Abandonment and PTSD

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My Psychotherapist has gone to a father’s 90th birthday in India and as I wrote about about two weeks ago I am experiencing extreme abandonment anxiety as I always do when she goes away. My abandonment anxiety stems from my siblings leaving me to return to their homes overseas when I was a child, leaving me in an extremely abusive situation with my  parents. Now whenever someone I trust goes away or leaves I go through those same emotions again.

The intense emotional crisis of abandonment can create a trauma severe enough to leave an emotional imprint on individuals’ psychobiological functioning, affecting their future choices and responses to rejection, loss, or disconnection.  Following an abandonment experience in childhood or adulthood, some people develop a sequela of post traumatic symptoms which share sufficient features with post traumatic stress disorder to be considered a subtype of this diagnostic category.

As with other types of post trauma, the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment range from mild to severe.  PTSD of abandonment is a psychobiological condition in which earlier separation traumas interfere with current life.  An earmark of this interference is intrusive anxiety which often manifests as a pervasive feeling of insecurity – a primary source of self sabotage in our primary relationships and in achieving long range goals.  Another earmark is a tendency to compulsively reenact our abandonment scenarios through repetitive patterns, i.e., abandoholism – being attracted to the unavailable.

Another factor of abandonment post trauma is for victims to be plagued with diminished self esteem and heightened vulnerability within social contexts (including the workplace) which intensifies their need to buttress their flagging ego strength with defense mechanisms which can be automatically discharged and whose intention is to protect the narcissistically injured self from further rejection, criticism, or abandonment.  These habituated defenses are often maladaptive to their purpose in that they can create emotional tension and jeopardize our emotional connections.

Victims of abandonment trauma can have emotional flashbacks that flood us with feelings ranging from mild anxiety to intense panic in response to triggers that we may or may not be conscious of.  Once our abandonment fear is triggered, it can lead to what Daniel Goleman calls emotional hijacking.  During an emotional hijacking, the emotional brain has taken over, leaving its victims feeling a complete loss of control over their own lives, at least momentarily.  If emotional hijacking occurs frequently enough, its chronic emotional excesses can lead to self-depreciation and isolation within relationships, as well as give rise to secondary conditions such as chronic depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, negative narcissism, and addiction.

Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a so called “disease” of the amygdala – the emotional center of the brain responsible for initiating the Fight Flee Freeze response.  In PTSD, the amygdala is set on overdrive to keep us in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance — action-ready to declare a state of emergency should it perceive any threat even vaguely reminiscent of the original trauma. The amygdala, acting as the brain’s warning system, is constantly working to protect (overprotect) us from any possibility of further injury.  In the post trauma sequelae related specifically to abandonment, the amygdala scans the environment for potential threats to our attachments or to our sense of self-worth.

People with PTSD of abandonment can have heightened emotional responses to abandonment triggers that are often considered insignificant by others. For instance, depending on circumstances, when we feel slighted, criticized, or excluded, it can instigate an emotional hijacking and interfere in, and even jeopardize your personal or professional life.

I am struggling with my Therapist being away despite her texts and a phone call saying she’s coming back. I just don’t  believe it such is my trauma. It’s getting better than it used to be but it’s still a battle.

One comment

  1. i get it i really do. i struggle with this issue too. i never believe our therapist when she says she’ll be back. its really hard to hear it. i get so triggered when she leaves. i just feel awful for the whole therapy break. xx

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