Abandonment happens everyday in our lives……it happened in our past and it will happen again. Abandonment is the feeling that says “I did not get what I wanted or needed from myself or from the outside world.” Abandonment can be a mild, almost indiscernible feeling that eventually grows into a much stronger, anxiety creating feeling. Abandonment is difficult to detect since it lies beneath many other layers of emotion. Some of these emotions are fear, anxiety, worry, despair, angst, anger, rage, jealousy, shame,guilt, sadness, and depression. Some defense mechanisms people use to deflect or manage abandonment are counter and co-dependency, pride, ego boosting, obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions, workaholism, busyness, enmeshment with others, being controlling, overly sensitive, hyper-vigilance about others (being too focused on other people’s reactions and behaviors), being disconnected or numbing, obsessing about money, perfectionism, having body image issues, and many others.
Infidelity, emotional affairs, separation, divorce, death, becoming parents, gambling, and addictions are some severe examples of triggers that allow feelings of abandonment to resurface. Some milder examples of triggers are empty nesting, working too much, not knowing how to say no to others, being too busy, overly focusing on money or other people, or being controlling. We are not victims of abandonment and it is not shameful to experience abandonment. Abandonment is not intended to be judged in either a positive or negative light, but rather, just accepted as a part of life! Abandonment occurs, much like many other life situations, that are outside of our control. If we consider our childhood back to babyhood and infancy, abandonment occurred on a regular basis. Feelings of anger and rage are easily seen in babies who scream at the top of their lungs for food, comfort, cleanliness, and security. This is a simple cry for help and an expression of needs that must be met from an individual who does not have the capacity to speak or the power to provide the necessities of life on their own. Children are solely dependent for others to survive. As a natural consequence, babies and children express anger, displeasure, and rage with all the strength of the body.
This experience provides knowledge and learning about how to behave when we have to communicate our deepest needs. These experiences of abandonment and dependency travel with us as we age and move into adulthood. Emotional growth occurs on a continuum and is NOT made up of separate experiences, regardless of whether or not we are able to recall these types of experiences. It is a myth to believe that negative experiences about abandonment did not occur or are resolved within us if we cannot recall the memories. These experiences lie deeply buried in our unconscious and subconscious minds until therapy provides an open pathway to reconnect to our past. The brain and body, upon learning from the past, mimic these behaviors in an effort to meet the required needs throughout our lives. Since this is the only learned information that applies to our experiences, we do what we know until we learn something new.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, so what? Why does this matter? So what if my dad worked all the time. He provided the best he could and so did my mom. We never went without.” This is a common sentiment during initial therapy sessions. This is indicative of how well a person has maneuvered through life and survive as well as possible without becoming bogged down in the past. The truth is, who we are today is reminiscent of where we came from, so the past matters since we cannot separate who we are today from our past experiences. As children, we express our needs in a healthy way as a dependent person who has needs and is incapable of providing support to have those needs met. However, this expression is an unhealthy one in an adult. Why is it unhealthy? Because we are no longer children and that means the world will not respond to us in a way that meets our needs when we sound like children or teenagers. We are not taken seriously or trusted when we use our younger voices and behaviors. It is not unhealthy because of the judgement, “It’s wrong to be childish!” The reality is that you will not be taken seriously by your significant others, because you are an adult. Also, in our younger lives, we might have expressed having a need in the only way possible, which is reasonable for a child, however the outside world might not have met those needs. In fact, the chances are high that many of us did not receive what we needed, because no one receives everything they need all of the time, so it is likely that most are wounded from this experience. Wounded because beliefs and fears are developed around these unpleasant and unfulfilling experiences. If we deny this about ourselves, then denial is part of the defense mechanism and you are liable to make the same mistakes now and in the future. The state of your marriage or relationship is indicative of how well you are able to meet your needs and the needs of your family members. Abandonment is visible in our lives today. When we enter into relationships that become challenging our needs are not met. The challenge becomes the ability to notice immediately, the emotional distancing that begins after being a relationship for a few years. Emotional distancing is a form of abandonment for both the one doing the distancing and the one experiencing the distancing.
If you are saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t act like a child or immature.” Then you are misunderstanding how childhood feelings are experienced. In our core, in our secret hearts, we know what we need, want or desire. We feel our feelings in an innocent and honest way, though this may not be known to our significant other. We all feel fear, worry, anxiety, desire, sadness, insecurity, etc. These are feelings we have about ourselves and the world no matter how beautiful, how smart, or how much money you have…feelings of fear and abandonment occur for everyone. Our core needs as human beings do not change from childhood to adulthood. People struggle with feelings of being unloved, unaccepted, insecure, being misunderstood, etc. These feelings show up in our lives in an indirect way through our families, friends, and significant others. How we manage our emotional state within our intimate circle is indicitive of past and present abandonment.
Describing this phenomenon of abandonment to couples is challenging, especially when one spouse has provided plenty of fuel for the fire that blew up their marriage with infidelity, lack of intimacy, arguing, distancing, addictions, etc. It’s so easy to be the victim of someone else’s poor choices. Our culture’s belief system is fueled by abandonment. Everything in our culture is geared to avoiding abandonment, by teaching that pain and discomfort is meant to be avoided. We do this by teaching that being a good person or making more money, being physically fit, to…” you fill in the blank” will keep you from being disappointed in life. The goal to not get hurt and have negative experiences is the primary directive. So, when the pain happens, we assume, “Hey, this isn’t right. I’m a good person and I should not have to go through this! This is just wrong!” This is a victim mentality and is looking at life as being a journey where the purpose in living is to avoid scary and hurtful experiences, which is not possible. This is encouraging people to feel justified in emotionally cut-offing from the painful experience as the proper way to avoid pain in the face of betrayal. However, this is unhealthy and eventually we distance ourselves from the thing we desire most…love and intimacy! Yes, we do this to ourselves. By doing this unhealthy behavior, we re-create the abandonment we felt in our youth and project it into our intimate relationships.
Whew! Okay, so now, what does this have to do with my boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse…..? Stay tuned for the next post to learn more……..don’t worry, it will be here soon!