We selected childhood abandonment as a topic that not only resonates with the core model of our trauma centre but is one that it is so prevalent in modern relationships stuck behind the screens of our respective technology devices and in the weirdest and most dynamic social environments ever experienced on this planet.
“Abandoholics” is a somewhat discriminatory yet collective term used to describe individuals that were abandoned or neglected as children, and in their adult lives have developed a number of maladapted relationship coping mechanisms that sway between two primary emotional relationship states of abandonment (an underlying fear of being left by a partner) and engulfment (an underlying fear of being entrapped or held hostage in a relationship).
We will attempt to unpack how these maladaptive states can play out throughout this article, however it is important to mention upfront that many facets of abandonment can co-exist as subtle quirks to even in healthy relationships and thus the intent of this article is simply highlight some of the more destructive behaviours, explain their origin and provide a guide to navigating through some potentially disastrous relationship territory.
Let’s start by identifying the core components of abandonment and how it may adversely affect us in modern relationships today.
- a fear of abandonment (being abandoned or left by a person in present or future)
- a fear of engulfment (being overwhelmed or drowned by a person in present or future)
Sound familiar? Perhaps not, read on.
Romantic “abandaholic” relationships
“Abandoholics” are either chasing hard-to-get-lovers, and / or are pushing away lovers that are most interested or suited to them and / or attracted to lovers that are most unsuited to them. Alternatively abandoholics inside healthy relationships are unwittingly self-sabotaging and derailing the relationship through perpetual and impossible sub-conscious relationship tests of loyalty.
A third behaviour frequently exhibited in both of the emotional abandonment or engulfment states, is the partial or complete avoidance of relationships altogether for fear of the abandonment or engulfment cycles reoccurring. Pistanthrophobia is characterised by an overly irrational fear of getting into intimate or personal relationship with other humans for the above reasons.
In these avoidance scenarios abandoholics remain socially and emotionally isolated frequently “pretending” and “appearing” to be searching for someone, while in truth they are emotionally still “chasing” partners or relationships that are unattainable, disinterested or in some circumstances are completely imaginary, or like with pistanthrophobia the fears of what happened in their last relationship prohibit them from moving onto a new one.
In so doing, abandoholics avoid the risks of attaching to any real prospective partners and inadvertently self-sabotage future relationships through a confusing barrage of coping and defence mechanisms that are habitually beyond their control.
In all cases abandonment sufferers live on the edge of relationships and not in them.
Abandonment is based on fears and like with any trauma can be severe enough to leave behind an emotional scars that then negatively influence future partner selections and heighten the responses to rejection, loss, or deeper relationship disconnections.
Anxiety frequently manifests itself around feelings of relationship insecurity and a progressively lowered self-esteem and for the many relationships caught up in these complex cycles it spells inevitable disaster.
Inside those “emotionally unavailable” relationships.
Abandonholics attraction is based largely on constantly being triggered that their partner will at some stage, now or in the future leave or abandon them. The relationship dynamics of abandonholics frequently flip flop between the states of abandonment and engulfment, testing their partners boundaries until the relationship eventually erodes or justifiably self-destructs.
It’s the fear that drives us, to the u̶n̶-comfortable edge.
Suffice to say this is not a conscious decision, abandoholics are not intently testing the relationships boundaries. In the run of day to day life they are inadvertently triggered and and simply over respond to normal relationship stressors. The weight of abandonment set’s in and they start testing the boundaries.
In many cases the destruction of the relationship is based on an event or sequence of events whereby there is an consistent or obvious cycle of irrecoverable abandonment incidents.
These events may include unrealistic and idealistic expectations of future romance or actual acts of physical abandonments such as leaving, cheating, intimacy denial etc. Specific events would however be unique to each relationship and invariably both partners play some or other significant role in the overall process, however the abandonholic is the one that continues to feel emotional assaults even long after the relationship is over.
The flip flop dynamics of these relationships leave the “abandonholic” reeling in a fog of mixed emotional states that can ultimately result in severe stress, obsessive thinking patterns, negative narcissism, substance addictions, depression and anxiety or many similar feelings akin to the these conditions.
Abandonholics obsess and yearn for all the highlights of the relationship but once back in a role revert back into polarised cycles re-testing the boundaries of their abandonment fears and subconscious acceptance insecurities. Reviving all previously damaging events where they felt abandoned and isolated into present day scenarios.
Abandonment As a Form of PTSD
Abandonment fear triggers a panic in responses or what Daniel Goleman terms emotional or amygdala hijacking in his book Emotional Intelligence. We can delve into “Emotional Hijacking” in another article, but it is a beautifully vivid description of a process that actually happens in the brain when faced with imminent danger and the natural trauma responses kick in.
Essentially our brain pumps adrenaline into our bloodstream as a booster to deal with the danger on a physical level. The problem is that this also disables the higher cortex of the brain at the same time, which in turn prevents us from making calculated and rational decisions.
Something to remember in the heat of an argument as / with a abandoholic who would feel threatened in an argument and could not respond rationally, even if they wanted to.
