Yes, abandonment fears can throw a monkey wrench into your relationships. They are tantamount to the most desperate and scary feelings that can arise for any of us.
Without even being aware, unresolved abandonment issues can wreak havoc with our lives driving us into a revolving door of failed starts and premature relationship break-ups.
How do abandonment feelings show up for you?
Strong feelings of abandonment can override your decision to leave a crappy relationship. Abandonment fears go to the core. It's all about survival.
In fact, feelings of anger or despair can be so strong and easily triggered, they motivate people in ways that are quite puzzling to an outside observer.
Imagine a woman who no longer feels lovingly towards her husband and agonizes over leaving him. She avoids doing so because she could not bear to trigger the same pain in him.
So, out of desperation she treats him badly. In response, it's almost inevitable that he leaves her. This maneuvre delivers an upside-down means of controlling her own feelings. Tricky ain't it!
What she doesn't realize is that it is indeed her own feelings that are being projected onto him. His actual reaction to this event may be quite different than hers. He has his own history of psychological triggers that may or may not include issues with abandonment.
(And if he doesn't have these fears, he'll be totally perplexed and likely wonder where she's coming from...and you know where this is going...it's just like throwing gas on the abandonment fire.)
You might recognize abandonment fears in your reaction to your partner's "departures". In other words, "I can't live without him" (even if he's going to the 7-Eleven to get ice cream! ).
Moreover, you can feel downright squirrely if your spouse leaves to cool off after a heated argument. Unless your feelings have been heard and at least the promise of a resolution offered, you'll probably be triggered into anger or despair.
Your partner can also be physically present yet emotionally absent; he or she seems to "disappear" in front of your very eyes. This can drive you crazy especially if your he or she refuses to acknowledge the emotional distance that's sending you into a tailspin.
These feelings are so easily triggered that you feel abandoned even if you initiate a break-up. That is, you still come away feeling as if your partner had left you!
Unresolved abandonment issues help to explain why anger surfaces over the sudden accidental death of a loved one. Whether it is expected or not, the death of a loved one can feel sudden and shocking and give rise to feelings of being left behind.
Just so you know, unless abandonment issues are resolved (or until you learn better ways to respond) these feelings will arise in all your close relationships.
The reason these feelings are so strong is that these right-brain-based implicit "ways of responding" were learned at a time when physical survival itself was at stake - that is, in the first few years of life.
What the child learns in the early years gets ingrained in a way that is difficult to access as an adult. Yet, it is often only through our adult relationships that these feelings of abandonment are resolved.
If you feel that your feelings are snowballing and preoccupying more and more of your time, if your relationships are less than satisfying, consider getting help now rather than later. As someone who was unaware that her abandonment issues had been mis-directing her life for years, I would want you to avoid this same fate.
I've since learned that life can be much richer and more fulfilling with a little help from my therapist And I wish the same for you.
(If you feel the time is right - or maybe just curious - I found an online counseling service that I felt comfortable partnering up with. It's called PrestoExperts. I like them particularly because every therapist has a track record you can read - which I think gives you that extra assurance...besides they're fun to read. Click here to check them out w/o leaving the site.)
Of course, it can sometimes take several relationships to recognize a pattern, and even longer to resolve it--if at all. (This is why psychotherapy can interrupt old patterns and help you learn new ways of being with your partner.)
They might explain for instance why some folks choose a spouse for whom they have no strong feelings. By trading emotional attachment for security, at least they'll feel in control over their fears of abandonment.
Unfortunately, it can take years before a person realizes the consequences of their decision.
Enter your text here...
Yes, it's true. Bad relationship experiences can make us more guarded and fearful in future. After all, if my partner abandons me I'll probably be more sensitive to this happening again.
However, not everyone responds the same way to being left by someone. Our response to this unfortunate event depends to a large degree on our early attachment experiences.
Remember: our first years is the time the brain is most vulnerable to imprinting.
Infants are learning something very different than what we normally think of as "learning". Yes, they are learning to walk and talk. But they are also learning how to relate to others.
This type of learning doesn't lend itself to easy recall like remembering a history fact. These relational behaviours and emotional responses are stored in the right-brain-based implicit memory system which is why it's not so easy to identify patterns until they are "screaming" at you.
Infant life is naturally scary
As infants, we are extremely sensitive to the nuances in the behaviour and reactions of our parents. After all, they already know about this world and we only just arrived.
Recall that survival depends upon our connection with our parents and/or primary caretakers. As such, there are many ways abandonment fears can get triggered and imprinted in an infant, thus setting the pattern for how the grown-up will relate to loved ones in the future.
The conditions that give rise to these patterns don't necessarily require that Mom/Dad permanently leave the scene. For instance, they can be physically there but not emotionally present, a situation that is easily and painfully recognized by the infant.
Or Mom or Dad could get sick, or be so preoccupied by their own thoughts and stress that they're not there for you. (It's like talking to a friend who's obviously thinking of something else and not listening to what you say).
Parents can also abandon you emotionally if they find another interest that absorbs their time and energy, such as a new relationship, a new child, etc. This is why birth order or the time spacing between children can have such a strong impact on the growing child.
Indeed, research shows that an infant will show signs of clinical depression if Mom is absent for more than two weeks. These "depression" neuropathways develop at a time when early experiences have a crucial impact on the developing brain. Susceptibility gets imprinted, so that in adulthood we're at higher risk for depression.
Feelings of abandonment can be worked through in a loving relationship with a partner who understands. However, what's critically important is that these fears be communicated and owned by you.
It doesn't necessarily mean that your partner must change his or her behaviour. But through his or her loving care and understanding you can begin to resolve these fears. You resolve them by experiencing something different.
In other words, your fears might come up but you aren't left behind. Repeatedly over time, your brain will learn to trust your partner and you will experience less fear in the events and interactions of your relationship.
This process can take years however and because our fears in relationships can undermine a solid foundation, some folks proactively work them out in counseling. This is often the best option - working them out before they reach a crisis when therapeutic interventions are less effective.
And, because these patterned responses are ingrained implicitly, they don't easily lend themselves to left-brain based talk therapies alone. This is why it's so important to have right-brain-based strategies in your psychotherapy. Right brain based interventions are experienced.
And, it's through experience that you change the brain.
Reviewed by: Coquitlam Psychologist Dr. Carole Gaato
Please help me. I realized many years ago that I have abandonment issues. It began with my birth father when I was three. I have no memory of him, only the lack of him. My mom remarried and I was adopted. Thing is, it was abusive, toxic environment. She committed suicide in 1983 and I feel abandoned by her too.
I married the same year, had a couple of kids and lived the american dream of having a family. My husband of 15 years walked out on me on a Monday night like it was nothing at all. I went from the pan to the fire and got involved to a guy that abandons everyone.
We have a son together and he moved on to have many other children with other ladies. He abandoned me and our son when I was pregnant. I've built a good life, but, these issues have a way of festering. I have tried to forgive and move on.
Recently I wrote my birth father a letter forgiving him and asking him for forgiveness. He tried to have a relationship with me after I was grown, but, I could not handle it at the time. I could not and may never understand how a mother or a father can walk away.
Am I just an abandomnent magnet? I haven't dated in years. This way, no one gets hurt, or abandoned. I have so much love to give. My family consists of my three kids (2 adult) and two sisters. We have a wonderful relationship.
What can I do? Please Help Me.
Jackie (Georgia, USA)
Thank-you for sharing your story Jackie. It's stories like these that help others to see the devastation that comes about when infants are abandoned and subsequently don't receive the care they need to heal.
