Abandonment and Attachment - Trauma Therapy

in Midtown Manhattan

 
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Amanda Polster, LMSW

Attachment & Abandonment Specialist

Do you have trouble trusting others?

Do you find it difficult to feel secure in relationships?

Do you have trouble accepting yourself?

Do you have trouble believing others who say they love you?

Are you suffering a recent break-up or past wound?

Do you have trouble getting relationships to last?

 

You are not alone

If you experience any of these insecurities above, you may be suffering from the fear of abandonment.

 

What is Fear of Abandonment?

The fear of abandonment is a common experience, but can feel isolating and paralyzing. People who experience abandonment can at times see patterns of rejection and neglect in their lives, but have difficulty recognizing the cause of these patterns. Abandonment can cause a perpetual feeling of grief and loss because that initial wound or series of experiences were never mended or healed. The feeling of abandonment is very similar to the feeling of trauma, and abandonment can cause trauma at any stage of development. Typically one episode of abandonment - a loss of a parent or loved one; being left to fend for oneself; rejected from a position or job; emotional, physical or sexual abuse; lack of adequate shelter; etc. - causes insecurities and trust issues in being vulnerable to enter future relationships and opportunities. When someone has experienced multiple forms of abandonment, this individual may feel like they are continuously experiencing rejection and neglect, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness that they will never seek acceptance and love.

Regardless of where feelings of abandonment stems from, this experience can leave people feeling worthless and overwhelmed in search for acceptance. Many of my clients experience abandonment in different forms, whether it is from parental separation as a child, from sudden deaths of loved ones, or from rejections in relationships. Often times the relationships we encounter with others reflects the relationships and behaviors we learned and experienced as children. If someone experienced abandonment from a parent or guardian as a child, it is normal to have difficulty feeling accepted in other personal relationships. At the same time, there are many reasons why someone may feel rejected, and similar to trauma, each feeling of abandonment is justifiable and understandable in the context of that person’s lived experience.

Let’s look deeper into the relationship between abandonment and trauma. When someone has experienced neglect in any stage of life, this event or scenarios cause an individual to begin to perceive relationships differently. If you’re someone who recognizes that you attach yourself to unavailable or unhealthy partners, this behavior is actually a normal and understandable response to your experience(s) of abandonment. This may sound bizarre, but experiences of abandonment can cause a person to go into fight, flight, or freeze response, which means that when someone experiences neglect or rejection, their brain begins to interpret future interactions with others as a trigger for potentially getting rejected or abandoned again. A common example of this is someone who anticipates relationships going downhill, so they leave the relationship before they are potentially rejected, even if their current partner is advocating for the relationship to continue. Another example of this fight, flight, or freeze response in relationships is when someone fears not being able to communicate with their partner (i.e. calling them multiple times in a row, panicking that their partner is ignoring them, etc.) This reaction is often caused by a fear of abandonment, and can trigger someone to feel hopeless and frantic.

If you connect with any of these examples and experiences, it may bring you relief to understand the universal experience of fear of abandonment, because we as humans are constantly seeking support and acceptance from others. Not only do we seek acceptance and unconditional love, but the fear of not finding this form of love from others can be a threat to our being and survival as a species that lives to connect with others. Below are common symptoms, and demonstrate the diverse yet multiple ways people experience abandonment.

“The energy involved in shattering is the life force, the inborn need for attachment. When that energy is thwarted, it intensifies what Buddhists call clinging; suffering and grief are the result. Its pain is our psychobiological reaction to being suddenly cut off, held back from the relationship we so desire. This powerful impetus to attach is ever present. It can be the source of pain, but when redirected, it becomes the first step toward healing.”
— -Susan Anderson, The Journey from Abandonment to Healing: Revised and Updated: Surviving Through and Recovering from the Five Stages That Accompany the Loss of Love

 

Abandonment can generate:

Low self-esteem

Undeserving, diminished

Depression

Despair, hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, anger, mood swings

Anxiety

Panic, separation anxiety, fear of failure, loss of control, insecurity

Obsession

Becoming attached easily, clinging to others, co-dependent

Addiction

Using substances to cope with anxieties of abandonment

Isolation

Loneliness, difficulty forming primary relationships, feeling lost

Shame

Guilt from relationships ending

Self-defeating behaviors

Self-harm, suicidal behaviors, entering or ending relationships prematurely

Grief

Agony from experiences of neglect and abandonment, coping with rejection

Typical Thoughts

“I’m not good enough”

“I deserved this”

“No one will ever love me”

“I am too unstable to be loved”

“Is this relationship right for me?”

“Why is this happening to me?”

Treatment Options for Abandonment

The fact that you have made it this far into this page demonstrates your willingness to learn and explore your symptoms of abandonment. It is not easy to dive deeper into these uncomfortable feelings, and you are strong and courageous for your interest in exploring your thoughts and feelings around abandonment and neglect.

One effective way of relieving symptoms of abandonment is to use trauma-informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to identify patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors around the fear of abandonment. CBT can help identify areas in your life where you are avoiding positive relationships and interactions with others because of previous experiences of loss and neglect. This form of treatment is problem-focused and action-oriented, which means it focuses on how your current symptoms are hindering your self-esteem and relationships, and what steps we can take together in therapy to resolve this discomfort.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is another treatment model that can be used to relieve symptoms of abandonment and neglect. Often times people seek love and acceptance from others, and abandon their own capacity of self-acceptance and compassion. MBSR and other mindfulness-based practices helps individuals turn internally for support and healing.

 

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