The fear of abandonment may be loosely classified under CPTSD complex post traumatic stress disorder or subtype of this category and carries a number of associated trauma symptoms ranging from mild to severe and each may depend on the individuals prior experiences or their particular blends of abandonment trauma.
Victims of all trauma experience these subconscious “flashbacks” of fear in the case of abandonment this fear is set in rejection, disconnection or loss.
The Origins of Childhood Abandonment Fears
Many of these patterns are present in abandonment and cast back from their prior early childhood or previous abandonment traumas and have little to do with their immediate relationship circumstances and more to do with learned behaviours from childhood.
Substance abusing, workaholic, emotionally disconnected, depressed or generally disengaged parents are most frequently the common denominators and precursors to establishing these destructive abandonment related behaviours in abandoholic adults.
In their childhood seeking their parents attention and approval and not receiving formative validation would leave these individuals with an inherent sense of self-doubt and would naturally begin to question their own self-worth. Emotionally neglected children begin to establish their own means in which to cope with their own emotions in the absence of direction or resolution from their parents.
With children’s inherent limited physical capabilities, they are not able to a deal with traumatic events in “fight or flight” as adults would naturally do in a threatening scenario.
Children cannot run away, they cannot fight and their only defence it to psychologically disconnect… In those murky pools of emotional neglect children are forced to develop avoidant and psychological fleeing mechanisms that can be further characterised as dissociative behaviours.
As children we enter the world with a clean slate, we do not understand dangers of our environment about as much as we do not understand our own emotional needs. We develop and we learn by imprinting or copying our parents and will naturally develop our emotional responses over and above the fundamental physical nurturing and care we require as infants.
Appreciation, empathy, validation and recognition are the central pillars in establishing our future confidence, individuality, pride and self-worth.
Naturally parents applaud good behaviour and validate a child’s progress into the world, until the point where they are able to manage and regulate their own emotions and make cognitive sense of their life.
In cases of childhood abandonment this validation, appreciation, empathy and recognition does not happen or happens to a diminished degree. These emotional validations from parents and caregivers are fundamental prerequisite to establishing a sound mental picture for a child. Abandoned children thus begin to dissociate from situations that they cannot cognitively process or where they have feelings that are not validated and / or not brought back to a suitably calming resolution.
They escape from the trauma of trying to understand their emotions and the reasons why they are not being validated onto their own minds and imaginary worlds. Nowadays those worlds are fuelled by extreme infotainment and direct exposure to incredibly leading and misleading content sources and media channels.
As children they begin to adopt a broad range of coping mechanisms to obtain parental attention, acceptance and validation. As adults these behaviours would have formed into maladapted attention and validation pleas that add fuel these complex abandonment and engulfment interactions which play out in their later lives and relationships.
I stopped listing this stuff 20 points in as I realised the scenarios are endless.
- Complete or partial memory blocks of childhood traumas connected to low self-esteem, low sense of entitlement and a broad range of performance anxiety issues. The memory blank spots dull the reality of your childhood abandonment traumas.
- Fear interferes in forming relationships in adulthood as intrusive insecurity inhibits many social life and goal achievement objectives. Anxiety in and around authority figures is an all too frequent trait of abandonholics which they abandonholics overly avoid or excessively confront in their adulthood.
- Abandonholics are plagued by self defeating patterns to sabotage their lives, goals and careers. Career hopping and constant self evaluation perpetual goal setting and goal avoidance. Repeatedly subjecting themselves to people or experiences that may or can lead to another loss, rejection or trauma.
- Abandonholics subconsciously and consciously reawaken past losses, feelings of vulnerability and fear with heightened memories of their traumatic separations are part of the package and are brought into their new relationship dynamics.
- Continued feelings of emotional detachment, or being “numbed” to past losses with great difficulty in concluding or letting go of the painful feelings of past rejections.
- Overreacting to normal emotional ups and downs of adult relationships with and inability to mindfully handle day to day conflict and disappointment within their present relationships. Abandonholics are over-sensitive to seemingly perceived criticisms, rejections, abandonment or exclusions.
- As their emotional pendulums swing between a fear of entrapment or engulfment and their continual fear of abandonment; they often feel like they are losing control if a person gets too close to them as love starved childhood insecurities hijack their adulthood emotional states.
- Even when they are cognitively aware that a past relationship could not meet their basic needs abandonholics dive at the opportunity to revive these these relationships under the misconceptions of romance or as a means to bring closure.
- “Emotional hangovers” are the nett effect of being in contact with these past relationships. Abandonholics create a climate of intense emotional difficulty for themselves where they are unable to distinguish their true feelings or sifting through their blur of emotional upheavals.
- The avoidance of close personal relationships or the alternate tendency to dive into relationships and hold on to them too quickly.
- Abandonholics day to day life includes a over sense of responsibility for others (People-pleasing), constantly rescuing or attending to other people’s needs above their own for acceptance or approval.
- Unrealistic expectations over reactions towards specific social scenarios that creates undue conflicts and eventually burns bridges and connections.
- Alternatively under-react to emotional triggers and cues from partners and to dissociate from their.