I think we all tend to attract people in our lives that evoke a dynamic we're struggling with. Until an issue gets resolved and worked through, we tend to find those folks and repeat these patterns in the hope of finally healing from it. That just seems to be the nature of being human.
And just so you know, our abandonment fears not only create chaos with partners they can also play havoc with other relationships such as the ones we have with our children. For instance, unresolved abandonment issues can create polarized behaviours…we cling too tightly or keep too far at a distance.
In order to heal and avoid being an "abandonment magnet" it's necessary that you feel a little of the pain of your fears in the company of a caring other. Basically, you need to re-experience some of your fears but this time, have a caring other that doesn't abandon you. That's what a good trained therapist does.
And, that's how the brain changes. It changes by experiencing something new.
So, I encourage you to find that special therapist that can help you move through these feelings. See him or her on a regular basis and at the same time each week. This regularity will help the body-mind anticipate being there, and in time, come to trust the connection you're building with your therapist.
Keep in mind that your fears will naturally arise related to your relationship with him or her. Talking about them, feeling them in the moment and hearing the soothing comforting voice of your therapist will help contain them. In time, you will change, and your life will very likely take on a new meaning.
All the best,
I have such huge abandonment issues that I don't know how to climb out of. I am having trouble letting go of my current marriage even though he moved out three years ago and just wants to be friends because he thinks we are toxic for each other - somewhat true. I would have been willing to work on it but he just wants to be left alone and says he is so hurt by his childhood that he can't handle being in a relationship but doesn't have the energy to work on it.
He wants to be friends but my counselor thinks I should leave altogether to get healthy. Although I hear her, it causes me anxiety to let go completely, even though I can tell there isn't much left. I hope that working on my self esteem and letting go as I can will help me to move on.
Many childhood issues caused this especially knowing my father was abandoned by his first wife - my heart felt so bad for him, plus my best friend was killed by a car and I heard it happen- when I was 4 or 5 etc. I have come along way - left a 20+ year abusive marriage 15 years ago or so. I can tell it is not that unusual - from your column - but it hits a fear that I must have had all my life. Any ideas on the best way to overcome this irrational fear?
Cathy (BC, Canada)
Hello Cathy, I tend to trust the wisdom of my body and I might suggest the same for you. It sounds as if you've done a chunk of work already and a part of you recognizes that you're just not ready to take the final step in letting him go. The pain of leaving your ex-husband is altogether too painful at this time.
Indeed, it's very possible that at some level, he's serving another more important purpose. He is triggering your feelings of abandonment.
Remember, as I suggested above, these feelings are not just about him. They could very well be about your early years. The way the brain is interconnected makes this a likely scenario. This is how the present heals the past.
Over time, the emotion can evolve to something quite different than what it is today. It's just possible that you need to be more resourced in this area before making a change.
And, it's been my experience that when we're emotionally ready, we naturally step into the change. I suspect that when you're ready, you probably won't give it much thought. He won't be tugging on your heart in the same way and you'll find yourself just moving on without ceremony. That's when you know you've changed.
I would set clear boundaries in the relationship so you are very clear on the frequency and nature of the contact with him. Establishing clear boundaries will help you feel more settled because you will know what to expect and you'll be less triggered into feelings of sadness over the break-up.
This will require that you raise the subject with him. What does "being friends" mean to you? to him? Is it a once a week walk in nature or a once a month phone call? He will probably want to "leave it up in the air" but this often serves little purpose for you.
When we have been left, we tend to leave ourselves out of this equation believing it's all in our partner's hands. You have a right to set the nature of the relationship at this stage too. Be clear what works for you. For instance, don't let the situation evolve so that he can drop by anytime. Being specific on the kind of contact you have helps you to be prepared and can give you a measure of control in the situation.
I'd like to try reframing your situation.
You probably realize that your "irrational" fears are based on experience. From this standpoint they are actually quite rational when you understand how they evolved. You've been hurt before and your fears are real. Coming from this place, you can see that nurturance is what you need now.
In other words, that you are holding onto him is serving a self-soothing purpose. Your psyche needs to feel that a caring other is around. You can use this knowledge anytime you feel alone or in need of a caring other. During moments of sadness or aloneness, recall the things that others care about you. Pause for a moment of quiet reflection and take this into your heart. This is how resourcing helps to change an emotion.
It can also be useful to take him into your heart as long as it doesn't trigger "I wish I was back with him". Stay in that place of knowing he cares about you. The more present you are and less judging you do around it, the more healing can take place.
Hope that helps Cathy,
All the best,
Hi, I have a five year old grandson who has recently started kindergarden. Everyday at 2pm he is having a melt done in class. Starts crying, screaming. He is also saying things like, My mom isn't special, she won't come to school with me, I don't like mom.
His dad has left 3 times, and gone now. He has a 2 year old brother. We are sure he is having abandonment issues and we are wondering if there is anything that we can do to help the little guy.
Mom makes sure she has a lot of one to one with him as well as talking things through with him. We sure hope that you are able to give us some kind of gudiance.
Shelley (Kamloops, BC)
Hi Shelley, I can only imagine how this has gotten everyone quite puzzled. I'm glad you reached out for help. And so did I. I asked a colleague of mine, Dr. Carole for her thoughts and reflections.
First off, we would encourage you to get this problem addressed with a play therapist or a child psychologist. A therapist would do a thorough job of exploring all possible variables, forming and testing several hypotheses until the problem was fully assessed and hopefully resolved.
We also suggest seeking a professional therapist even if the behaviour disappears in the near future. A change in behaviour doesn't necessarily mean the issue has been resolved for the little guy. This kind of dynamic can go underground and potentially wound quite deeply, inadvertently shaping his personality and self-esteem. The best time to work with a problem like this is when it's showing up in his behaviour.
As you might have read in the other posts, abandonment issues stay with us. They shape our character and relationships in ways that we often don't have awareness of until we are adults..and it's a heck of a lot more work later on to shift these neurobiological attachment patterns.
One of the first things that struck us was the notion that "mom" is a safe target. We've seen this over and over again with children. The absent parent is idealized and the one that's present gets all the upset and anger. So, if Mom is feeling hurt by his words, I hope she appreciates it doesn't necessarily reflect badly on her.
Moreover, when he is saying "Mom isn't special" we think he might be making a reflection on his own self-esteem i.e. "I'm not special, if I was, Daddy wouldn't have left".
With his Dad gone, this little guy is now the male head of the household. This new "role" for him might unconsciously figure into his feelings about himself and the situation.
One thing to remember is that his feelings are coming from the emotional centers in the brain. Words (i.e. the left brain) are not always the best way to soothe (you can't often settle a child down in a thunder storm merely by explaining where the noise comes from). It's the soothing tone of voice and being held that actually helps calm a child (i.e. using right-brain strategies).
Right now, the idea of going home might conjure up feelings of being left so he may be reacting to that. It might help to have something to help him transition from school to home.
In other words, he needs to have a different experience, one his emotional brain can learn from. This is what a therapist can help you to create for him.
One thing, we wondered about the possibility of Mom spending some time in the classroom with him (around 2 PM) so he establishes memories of her being there with him. That way she could provide the soothing voice and cuddles that he needs when he is in such distress. He'll be able to tap into these resources when he later anticipates the trip home.
