’t cash

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Many spiritual gurus and self-help teachers tell us that if we just “visualize” a better future and “raise our vibrations” that the life of our dreams will come to us.

The problem is that the more you dream of an ideal future and getting all you want, the more you end up living in daydream land instead of reality.

What’s worse is that you also end up hinging your life on the idea that you’ll be fulfilled “once” you achieve ABC or get XYZ or meet Mrs. Right and so on.

Forget it.

If you want to stop suffering so much and find constructive ways to pursue spirituality that won’t leave you high and dry, it’s all about flipping the script.

Real spirituality isn’t about being pure, holy and living in a state of bliss: it’s about approaching life on realistic and practical terms, as taught by the shaman Rudá Iandé.

His video about this really spoke to me, and I found that many of the spiritual ideas I’d always just kind of “assumed” were true actually were quite counterproductive.

If you’re finding that it’s hard not to get attached and you don’t see a real alternative, I really recommend checking out what he has to say.

Click here to watch the free video and bust the spiritual myths you’ve bought for the truth.

10) Attachment distorts your decision-making

Making decisions is hard for even the clearest-minded individual.

How are you supposed to know what to do and what the outcome of your decisions will be?

The most you can do is try your best to weigh pros and cons and align your decisions with your purpose in life.

When you’re attached to past, present or future, you end up making decisions that are contingent on external things out of your control.

You move somewhere because your boyfriend lives there and you are attached to staying together, even though you hate where he lives and feel lonely every time you go there…

You decide to turn down a job that stresses you out a lot because you’re attached to resentment at a past job that overworked you and are terrified this job will do the same.

You decide to break up with someone because you’re attached to the idea of an ideal partner you’ve always dreamed of and she just isn’t measuring up.

The result? Attachment has warped your decision-making process.

Maybe moving where your boyfriend lives, turning down the job and breaking up with the girl are all the right decisions.

But the point is that your attachment in each of those decisions noticeably warped your ability to properly consider other factors fully that might have led to a different decision.

This brings us to the next point…

11) Attachment traps you in toxic relationships

Pain is part of life and part of growth. But suffering often happens in the mind and in emotions that we focus on or reinforce.

Attachment all too often leads to pressuring ourselves to remain in toxic relationships that bring out the worst in us or make us disempowered and miserable.

The attachment can be to the other person themselves:

We feel dependent on them, unable to live without them, physically lonely without them, bored when they’re not around, and so on…

Or it could be to the situation:

We feel terrified of being single, starting over or failing at the ideal we have of being in a happy long-term relationship.

The attachment makes us stay, sometimes long past the point of feasibility, sacrificing our own physical and mental wellbeing to continue a toxic cycle full of suffering and abuse.

Sadly, this attachment that can trap us in toxic relationships can often also prevent us from moving on and being in relationships that would open us up to a more truly loving way of interrelating instead of codependence.

12) Attachment is addictive

The problem with attachment and its connection to suffering is that it doesn’t work, it denies reality and it weakens us and our ability to make strong decisions.

It’s also addictive.

The more you attach yourself to people, experiences and conditions that you feel should, would or could have happened in order for you to live and love, the more you paint yourself into a corner.

Then you find that you begin to add even more conditions, more attachments and more restrictions.

Before you know it, you’re camped out permanently in a small corner of a room with no freedom to move.

You’re so attached that you no longer have any free reign over your life and your actions.

The key is to break these bonds and leave attachment lying on the ground.

You can do so much more.

Living with maximum impact and minimum ego

Earlier I mentioned Lachlan’s book The Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and its discussion of how to overcome attachment.

Lachlan especially talks about the importance of taking action instead of being attached to what could happen, should happen, might happen or you wish would happen.

It’s up to you.

Having strong goals and desires is great. But relying on them as your guide will end up leading you astray.

Reality is what it is, and your chance to change it rests in your actions and decisions.

Attachment causes suffering and plunges you in a cycle of dissatisfaction.

Instead, what you want is:

Results, without the runaround

Getting what you want is good, actually.

I’m a big fan of it.

But the thing about not getting what you want or currently not having it is that it can also be very helpful.

Many of the greatest athletes even credit years of failure and struggle for their eventual success.

Getting results is about stopping focusing on an outcome and focusing instead on the process.

It’s playing for the love of the game instead of just the final buzzer.

It’s entering a relationship because you love and are committed to someone, not because you have any guarantee you’ll always be together.

It’s living life and breathing deeply right now despite the fact that tomorrow you might not even be here.

Attachment is dependency and desperation: it’s putting yourself and your life at the mercy of the outside world and what happens.

Freeing yourself from that is power and fulfillment.

Picture of Paul Brian

Paul Brian

Paul R. Brian is a freelance journalist and writer who has reported from around the world, focusing on religion, culture and geopolitics. Follow him on www.twitter.com/paulrbrian and visit his website at www.paulrbrian.com

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