Dealing with Abandonment Issues
by Sue Anderson
When a relationship ends, both partners experience turmoil and loss, but the one who is left feeling abandoned bears the brunt of the pain. Why does it hurt so much when someone leaves us?
Loving and wanting someone who does not love us back engenders a deep personal wound. Rejection hits a raw nerve whose root begins in childhood. It arouses our abandonment issues. Abandonment is primal fear, the first fear that each of us experience as an infant. It is the fear that we will be left, literally abandoned, with no one to care for us. Abandonment’s wound is cumulative. It contains all of our losses, disconnections and disappointments from early on, the death of a parent, a teenage breakup, being out-shown by a sibling, these experiences make us more susceptible to heartbreak when we are abandoned as adults.
The abandonment wound, stored deep within the limbic brain, is easily triggered. You feel its raw nerve twinge when you fail to get recognition at work, a friend forgets to invite you to a party, or a date you thought was special did not call back. When being left is the trigger, core abandonment fears erupt. Stress hormones course through our bodies, compelling even the strongest among us to feel desperate and dependent. However self-sufficient we think we are, we suddenly feel we can’t live without him/her.
Being left also kicks up our control issues. The breakup wasn’t our choice. Someone else cast us into this aloneness by choosing not to be with us. We feel at loss of our personal power to compel another person’s love. “I must be unlovable and unworthy for him to discard me like that.” Abandonment is similar to other types of bereavement, but its grief is complicated by rejection and betrayal. We turn the rage against ourselves, accounting for the severe depression that accompanies heartbreak. When we blame the breakup on our supposed inadequacies, we abandon ourselves. We automatically think to ourselves, “There must be something wrong with me that makes me not worth keeping.”
We emerge not only disconnected from self-love, but with a heightened fear of abandonment. If one person can discard us, we fear others will do the same to us in the future. Rather than dissipate, this fear tends to incubate. Its insecurity burrows deep within us where it sabotages our relationships. The fear of being left makes it more difficult to let go. The rejection creates nagging conflict; closure remains incomplete. We feel unjustly dismissed and we long for an opportunity to vindicate the hurt. We are left alone to grapple with the broken pieces. Mixed with our rage is a desire for our ex to come back to take away the hurt and rejection.
The paradox of abandonment is the tendency to idealize the abandoner. He or she emerges in our imaginations as a powerful figure. We assume he must be very special to have caused this much torment simply by being absent. The intense craving is confusing to our limbic brain. Stress hormones course through our bodies, causing a heightened response to anything related to our ex for a long time. An important thing to understand is there are five universal stages that accompany the loss of love: Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting. As we make our way through these stages of grief and recovery, we build self-esteem, resolve fear and self-doubt and restore the spirit.
The Five Stages of Abandonment are: 1. Shattering: Severing of love-connection, devastation, shattering of hopes and dreams. The emotions are shock, panic, despair, feeling you can’t live without your love. 2. Withdrawal: You’re in painful withdrawal of love-loss, as intense as heroin withdrawal. The emotions are yearning, craving, obsessing, longing for your ex’s return. 3. Internalizing: As you try to making sense of the rejection, you doubt and blame yourself. Idealizing the abandoner at your own expense, narcissistic injury sets in and fear incubates. 4. Rage: Reversing the rejection and having retaliatory feelings. Displacing anger on friends who don’t understand or are critical of the abandoner leads to more unhealthy action. 5. Lifting: Rising out despair, life begins to distract you. You begin to open to love again and all its possibilities. You “SWIRL” through all the stages over and over until you emerge out the end of the tunnel a changed person capable of greater life and love than before.
Susan Anderson is a psychotherapist and author of “Journey from Heartbreak to Connection,” “Journey from Abandonment to Healing” and “Black Swan.” She is founder of abandonment recovery and www.abandonment.net, a program of support groups and healing techniques, the result of over twenty-five years of research, clinical practice and personal experience.