When you get a better handle on what's going on for him, you might try a little technique that's used quite successfully by child therapists:
Create a story about a small boy with a name similar to his name (e.g. Robbie for Bobbie). Then describe similar circumstances that he's gone through (with good explanations) and the specific triggers you've uncovered that are troubling him. Here's an outline of a story and how it might be used for a child having a hard time adjusting to daycare.
The story might include the idea that "Mom is working at her office and all day long she's thinking about Robbie. She remembers how Robbie likes this or that and how they played at the park. She imagines him at the daycare and how he enjoys playing with his friend there. And, when her work is done she can't wait to get to the daycare to see him. Mom scoops up Robbie and they head off home together"...happy ending.
This story helps him understand that even though Mom's not with him, she's thinking of him.
So, these are our thoughts. We hope they're helpful.
All the best for you and your family, Shelley.
Shrinklady and Dr. Carole
when i was 3 my grand father died in an accident and my mothers manic depression was triggered and has been that way most of my life. my father never really paid attention to me and a lot of the time I felt he hated me (ADHD). I was crap at school and never really got on with many people.
As I grew up I had to deal with a lot of bullying and slagging. My oldest sister left home when I was 13 and set up more abandonment. when I finished school I went working various jobs until I headed to Australia with friends (life changing trip).
I'm now back home and I'm back in college. I got diagnosed with dyslexia and (ADHD) this Year. I'm actual quite happy now but its my abandonment issues that are holding me back. I can't get into a relationship with a girl and find it hard to trust anyone except my other sister who gives me unconditional love but it took me years to take it.
Thanks Den for sharing your story. I'm glad to hear you're happier these days. It's not hard to imagine how you might have developed issues around abandonment. In light of her father's sudden death and your mother's subsequent emotional state, you would not have received the kind of attuned care you needed.
In addition, your father's unpredictability and his inability to connect with you probably intensified your feelings of loss.
One of the interesting things I noticed was, as you put it "…it took me years to take it." I assume you mean that it took some time before you could truly accept your sister's love. I've witnessed this dynamic many times in my work as a therapist. In fact, truth be told, I've also been there myself.
Childhood scars can hamper not only our ability to love others but also our capacity to receive love. I've seen many very loving people who are incapable of taking in love from others. It's easy to understand why if we see that our first love was met with withdrawal (by your mother, even though it was obviously not intended) and judgment (by your father).
I hope you pursue a course of therapy Den. In my view, it's the most effective and fastest way of moving beyond these issues. You obviously have the potential for a full life with a loving relationship.
All the best.
I have had a fair bit of councilling in my time and was told to look at abandonment issues. A lot of what's on this site rang true for me. I have had only two relationships because I just don't trust people. My parents weren't particularly affectionate and I spent the first three weeks of life in a humidicrib.
I never really formed any emotional bonds with anyone but it seems to have spread across to my work life as well. Any time anyone expects anything of me I seem to push them away until they leave me alone. I would like to find a way to resolve this as I like my current job but seem to be following the same pattern. I'm not sure about giving relationships another go...baby steps I guess.
Yes, Amanda, I'd agree with you, "baby steps". They offer the greatest chance of changing old implicit patterning.
Bringing as much honesty into your relationships as you can tolerate is a good beginning. On the down side however, if you attempt this, it is very important that you own your stuff as you do so. My experience is that this is easier said than done. Many folks don't get this part very well.
We all change through relationships but my experience is that this process is a hit and miss endeavour and it takes much longer than the changes we create through a therapeutic relationship. This is because a relationship with a therapist offers a much greater chance of safety than relationships outside our sessions. By engaging in a therapeutic relationship, your emotional brain will learn new ways of being, new ways of relating to others.
You mentioned that you've had a fair bit of counseling. I wonder if was relational? Was your therapy sustained enough to allow a deep connection with your therapist? Was the subject of how you and your therapist work together brought to the table?
You might find the article on corrective emotional experiences helpful. It's these types of healing moments that create the difference that makes the difference.
All the best,
The issue here is not me but my partners. She was adopted as an infant but still harbors very strong angry feelings to her birth mother, there has been no contact what so ever between them and although her adoptive family is wonderful she still is having issues.
These issues affect our relationship greatly. There is the anger and lack of trust that occurs every time we have a disagreement. She refuses to go to therapy, what can I do to help and possibly help with her discomfort?
Elyse (Tampa, USA)
Hello Elyse, I can see that you sincerely want to help your partner. I'm going to suggest something that might sound opposite to your current strategy. I suggest that you first start to take care of yourself in this relationship. Helping her through her discomfort may actually - inadvertently - be making the situation worse. You see, you may be taking on her stuff when you need to be setting better boundaries for yourself.
Otherwise, there is much you can do. She needs to "feel" the problem in order to be motivated to get help. It is just possible that your fears are interfering with your ability to call her on her behaviour. And if that's the case, it's very likely you'll end up looking as if you have the problem.
I'd encourage you to stay in the present as much as possible. Maintain good boundaries by calling her on inappropriate anger as you see it. Don't take it on if you feel it's misplaced or out of proportion to the situation you're dealing with.
When she distrusts you, be sure to state clearly and calmly that this is not your intention. If she is continues to feel this way, help her to understand that it's not something you can resolve for her. She must do this herself. As long as you take it on, she will be less motivated.
Just so you know, refusing to take on other people's stuff is not something folks learn to do just by having a greater awareness of the patterns. This is exactly how therapy can be useful. I'd encourage you to consider it for yourself.
From your post I was also wondering if you were getting frustrated with her anger and distrust? Is it possible that she's heard your analysis of her history? I'd like to say a few words on this if that's the case.
In situations such at these, it is tempting to want to analyze the situation for your partner to help her to see how the pattern is repeating. We try these strategies as a way to get our needs met. However, it is usually more effective and certainly, far more respectful of one's relationship, to address our needs directly.
I've learned that folks who are in similar situations as yourself sometimes have difficulty in managing boundaries and expressing their needs. They want their partners to change so they won't have to change and go through the angst of saying more clearly what they want and setting good boundaries. If so, this is why therapy can be useful for you personally.
In an atmosphere of distrust, interpretations are usually felt as accusations and are not well received. Indeed, it is up to each individual to speak his or her own story. I suspect that her history is more complicated than what it appears on the surface.
I'm tempted to think she may be angry with your impatience (as with "still having issues"). This would not be a line of argument you would use to mobilize her to consider therapy. Doing so would mean giving into the idea that her history could be summed up by what you seem to be implying (i.e. she is holding on for no good reason).
Thanks for you question Elyse, I wish you all the best in your relationship,
Hi I am 28 and a serial abandoner. My father was always away at work weeks at a time. The times when he was around it was spent in anger and physical abuse towards my siblings and mother. He had a hot temper and liked to break things. The abuse went on for about ten years of my life. When he wasn't in a violent rage he was an amazing man. Supportive, sacrificing and very helpful around the house. I admire him to til this day.
My mother was a natural diplomat and always buried and was the enabler of all problems. She was a housewife who was a perfectionist and was unsupportive of anything emotional. At a young age my mother did harbor a few casual affairs. No one else knows about the affairs outside of me and my brother. I assume that was the main reasons for my fathers rage since he was otherwise a charming intellectual loving man. They are still together to this day. Their love for each other was always present although never shown in any physical or emotional way.
As for me I have dated alot of men. I am always the one who abandons the relationship. I always date guys who are supportive and emotionally safe. Anytime I meet a man who I find very ideal I usually screw it up somehow. I pride myself on being the master at manipulating men to fall in love with me. Deep relationships are very far/few in between.
