Today I had my last therapy session with my psychotherapist before Christmas. I was dreading it. My psychotherapist is going away to India over the Christmas holidays to visit her family so is not even going to be in the country which further compounds my abandonment syndrome which I experience whenever there is a break in therapy. I don’t cope well when she goes away. I never believe she is going to come back.
Abandonment fears typically stem from childhood loss, sexual abuse, childhood abuse or such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce, but they can also result from inadequate physical or emotional care. These early-childhood experiences can lead to a fear of being abandoned by the significant people in one’s adult life.
Some degree of abandonment fear may be a normal part of being human, but when the fear of abandonment is severe, frequent, and difficult to ease, it can cause significant impairment, particularly with regard to the development of healthy relationships.
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.
Abandonment issues can be overwhelming, but even though I am challenged by these fears I can learn to manage them in ways that are healthy and productive. Methods of addressing and overcoming abandonment issues include:
- Exploring ways to care for myself
- Developing the ability to access a safe and calm “center” when fears threaten one’s sense of safety or security
- Learning to successfully communicate needs in intimate relationships
- Building a sense of trust in others
I have come a long way since five years ago and am much more trusting in my relationships now but abandonment anxiety rears it’s ugly head now and then and it’s back to strategies to minimising its effects which I’ve learned to do. Now to put them into to practice in three weeks when my therapist goes away again !!! Put my money where my mouth is as they say.