THE BLOG

Why We All Have Abandonment Issues

The human condition
The fear of abandonment is primal and universal to human experience, the crux of the human condition. We all have it. That's why I write about it so much. Personally and professionally, I've discovered that it's better to deal with our abandonment fear, know when it rears its head, than try to hide from it. The more we ignore it, the more it is able to interfere from within.

Yet a lot of people are afraid to look into their abandonment wound, fearing it will swallow them up. They need to be reassured that at the bottom of primal abandonment is a trampoline with lots of spring in it. It isn't a dark abyss, but full of illumination and change-energy. All you need is a little direction, and you can use it as a springboard for positive change and greater connection and love.

Primal abandonment fear is actually what helps make the world go round. Its underlying anxiety is what motivates us to seek and build secure relationships and what drives us toward personal achievements that make us feel worthy of love and masterful of our fate. It is what makes us want to follow basic societal norms and causes us to quake when we feel any threat to the security of our attachments. It motivates us to seek remedies to any breaches in our connections. When we don't succeed and the bonds are truly broken, our emotional reactions can range from anxiety to full blown emotional crisis.

Why is abandonment fear universal?
Our first "fear" was in response to the abrupt separation of being expelled from our mother's womb and thrust into a cold and unfamiliar world. The sensations of birth trauma stay with us as emotional memories which echo throughout life - echoes of primal abandonment fear.

As newborns we were picked up and gathered into someone's arms to be comforted and succored, only to be put back down on a flat, chilled surface. Then we were swooped up again into human warmth and comfort to be fed, and once again put back down on a cold lonely surface. These early repetitive sequences alternating between separation and disconnection, separation and disconnection, involve sharply contrasting physical sensations that etch emotional imprints in the brain, laying the groundwork for our emotional responses to separation and connection as we go through life. (See Causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of Abandonment.)

This etching or conditioning is mediated by the amygdala - the seat of the brain's "emotional" memory (as opposed to its "factual" memory which is located in the hippocampus). It facilitates the brain's automatic warning system, priming us to react (i.e. with anxiety) to any event that might bear resemblance to an unwanted or abrupt disconnection.

As infants, when we sensed Mommy's disappearance from the crib, we cried out in pain and fear - to bring her back. As adults, when we sense the rug being pulled out from under us (as when we get rejected), we react as if our very life depends on regaining the connection, because when we were newborns, it did.

Fear of abandonment, steeped in separation anxiety, is the emotional template on which all subsequent separation experiences and other traumas are mapped. It conditions us - shapes future emotional responses - according to our unique neuro-biological endowments and experiences in an ongoing process.

Intrusive anxiety
We are all prone to exhibit some level of emotional response to abandonment triggers (see Are You on the Abandonment Spectrum). Our history of separations (inc. traumas large and small) has been steadily priming the amygdala to be on the lookout to warn us of any subsequent danger to our connections. This primitive sentinel of the brain automatically alarms us with fight, flight or freeze responses (ranging from subliminal to overt). For example, we might feel a little anxious at the beginning of a new relationship, especially if we are very interested in the person, because it raises the emotional stakes, elevating primal abandonment fear, even if imperceptibly. As our feelings toward the person deepen, the vulnerability goes up a notch, so that when we encounter any resistance from the person, we can find ourselves feeling a little inhibited (freeze), or on edge (fight) or emotionally shut off (flee) during our next meeting. This typifies the emotional roller coaster of new love when the ups and downs can interfere in the longevity of the new connection.

Abandonment and shame
Conditioned by our unique accumulation of previous experiences, the amygdala alerts us, not only of threats to our attachments, but also to our sense of self-worth. Why? Because when we have trouble winning someone over to our side, or keeping them from leaving us, it arouses feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. "I'm not good enough." "I'm too weak to make them like me."

Of course, along the way we accumulate good experiences as well, so a lot of us are able to remain at an even keel, relatively confident and self-assured. But if we should feel rebuffed or disrespected, it hearkens back to the amygdala-embedded emotional sensations of childhood, tapping into our stockpile of hurts, disappointments, losses, and failures. The triggers of abandonment fear may be large or small. Feeling left behind, excluded, bested can unleash emotional torrents that seem out of proportion to the actual event. This is because the primitive feelings of fear and shame have flooded into the open wound.

The shame vein
Most of us as children or teens had moments when we were unable to compel a particular person or group to like us, be nice to us, or accept us, causing us to feel momentarily powerless, invisible, and unimportant, not "special" enough - unacceptable due to some immutable flaw or deficiency. "There must be something wrong with me, an ugly scar they can see that I can't." Thus we develop a crack in our self-image - a vein of shame that runs deep within us as an undercurrent. This also runs alongside a stream of confidence. But depending on our histories, the shame vein can be easily nicked when we feel once again rebuffed, not chosen, slighted, or unworthy, causing it to leak its toxins into our self-esteem and wellbeing, at least momentarily. Even minor events can send silent darts - vicious splinters that are very difficult to extract because they are invisible - into the shame vein and interfere in how we feel about ourselves at any given time.

To overcome the interference, we need to embark on a path of healing - a program of abandonment recovery techniques that utilizes specialized tools to overcome our abandonment issues, build a whole new relationship with ourselves, resolve those deeply embedded shame messages, and take action to achieve our long neglected goals and dreams. Step by step we find greater life and love than before.