My abandonement issues are very apparent. I have a reputation for never commiting to anything. I am only faithful in the beginning months of my relationships. My last relationship ended four months ago and we were best friends for 7 years prior. I trusted him more then anyone in the world. I finally opened up and let someone in. I've always had mild insomnia and started taking Xanex in a very unorganized/unprescribed manner. That made me very depressed in which led to other hard drugs that only further the depression. He resented me for many things and started to be emotionally unavailable knowing that was the only way he could hurt me.
After a long battle he decided to leave me which I thought was completely justified because of my unfaithful behaviors. I've pretty much worked out everything and learned my lessons and am happy for him.
I'm usually really quick about moving on and finding replacements however this time around I just kept myself very busy in a positive way and have been isolating myself from the world. I feel lonely but I feel safe. I am otherwise a well adjusted balanced indivdual. I love life and who I am today. I just want to fix all my emotional disorders so that i can be truly happy one day. Thank you very much
Niki (Orange County, USA)
Hello Niki, it takes courage to face ourselves and it's clear that you have done some deep soul-searching. You are aware of the pattern. As soon as the intensity your relationship peaks, you make your exit. Your fears are overwhelming. You abandon him to avoid any chance he might leave you.
It doesn't surprise me that you reached for drugs to help sustain you in this last relationship. Getting the love from your friend of many years would have been enormously triggering…not because it was bad but because it was so good. You see, this love more easily triggers the longing you might feel for a heart-felt connection. But this same connection would undoubtedly harken back to your childhood where the pain still lingers.
It's in this dark space that primal, survival-related fears of being abandoned reside. Until they are worked through and resolved (in a titrated way), you'll be continually compelled to repeat old patterns.
But our awareness of the pattern can only take us so far. We need to have a more positive experience to unlearn old ways and imprint new ways of being in the world. This is why I encourage you to find a good therapist (I couldn't tell from your post if you were in therapy). A strong therapeutic relationship offers hope. We will repeat patterns from our childhood until we move through the emotions powering them.
So, choose your therapist wisely. One who clearly understands this.
Niki, it's also obvious to me that despite what appears to be a set-back, your entry into this last relationship is also very hopeful. I believe you are moving more closely to having this issue resolved than you ever were. Did it ever occur to you that it was only recently that you were able to take this relationship on?
It's very possible you were not strong enough to go there before. The way I see it, you were ready to take on a deeper connection. This was your next move and while it might not have ended in the way you wanted, it has helped you to see your pattern more clearly. And that's a giant step towards changing it for good.
Take care Niki,
My wife has BPD and her father who came in and out of her life when she was young and to which my wife's therapist and I agree is the cause continues to do this.
Is it right for me to encourage her now that she is in therapy and on medication to keep her distance from him?
Allan (Largo, USA)
Hello Allan, thank-you for your question. I am reminded from reading your post that we are all on a journey of self-healing. We can never know what motivates another and how they might best address their emotional issues.
The degree to which you offer this well-meaning support depends a great deal on the nature of your relationship. If by "encouraging", you mean in a way that she can recognize that you respect her no matter what decision she comes to, then it can be helpful. If on the other hand, she suspects you are coming from your own self-interests and/or that you do not offer it freely (i.e. she will be judged if she doesn't choose your option) she may not trust your suggestion.
If indeed you are primarily acting in your own self-interest, let me assure that this is understandable. For instance, it may be that every time she sees her father, she is less available to you for a time afterwards. In that case, it is much better to address your needs directly. Rather than trying to analyze the situation for her, it might be prudent to say, "I miss you. I feel you pulling away from me."
What seems obvious or logical to one person may not to another. That is, there may be another more important reason that she continues to see her father. She may not even understand her own reasons for the behaviour. For instance, she may feel compelled to seek him out for the reason that it helps her to understand her deeper yearnings. Sometimes we need to get back there in order to really "get" how it affects us. Sometimes we are compelled to work out a dynamic (see reenactment for a better explanation). The emotional brain is not always easily understood but if we go deep enough, reason can usually be discerned.
I wish you the best for your relationship Allan,
My mother was a heroin addict and left me to who ever she could. I know how it feels to be left behind.
Ashley (Spokane, Washington)
Yes, Ashley...I could imagine you do. In the few words you used, I really got it.
I hope you will seek out and get the care of an attuned therapist. You deserve to have a full life, free from traumas of the past.
I've been married for 23 yrs. My husband and I a currently separated with divorce pending. He has cut off ALL communication with me and has passively encouraged our childrend to do the same.
I am so at a lost not being able to come to terms with this issue that I really don't know where to turn. When my husband and I met he told me of his parents separation that caused him to be raised by his grandparents(father). He has always displayed an attitude of not being bothered by not being raised by or having met his mother until he was 13 ( she died 6 yrs later). However a couple of years ago while at family function his sister described how his father kidnapped the children taking them to his parents in South Carolina. Upon learning this there was no reaction.
I am searching for answers to his inability to be sensitive or be affectionate toward me in our total years together. I'm so confused.
Tanya (Kansas City, USA)
Hello Tanya, this is puzzling indeed. I'm reminded of a quote from Carl Jung: "What is not brought to consciousness comes to us as Fate".
I gather from your comments that you are wondering if your husband is playing out some scene from his childhood...what therapists call a "reenactment". It would certainly seem the case.
If this is indeed the case, then of course he wouldn't have a reaction to hearing of the kidnapping. He may be so blocked in his feelings of loss towards his mother that he can't feel much. There's not much you can do to help shift this within him. It is up to him.
Folks who have little awareness of the origin of their behaviours are not easily swayed by someone else's interpretation. All we can do is to work on our own behaviour. This is what is within your control. Hopefully, you may find as others have that, as you shift, others around do so also. Even so, if he does change keep in mind that it may not be to the degree you want nor in the direction you anticipated.
I'd encourage you Tanya to take a step back from the situation and reflect on your role in this relationship. Sometimes insights gained at painful junctures such as these can be helpful in letting go and moving on. For instance, it might be beneficial to look at why you were so willing to tolerate gettting back so little emotionally from him?
Hope that gives you some thoughts to ponder,
I'm debating starting therapy. My parents divorced when I was 3. My mom remarried and sent me to live with a relative. The relative hated my mom, so I was the receiver for all the bad things that she hated about my mom. My dad just left one day after visiting. Never said good by or I love you just left.
I have not been able to have a single sucessful relationship in my entire 48 years. I'm scared because I hate to think I will be alone all of my life.
Oh, my goodness Victoria, I wouldn't hesitate for a minute to begin therapy. How could anyone come away from that situation and feel good about themselves?
It's totally understandable that relationships would be hard. Any time you start to get close to someone, those old fears of being abandoned would be triggered again.
Children are so egocentric. They experience the world as a result of their actions. They don't know otherwise. The typical reaction to events as you described would be that "I deserved this". This belief would underlie your self development and have a dramatic impact on your growing self-esteem not to mention your ability to remain in connection with another.
Remember, your feelings aren't something you can talk yourself out of easily. No matter how often you tell yourself that you did not deserve this, your emotional brain will continue to operate from past experience.
These feelings are implicitly-laid. This means they are going to require a new experience to change them. And the safest way I know to do that is through a therapeutic relationship with a therapist.
I do hope you take this step. I believe there's a new world out there waiting for you.
All the best,
Hi, I'm 41 yrs old and my abandonment issues stared when my mother left my father and my three brothers when I was 5 yrs old. In the long run it was for the better but my father was emotionally unable to handle the after math and reality of the situation. We never went to counseling but it would have been very benefical for everyone!
