Pulling the Trigger on Abandonment
By: Karen
May 12, 2013

After fifty years, the loneliness caused by a father walking down the back stairs and out of his two year old daughter’s life is recreated by a husband who simply needs time alone, visits with an old friend or  comes home late from work. The emotional pain caused by a man’s critical mother, who always wanted him to be something he is not, is brought back by the wife who does not offer appropriate praise when he announces his new promotion. The fear resulting from parents screaming in the other room causes the four year old to wonder if it is her fault and if the parents will no longer want her. This fear repeats itself years later as the woman’s partner raises her voice as a result of simple disagreement.

These are examples of abandonment triggering; reactions to the behaviors of others which cause our inner child to re-experience the loneliness, pain and fear of our childhood abandonment wounds. Please note that often it is not the behaviors of others which bring forth the pain, but rather it is our reactions to those behaviors. Abandonment triggers, and our reactions to them, can have a significant impact on our lives and relationships. It is those reactions which can spiral out of control causing us to take the stance of a screeching adversary to those we care for most, bringing us to a place of emotional separation from our friends, lovers, and families.

The woman, whose father left when she was a toddler, may find herself married to the man who was raised by a critical mother. When this man begins working long hours the abandonment loneliness of the little girl is triggered. The woman may very well react to the ‘thoughtlessness’ of her husband by withdrawing and withholding praise when he shares the promotion news. In turn his abandonment pain is triggered as his child within begins to experience his wife as a disapproving mother. Thus the cycle of reactivity begins and will escalate if not understood. The dance of this couple changes from a graceful waltz to an angry tango and the relationship will either explode in flames or simple wither away if they do not embark upon the path of healing.

An extreme example of abandonment reactivity comes in the story of my friend, who for the purpose of this writing will be called Janet. The abandonment wounds of her childhood were ever present as she reacted to them by becoming an abandoner in her teenage and early adult years. At nineteen years old she had been in love and relationship with a young man for four years, since they were fifteen. As the love of her life prepared to go away to college, she impulsively decided to marry another. She dealt with her fear of being left by leaving first. The marriage was to a young man who had loved her for years and she loved him as well as she was able. When he began playing with a band, which took him away from her in the evenings, the trigger was again pulled. Again, Janet left before she could be left. Then there came what she described as the ‘second love of her life’. It was a relationship in which triggers abounded from the outset, although they were ignored until the first bloom of love, or dopamine, began to fade. In an effort to protect herself as the triggers engaged, she attacked and criticized. Finally, she withdrew in subtle ways, by refusing to give even the simplest gift of “I love you”. She destroyed the relationship rather than allowing her little girl within to be abandoned again.

Janet’s pattern of behavior, which appeared to be abandoning others, was a damaging and common reaction to abandonment triggers. It was self-abandonment, resulting from the acceptance of the childhood message of unloveability . (More to come about self-abandonment if a future blog.) My friend described her pain from the last relationship as excruciating and I spent hours listening to her recount her confusion and watching her shed tears. Ultimately it became clear that this painful relationship was a gift because it led Janet to realize she was broken and in need of healing.

It is with difficult work in the counseling room that we come to understand the abandonment wounds of our inner child and embark on the path to healing. While it can be intimidating to begin this work, the relief which comes with each new level of understanding makes it infinitely worthwhile. As you consider your own healing, I welcome you to the journey….and it is a journey, not an event.

As always, I thank God for giving me my passion and allowing me to live it out. And I thank you for your interest.