- There are many Co-dependency issues whereby abandonholics devote their attention to others and then feel abandoned then they don’t receive enough attention back.
- Overly impulsive actions, even when you are aware of the negative consequences to your actions.
- Abandonholics frequently have unpredictable and uncontrollable outbursts of anger or are triggered by specific social or relationship scenarios that are beyond their control.
So how does one deal with childhood abandonment issues as an adult?
As much as you would like to you cannot re-live your childhood. What is done is done and dusted the only path forward is to establish a cognitive path that recognises the detrimental behaviours and then sets in motion a simple and effective strategy to learn new and better ways of handling these situations in the future knowing full well that they will undoubtedly reoccur.
- Be aware. Be aware of your emotions at each moment in time. Look for scenarios where you become stressed to the point where you are angry. Now that you are there bam stop! You now know exactly what you need to work on, don’t ignore it.
- Take a break. Relationships have a tendency to trigger us into emotional states that are hard to apply a meaningful and mindful response to our partners. It’s at those junctures where the fear of abandonment has shrunk your brain cortex and ability to have a true and mindful and meaningful response to your partner. That’s where you call time out. Your emotional responses have been hijacked and you are not equipped to mindfully or progressively respond. Give everyone space to breathe and calm down. Go back in with a positive and mindful suggestions of your and their respective roles.
- Practice proactive empathy. Empathy is about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes before a situation explodes out of proportion. By acting in a way that demonstrates the behaviour you want from your partner you will begin to reverse engineer your crap childhood programming and play this instrumental role of gaining mutual and healthy control of positive relationship dynamics.
Apportioning due blame
As adults these experiences are long past and dealing with them may almost seem ridiculous. All too often the behaviours outline very real and immediate adult circumstances but if we can identify and recognises origin of these behaviours we are halfway up the stairs in re-learning to resolve them through forgiveness.
As human beings we find it hard to not blame others.
I blame my parents for emotionally starving me as a child, I blame my girl / boy friend for not dealing with my emotional outbursts and drama in a more mindful and adult way. I blame society for just being a bunch of assholes. I blame my government for the rest and I blame you for being you.
I,I,I, you, you, you, blame, blame, blame, me, me, us, us, us blah bla need a hug.
It’s gotten you nowhere in the past and it will probably not get you no closure in the future.
There are always mitigating circumstances beyond everyones control and as a parent looks down upon their new born infant they are not plotting the ways in which to psychologically scar this new baby for life.
Your ex partner was a human being that did not get into a relationship with you for the express intent of turning you or themselves into fire breathing monster. (even tho they are still a bit of an asshole)
They were all doing the best they could at the time. With such a limited grasp of the greater processes in play, they knew not what they did.
Each life circumstance is unique including that of your parents or ex partners and all their experiences of you. However they entered or exited your life is part of your and their particular journey. At this point however, those experiences are your future guide to navigate toward your new and better future self.
Learning to let go of blame and allowing forgiveness into your life is a humbling and worthwhile exercise. The first person you should start with is yourself, seek professional help, talk to a therapist, open up let what needs to come out come out.
There is a wonderful prayer from the anonymous groups called the serenity prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
The context of this prayer is about letting go of pain caused and not causing further pain to yourself or others, bringing closure to the person you were and opening up to being the version you are that you want to be.
This time slightly wiser.
Only we know what is right for ourselves and for the people around us and our learned destructive behaviours skew our authentic sense of direction.
The serenity prayer directives are the phase two.
Once you have started truly dismantling your own intrusive thoughts and coming to terms with yourself, accepted your shortfalls, only then and will you be ready to enact the the wisdom of serenity.
On the upside and from the psychological perspective, your abandonment responses can be strengthened just like your muscles.
Practice does make perfect and it begins with looking at each of the stressors that trigger your abandonment responses. Only once you are able to identify these stressors will you be able to diffuse any undue emotional outburst before it actually happens.
What is important to understand from this article is that with most abandonment conditions there are varying degrees in which each individual reacts in their given scenarios. This article speaks to the hard ends that typify behaviours, yet in truth there are always subtle degrees of differentiation from person to person and other traits that are probably not mentioned.
Elements of these behaviours can be present but not pronounced and can even co-exist within a healthy relationship. Your only job in a relationship is to be the best version of yourself that you can be, the rest is inevitable, accept it and keep growing and moving forward.
If you are an abandaholic or someone who has been in a relationship that has flip flopped around abandonment trauma hopefully this article has been useful to you. Please do us the honour of sharing it your respective social groups or tag someone that may draw benefit in reading it. Ten years ago I wish that someone I trusted would have done the same thing with me.
If you want to delve deeper in understanding abandonment in all it’s intricate forms visit abandonment.net/articles. Recovery Direct is a treatment centre based in Cape Town South Africa that specialises in identifying helping people resolve a broad range of deep seated trauma related issues and cooccurring conditions.
While it’s quite a topic that could resonate with so many people you may also want to dive into this supporting article about rapid personal transformation and lists a number of handy tools in learning to grow personally from abandonment experiences.