In adulthood I've never been in a serious relationship and lived w/my Grandparents into my early 30's. I moved out bought my own home, live alone and have had the same job for almost 25 years. I have girlfriends who are older than myself and who in one way or another have filled the void of my absent mother. Which is something that I emotionally seek out due to my abandonment issues.
By the way I don't have a close relationship w/my Mother due to her inability to be present in the relationship. It's all about her and she takes no responsibility for the relationship. I have a very close friend who has been through so much with me regarding my abandoment issues and continues to try and assist me. I've grown tremendously in the past 7-years and feel that most of the issues I've had in the past are resolved due to the constant support I get from my friend.
Here is the problem, I decided to adopt an abandoned dog and the thought of the responsibilty and life style change I will have has sent me into an emotional tail spin! My abandoment issues have come rushing back and the fear of my friendship changing has been debilitating and overwhelming to the point of where I'm barely functioning. Of course none of it is real but rather imagined in my head!
My friend has reassured me that everything is fine between us and nothing will change but I still have this overwhelming fear! My friend for the first week came over and checked on the dog, went to the vet with me and shelter to get new tags. She's been by my side the entire time throught it all! She's called me every night to see how things are going because I've been feeling so overwhelmed by the idea of having a dog and if I'm making the right decision.
I never imagined that I would have such a hard time adjusting to having a dog!! I'm at a loss of what to do and am seriously thinking about taking the dog back, who by the way is a great dog!! Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you
Anonymous (Northridge, USA)
Hello Anonymous, you may be surprised to hear this but I feel that your saga with your "fur child" is a beautiful story...I can see you're on a journey of healing. I believe this dog came into your life precisely because it's a way for you to heal from your abandonment fears.
We can "feel" resolved on an issue if there is nothing currently pressing. With this healing there's now space to go a little deeper which arrived with two big ears and a wagging tail!
It doesn't surprise me at all that your dog is triggering your abandonment issues. Your friend has been key to your growth and with this new attachment, your fears of losing her support are huge. And yet she has pledged her commitment to you and to your friendship. Pretty scary. (Ain't it amazing how good stuff can feel terrifying!)
From your history it seems that a heartbreaking choice was made and not by you. Your Mom chose to leave. So, I'm wondering if this abandonment is what may be getting triggered. In other words, you're worried your friend is too good to be true in supporting your attachment to your dog. Maybe it is this fear that is compelling you to consider returning your pet.
As you may know from reading material on the site, in order to change a feeling we need to engage those same neuropathways. This is what your dog will help you with. As you learn to love your pet, old wounds will naturally be triggered. But this time, it will be different. You can still have your dog and not lose your friend.
I tend to take a spiritual view on the timing of some things and it sure seems to me that this might be the right next step for you. You've undoubtedly grown in your capacity to hold a loyal and supportive friend. Maybe, this is another gift. In time, I believe with your dog's help, you'll be able to transition to deeper connections with others and maybe even to a life partner.
I wish you all the best,
I have just started a relationship with a man and had not dated for the previous three years. I was molested by my father from 8 to 11 years old. I asked him last night if I could call him tonight. I feel I am in such a state of fear.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that we are both Christians yet want to have sexual relations and I am so afraid that when we do he will leave me and not only that but God will leave me. I am bi-polar and my anxiety level is so high that I think it will be impossible for me to ever be in a relationship.
Sharon (Escondido, California)
I can only imagine how difficult this time must be for you Sharon. It's clear from your description that you face quite a challenge with your fears. These fears will inevitably create havoc in your relationships unless you take steps to address them.
When we have so much fear in our being, it colors and distorts our perceptions of those around us. We may for instance, owing to our desperate need to stay in connection, make too many compromises that hurt our overall self-esteem.
I know you're struggling with the decision to make love with your partner. I suggest that maybe your fears are also be playing a role in how you are viewing God's intentions. I don't know what type of religion you practice but my view is that it isn't that God leaves us, we leave God. It's also my view that God is much more accepting than our fear based views would suggest.
I hope you take steps to get the care you need,
All the best,
At the age of 3 my mother died and my father left, I was placed in an orphanage in Brasil for 10 years. There I got very attached to one of the workers, she was like a mother to me. When I turned 13 I was adopted by an American family. They were very young themselves in their early 30 with no other children aside from my brother and I.
Due to many factors there was a lot of craziness in that household that pushed us all completely away from each other. I found myself time after time making an attempt to mend things and what I was expecting was love, affection, a feeling of belonging and much more. I didnt get it.
Now I am 31 and just recently realized that I am very sick with fear of people. I am always reading self help books to discover what is wrong with me. And thru a recent conversation with a close friend I discovered that I have abandonment issues badly... HELP I am torn. What can I do?
Henata (Honolulu, HI)
I can imagine feeling safe in the world is quite a challenge for you Henata. The death of your biological mother and subsequent loss of your bio-father would have been a powerful message for you. In other words, your emotional brain learned "Don't trust anyone or you'll get hurt."
So much of our feeling of safety and connection in the world comes from those early years when the brain is most fragile. It's also a time when the brain is soaking up the lessons implicitly learned through experience.
How could you turn around and start trusting again especially if your care is inconsistent as it surely would have been in an orphanage (i.e. with workers coming and going at all hours).
It's a blessing that you had a worker who gave you some of the care you needed. I suspect however that your one-on-one care would have been meted out between her duties.
And, then to be pulled once again from safety to a completely different culture and to an unfriendly home at that, well, it's hard to imagine that you wouldn't have stuff to deal with.
By the way Henata, when folks with a past such as yours get attached to someone, they are in danger of making too many compromises for their own well-being. The fears and anguish associated with loss of connection are too much to bear and they end making bad choices to avoid those feelings (e.g. "I'll so anything, just don't leave me"). So, I mention this in case you find yourself similarly located.
When emotional patterns are implicitly developed, they can feel as if this is who you are, when in fact, they are learned habitual responses. They can be "unlearned" so to speak. However, the learning will take some time and you need the care of an attuned other so your nervous system and emotional psyche can learn a new way of being in the world. I'm afraid this type of learning cannot come from books. It must be experienced.
It's as if a child that never got to grow up is running a part of your brain--and no doubt, your life. There is a wise soul within you that knows who you are Henata. You need lots of time to heal so this part of yourself can be revealed to you.
Therapy is not a luxury. It's an absolute necessity if you want to move away from old patterns and come into an expanded life.
All the best,
Hi. I am 29, I have been with my partner now for nearly 5 years. she had an abusive upbringing and her dad was an alcoholic and used to beat her and her mother regularly.
I grew up in Australia, my mother left us when I was 6. a lot on things happened after that with us ending up having to leave my dad because he was very ill after the divorce and staying with my mother. About 1 year after that my mum put me and my older brother in fostercare, because my dad came back to England to be with friends and family to get over the divorce (he paid my mum alot of money to look after us so he could get well enough for him to take us back).
We were in fostercare for about 2 years, once my dad found out we were in fostercare he had to go through the procedures to get us back in his care. So not only were my brother and I left once but we were left by my mum then dad and then by mum again all by the age of 9.
I do have a lovely daughter myself now aged 3 who is the world to me, I give 110% to my family but i sometimes feel this isnt enough, maybe I am trying to compensate for my mum and dad leaving us. I am not sure. I dont get excited about anything where most people get excited about seeing someone they haven't seen in a long time or the night before you go on holiday I dont get that, but i remember when i did.
On my work side I am very successful, I own my own business and have done for 9 years now. I haven't seen my mother since the day I left Perth Airport on the 19th sept 1989. I don't have alot of friends I think I seem to push them away before they do it to me. My best friend and I have had a similiar upbringing I think thats why we are so close. I would like to get to understand why i am this way, so 1 day i maybe be truly happy, but I wouldn't know where to start. I do feel better writing about it.
Gary, I was really struck by your awareness of the dynamics in your history and family. You seem to so appreciate the impact of your past and how it is continuing to affect you.
It's clear from your post that both you and your wife have suffered significant relational trauma. And, it appears that your unresolved losses are revealing themselves in how you push people away. I understand that. It's far safer that way; you don't have to risk a repeat of your past…losing people that you've become connected to.
It doesn't surprise me that you can't feel what others are feeling. Your brain is in survival mode. It's learned from past experience that bad things can happen. So, it tries to protect by putting you in a defensive mode. And, in your case, it has chosen dissociation as a coping mechanism. When this happens, we are numb to our emotions and so don't feel what others appear to be naturally experiencing.
It's almost as if positive feelings are a luxury that can't be tolerated. You see, if you were to feel the good stuff you would be in a more relaxed, unguarded place and that's a dangerous option when bad things happen out of the blue.
It's great that you have a friend that understands. Your relationship can be a wonderful source of support and healing. Be aware though, because you have both come from a similar past, you may be less likely go to places that evoke upset in the other...and this can constrict the expansion of your life.
You see, the reality is--and this may seem like such a bummer--it is through our pain that we heal. And, maybe only a therapist might say this, but we need to feel our pain--hopefully in little bits--in the company of a caring other for us to move through it and for it to be resolved.
For instance, are you and your friend interacting as if there is an unwritten rule? Are you operating as if: "I won't go where I know you have a hard time, as long as you agree to do the same for me."
Essentially, you may both go into procedure, a collusion of unconsciousness. But what is actually needed is a gentle nudging of each other, which is part of a healthy friendship.
Your daughter has a challenge too that you may not know about. When we are young, the brain is akin to a homing device. It picks up on feelings much more than most adults realize. For instance, she would undoubtedly sense that some of your parenting comes from a wounded place. She would know it in every cell of her body. (If you have a hard time understanding this try to recall your youth. You knew what was going on far more than the adults around you thought you did.)
I'm afraid you can't fake it (none of us can). She already senses your pain. So, how is it affecting her? We can only hypothesize but here are some possible manifestations:
She might pick up on how hard you work at pleasing her and how much you compromise your own needs for her perceived happiness (it would not be lost on her that you only seem happy when she's happy). She may take this modeled behaviour into her own self-expectations about close relationship with others. We've learned from loads of neuroscience research that patterning such as this gets laid down in the brain and later manifests itself in all too predictable adult attachment patterns with significant others. At its most basic, a child needs to be free to explore her own feelings.
I don't want to place a heavy on you but one possible scenario is for her to grow up and "choose" a partner that is equally wounded. Some wounded folks do as you do, compensate 110% in the other direction. Others play out the family wounding through repeating the familiar pattern of abandonment and mistreatment.
As your daughter grows up, she may also be more inhibited in exploring novel ideas/activities etc. that she anticipates you might not approve of. This will backfire on you (as an adolescent she may hold some resentment towards you); or, on her (she may make career or lifestyle choices that she feels resigned to, but not intrinsically happy with).
When folks have a history of relational trauma, they are usually unclear in setting emotional boundaries as adults. For instance, it might be very hard for you to know when to provide space for your daughter to have appropriate frustration as she matures.
For example, when does a parent intervene to help an infant as they crawl across the floor? How much frustration is too little; what is too much? There are a hundred different ways boundaries are worked with in daily interactions that impact the developing brain.
So, what hope do I offer? You can heal from the past and your daughter will benefit from the changes that emerge from within you. And, the fastest most efficient way to change these age-old patterns is through a caring relationship with a therapist.
You might ask, well why can't I change all this with my wife? I'm afraid that unless your wife has also worked through her own wounding it's a crapshoot whether you'll be able to shift into something new. Thinking differently, no matter how hard we wish, can't change implicit right-brain patterns. We have to embrace the pain and suffering of our history to eventually rise above it.
Gary, you mentioned that it felt better after writing this post. How I see it, this reflects a deep yearning for connection with yourself and others--all of which is a positive sign towards health.
I really hope Gary that you will get the healing you deserve. Your daughter is really lucky to have you as a Dad…one who is willing to open his eyes and look deeply.
P.S. You might enjoy one of my favourite books, The Science of Parenting (lots of pictures).
Hi, I'm 23 and I am so scared I will never have a partner. I met my biological father for the 1st time last year. I knew my whole life who he was but whenever I spoke of him mum would cry and say he was evil. She even told me he raped my sister (which I later found out was untrue).
Since my mum broke up with him (when she was pregnant with me) she has never had another relationship. I have never had a model of a relationship which troubles me somehow. For years I was terrified my mum would die and leave me all alone. I still have an underlying fear of being left alone, and when I have entered relationships in the past I have always ended them before it gets serious. I don't understand why?
It's all exciting to start with and then I get really fearful and need to end it. I reaally don't want to end up alone like my mum but I keep worrying that maybe I am destined to follow in her footsteps... Please help P.s I have seen a psychologist for ocd and anxiety for two years but didn't talk much about relationship issues.
Daisy (Wellington, New Zealand)
Hi Daisy, I can imagine the fear of never meeting a partner looms over you right now. There is much that therapy can do to help shift that fear into the possibility of finding the right partner for you.
It's amazing how fear blocks us from seeing possibilities and it clouds our perceptions about the people around us. When we're able to settle our fears, we're in a much better place to bring folks into our lives that better meet our needs and yearnings.
Keep in mind that the fears of our parents easily transfer through childhood experiences. As you become closer to someone in adulthood, you can easily trigger those early feelings and fears which can be overwhelming. An easy route is to bail. In fact, your nervous system is demanding you to do so.
So when you find yourself ending things in a relationship before they get serious, this could very well be "better the devil you know than the devil you don't", so you leave first.
Daisy, it is important to empower yourself as a client and to bring into your therapy issues that are not being addressed.
Just because your therapist isn't picking up on your concerns around relationships, doesn't mean it isn't important. He or she may just be out of your loop.
I wish you well on your journey,
My husband's mother abandonded him when he was 5. He didn't find her again until he was 14. The battle between his parents have been an ongoing issue, even now.
Presently his mother still has a disconnection with him. My husband and I are now separated but he fears reconciliation. I believe that his abandonment issues are the reason for this fear. He always mentions how he doesn't want us to end up like his parents. I am just realizing that his abandonment issues are worst than I ever imagined. He always denied being effected by the abandonment, but I am learning otherwise.
Cynthia (New Jersey, USA)
Hi Cynthia. Yes it can get complicated can't it. We are destined to play out our life script unless we come to terms with it.
It sounds as if you are suggesting that your husband left because he feared you might eventually leave him. And, the threat of abandonment is understandably something he couldn't bear. So, he leaves first.
I don't know enough of your situation to confirm this, but I certainly have seen this dynamic show up in my therapy office.
You mentioned that your husband always denied being affected by his mother's departure. I can understand how some folks say that they do not believe they were affected by abandonment. It makes perfect sense. It's so painful, we block any feelings associated with it.
But with what we know of how the human brain grows and matures and depends upon a safe connection with a parent, it'd be impossible for this major event not to have an impact on a young child.
In fact, as I understand it, the loss of a parent early on is one of the strongest predictors of adult depression. (Remember: kids make no distinction between death and divorce),
Hope things work out for you,
My parents sent me and 2 siblings to live with my grandmother when I was a year and a half. My sister was 2 and a half and brother 3 months. We went back to live with them when I was 7. Generally my life went well from there on.
However I have realized that I struggle with relationships. I think I am attracted to men who are not available. Either long distance, married, or emotionally not interested. Either way the relationships are dysfunctional or I haven’t had a boyfriend in many years. Was married and separated within 4 months of the marriage. I have been single for a while now and just need help to deal with this issue.
Anon (Cape Town, South Africa)
Hello Anon, so you and your siblings experienced a double wamy...pulled suddenly from your parents and then later, pulled away from your grandmother. I can certainly understand that you struggle with relationships.
I might also speculate that every time you get close to someone, these old implicit memories get triggered. (As you may have read, implicit memories are different than memores of events and book learning. Implicit memories are more body-based memories that form the basis of most of our emotions.) It would make sense then, that you would choose unavailable partners. It's emotionally safer.
You see, the brain is wired so that our life experiences are connected up with other experiences. This helps us put events together so we can better understand "cause and effect". The better we're able to do this, the better we can predict and prepare for the future. It's all part of our suvival strategy.
The problem is, good and bad memories get connected up too. So the good feelings towards a loving parent can get connected up with feelings of losing that parent.
So, this is what your brain learned in those first few years: Every time you start to feel safe and loved, the rug gets pulled beneath you...you lose the most important person in your life. And so, as you develop deeper feelings in an adult relationship they trigger the same good and bad feelings that arose in those first few years.
Tolerating these intense and uncomfortable feelings would compel many folks to assume they are totally about the current relationship...and end up running for the hills!
As you may have read elsewhere on this site, these relationship patterns, when laid down early in the brain, form an emotional template for how we are in our future relationships. This implicit memory cannot be changed by just being aware of the problem.
For instance, you seem aware of your pattern of picking unavailable partners. But, you've probably already found, that you can't automatically change who you become attracted to. That's coming from the deep recesses of the brain.
To change an implicit memory you must experience similar conditions to how the memory got laid down in the brain in the first place. In other words, you need a safe relationship, one where there is little risk of losing someone. This is why therapy is so powerful. It offers a safe way to start feeling deeply again and a means to work through the pain that gets triggered. As you move through these feelings, your brain once again can learn that it's safe to feel for someone.
Thank-you for your comment Anon. It's stories like these that help get the message out to parents how important these first years are for a child's later emotional development.
Kids adapt so well. Most folks would think "well, it doesn't seem to have hurt them". But of course, years later, the damage done is so apparent and the undoing of it, takes considerable time and effort.
I wish you well,
Interesting observations presented in a clear, intelligable format. I have always found self-counseling is a useful tool but it always helps to have an outside perspective such as this to relate to past experiences to give them a proper context, as your own judgements, being so emotionally inbued, tend to be inaccurate.
Until recently I hadn't been able to recall why I was pushing people away, or letting them get close but not too close. Now I can answer the question by relating to something in my past. When I was born, for the first few years of my life my dad was in prison and I seem to dimly recall my mother having a series of suitors but finding none suitable in the end.
Subconsciously I appear to have used this as a template for most of my relationships since. Seeing my mother get hit by one particularly nasty individual at a young age may have been something I've buried. Somehow I have managed to tie that into the fact I can't let lovers in... I don't ever want to do the same kind of hurt, physically or emotionally. This has led to me pushing people away, letting opportunities slide or doing such damage that any good will is withdrawn - in ALL aspects of life.
Sometimes it can seem that I don't deserve things to go so well, so it must be too good to be true. Reading this page is an excellent start. In making the unconscious conscious, such destructive patterns of behaviour can be controlled to an extent. In fact I've already started to make positive changes... instead of always acting detached and emotionally withdrawn, I'm not as worried as where my feelings might take me.
This has made it easier to open up with my friends and family and the results are encouraging; for one I feel closer to my parents than ever, and despite a rocky start I believe I have found the woman who might just be the one to help me turn my bad run of luck around. Hopefully I can do the same for her.
Many thanks for your article. I've never had much need for physical medicine but I often feel my mental health benefits from a little remedial action, and the perspective you provide here is an excellent example of that. I wish you well!
Gary (Portsmouth, Hampshire)
Gary, I'm so moved by your post and your reflections on how you are moving forward. Your capacity to look deeper and create the connections you are yearning for is inspiring.
What struck me is your awareness of making the unconcious conscious. It sounds as if you are learning to receive, to take in the good.
Just so you know, healing is not only not only about moving through negative emotional states, we actually have to learn how to tolerate positive emotions. (Sounds kinda strange doesn't it!) What we're learning is that we need internal space to hold positive life experiences, otherwise we're vulnerable to sabotaging our own efforts.
So, if you find yourself wobbling in good feelings, you're likely in a new learning phase, stretching to take in all the good stuff you deserve. Bringing consciousness to it, makes it all the more likely to occur again.
All the best on your journey,
I was born in Philippines. When I was 1 years old my both parents left me with my grandmother. My first time seeing them was when I was 10 years old. They stayed there for a week and then go back to their work. Then 3 years later without seing each other they had a divorce.
Every Christmas/Bday I celebrated alone wishing my family would b whole but it didn't happen.
My mom took me away in Philippines. Leaving my grandmother, the one who raised me, was just heartbreaking.
Michel (Mississauga, Canada)
Oh, Michel, I can imagine how hard that must have been for you, leaving your grandmother, especially since you had already experienced a great loss before that at the age of one.
Infants don't understand when parents leave. They're too young to put it together. And, because an infant's emotional development is still fragile, the infant is left to assume, they did something to cause it.
This scaring can last a lifetime even if you later learn your parents didn't leave because of you and/or it caused them great hardship. Unfortunately, because the brain is still growing, the internal reactions get entrenched.
If you haven't already done so, I hope you will consider going to therapy. It's the best way I know for undoing old patterns.
Take good care,
Hi. I am 25 years of age and since the age of 3 i have been aware that my father is not my biological father. The topic of who my biological father was a topic that was not spoken about until i built up the courage and approached my mother when i was about 23. It then took me a futher year to build up the courage to contact my father and meet him.
I always felt like my father had left because of me and that I was the reason he wasnt around. I hate the feeling of people leaving and find it very hard to leave others. I often stay in relationships even though I no longer want to be in them for fear of hurting them and for fear of never finding anyone else.
I often do things that I know is going to make my partner leave me so that I dont have to be the one that makes the decision. I have noticed that I rush into relationships and they become very serious very soon. I also rush into other general decisions and act on impulse and on the moment for fear of never again having the chance to take up that opportunity.
In addition, in the past I have found that I feel indebted to men who are nice to me and often then feel as though I have to give them anything that they ask for, including myself physically. I always regret the decisons that I make when faced with these situations and truly want to change my behaviour.
I am scared to seek counselling, especially since I have studied a double degree at university and feel as though I should be smart enough to overcome these issues on my own. Does it sould like I should talk to someone about these issues?
Thank-you Ashlee for your description. Your words certainly capture how devastating these early experiences can be for our adult relationships and the choices we make. What's really good to read in your post though is that you have some awareness of the patterns. In my view, this is a great start for your therapeutic work.
I can appreciate how you might be scared to start counseling...these patterns contrast sharply with the success you have already achieved in your academic career. It might even be somewhat puzzling for you to be so capable in one area and yet so vulnerable to outside influence in another. (That was certainly my experience as a young student in university.)
The best way to look at it, is to keep in mind that we're talking about two different areas of the brain. These patterned behaviours were created at a young age in response to events and experiences you encountered. They are actually clever ways an infant/toddler copes with unbearable psychic pain.
I also want to emphasize as I have above, that these implicit-based patterns are not easily changed by our "willingness" to have them change. We cannot speak directly to that part of the brain anymore than we can tell ourselves to "have a good night sleep".
The only way I know of how to change these patterns is through the safety of a caring relationship. A therapeutic relationship as you might guess provides the kind of consistency and optimal learning environment that your brain requires in order to change.
We can sometimes get these positive experiences in life...but it takes much longer.
I hope you do decide to take up counseling, Ashlee. You deserve a happy life and a loving, wonderful partner.
All the best,
P.S. Before I posted my response above, Ashlee wrote me...she was anxious to know what her next step might be. I encouraged her to consider counseling. Here's what she wrote back. I thought it might interest folks.
Many thanks for your email. I have since seen my GP and got a referral to a psychologist so that it can be partially bulk billed. I have spoken with a few counsellors and psychologists just to get a feel for who i might feel comfortable seeing and now have an appointment on Friday to go and see a female psychologist.
I also wanted to thank you for your site. The posting was the first time I have ever spoken about this issue publically and it was surprisingly theraputic. Since then I have realised that talking about it helps and I really want to get on top of the situation so thats why I have finally decided to go and see the psychologist. Your kind and prompt reply also helped me to see that there are others out there who will listen and offer advice.
For myself, and my husband it took a lot of work to get through these abandonment issues. Now everything is going well between us. My mom and dad too divorced when we were young, and even though we were taken care of physically we weren't emotionally. So of course problems would arise between myself, and my husband ( which now are so much better) and others whom I am close too.
Now however, I am having triggers come with my best friend. She so much reminds me of my mother that any little thing that happens I get a trigger, and it sends me into an emotional rollercoaster~ feelings such as "I am not good enough" or "I am not wanted or appreciated" runs through my mind over, and over, and over again. My inner dialogue with myself from such a young age takes over, and I become that child again. (i.e. emotionally)
Is there a good self help book that you could recommend to read? I am waiting for a call from counselling to help, but maybe a book to read would also be good.
Thanks so much for your help!
Hi Lynn, thanks for your post. It's so true. We can easily be triggered into a child state with issues related to abandonment. And as you have described, in this state, we lose touch with the internal resources we have created for ourselves as adults. That's certainly been my experience anyway.
It's wonderful to hear that you and your husband have persevered and worked through these issues. In my profession, I don't often get to hear the end of the story. I hope you're able to do the same with your best friend.
As you may already know, until we have resolved an issue it will continue to haunt us in one way or another. I'm not sure how you feel about your present circumstance, but I believe that this can turn out to be a fortunate situation if it has a positive resolution. For if an issue stays underground it will influence our life in ways we are unaware--usually to our detriment.
Yet, when it does surface (as it has in your case), it actually provides an opportunity for us to deal with this emotional material so that we can eventually be free of it. In a funny way, it seems life "conspires in our favour".
Here are the top two books recommended by my colleagues: "Becoming Attached" by Robert Karen and "Necessary Losses" by Judith Viorst.
I should caution you however. It's been my personal experience that just reading about attachment and childhood-based issues is triggering in itself. I suggest you read in little bits and in a time and place where you feel lots of safety and comfort.
I wish you all the best in your couselling, Shrinklady
P.S. Your post prompted me to do a little writing on being triggered. When it's done I'll note it in What's New.
I'm in a relationship ( 8 yrs) recently we have been having some problems with infidelity... on his part. How do I know if I am staying with him(I do believe I love him) for the right reasons? Is it because I have issues with abandonment?
My mom left my dad, and the four of us children, when I was six. My father took us and raised us... with his mother basicallly raising us. But she wasn't my mother whom I put on a pedestal when I was six yrs old. My Dad is a great person and I have the outmost respect for him. What do you think?
I am now 47 and am friendly with my birth mother. She remarried and had two more children that she is closer to...even though she divorced their father too..
Thanks for your question. It must be gut wrenching to be going through what's happening to you presently, especially given your history. The circumstances you describe could certainly give rise to fears of being abandoned once again. For instance, our fears can prevent a full resolution of the infidelity and its impact on the relationship. In other words, your fears may stop you from bringing forth your true feelings or you may be hesitant to assert your needs in the situation. Be aware that whether your fears are indeed having an influence on you or by how much, can't easily be determined by just "thinking" about the situation.
Unfortunately, our internal wiring makes it difficult. We are very prone to rationalization. Our blind spots--and we all have them--cloud our thinking. The essential task is to "feel" your fears. Unfortunately...easier said then done. The best way I know is with a counselor who is trained to help guide you while providing a safe environment. I personally couldn't imagine trying to figure it out on my own.
I have worked with clients who have been in similar situations. I discourage them from assuming their partner's infidelity means they should automatically leave the relationship. In fact, couples that are willing to work through these issues often end up with a deeper sense of connection and trust.
In my view--and not everyone agrees with me--infidelity is a symptom. People who are unfaithful are certainly responsible for their actions, however their history undoubtedly plays a role in understanding why this path is taken. This is where individual therapy can be extremely beneficial.
Personally, I don't think I could feel safe in a relationship in these circumstances unless I felt my partner fully resolved his issues that led up to the incident(s). I'd also want to experience sufficient repair of our relationship so I felt confident it wasn't going to happen again. In fact, I would need to feel even closer then before this occurred. This would undoubtedly require that I change also. Hope that provides some answers to your question.
All the best, Shrinklady
Reply from Beth
Thank you very much for your thoughts on this topic. I am scheduled to start therapy with and with out (he has been going on his own for a few weeks) my partner. I too, share the opinion that infidelity, in ceratin circumstances, is a symptom of something bigger. AND that if both partners can reconnect the relationship stands the chance of being stronger and more committed than ever. It's going to take a lot of work to get to that point. But I wouldn't be here if I didn't truly believed he loved me.
I believe there are insecurity issues in his life. The "I'll get them before they get me". His wife of 20 yrs left him for a man 26 yrs younger than him! That had to be humiliating for a man that was a stand up guy and a great father. SO we will we see where this takes us.. Again thank you for sharing your wisdom.
I can understand this, my parents separated when I was 5 and my parents sold our family home. Mum used to drop us off at Dad's every second weekend and I would cry for hours because I didn't want to go, it was boring there. Mum had no choice but to force me out the car door even though it was very hard for her to do.
I am fine in relationships most of the time, occasionally my partner and I may argue and if he leaves me alone I get pretty angry but won't do anything about it.
Thanks for your comment Annon. Your example really illustrates how devastating these kinds of parental actions can impact a growing child and later, the grown adult. Children require a lot of comfort and safety...otherwise, they grow up without the self-soothing capacity that's needed to be happy in this world.
We need a lot more awareness culturally to prevent these kinds of things. Hopefully, some day parents will receive more support (i.e. mediation) so no harm comes to children this way.
I hope you're receiving the kind of support needed to change these internal patterns (i.e. friends, family, therapist). They can be changed...although it does take time.
All the best,