If you move from relationship to relationship or remain in an unhappy one for fear of ending up alone, there is a chance you are suffering from a fear of abandonment – any relationship is better than no relationship.
Abandonment includes more than simple physical rejection or desertion. The abandonment rarely discussed is emotional abandonment. This happens when we stay in or seek out relationships that do not meet our needs. We invite abandonment into our lives.
It is normal to have emotional needs when we are in a close relationship. We yearn for affection, love, and companionship. That want to have someone to listen to us and care about what we say. We want to be seen and treated as a value.
These are the emotional needs everyone wants and needs satisfied when in a close and intimate relationship. First, however, we have to recognize and acknowledge these needs. After being in a relationship for a while, after the initial bloom has worn off, we may have to ask to have those needs met.
It should be clear that this type of intimacy involves more than sex. A couple can have sex every day and still be emotionally far apart, with sex being reduced to a mere physical act. Addiction, constant conflict, infidelity, and physical and emotional abuse are only a few of the scenarios where a relationship becomes devoid of intimacy and abandonment have set in.
The Reason for Abandonment
Some people remain in relationships that lack emotional intimacy because it is familiar to them. It is what they knew while growing up. Parents need to love and accept their children and show this through words and action. It is important that they respect, or at least empathize with, the child’s feelings, even if they are negative.
If the parent(s) dismisses their child’s feelings (“No, you do not hate grandma.” or “Only bad children don’t eat their broccoli.”) the child becomes hurt, confused, and ashamed of what he or she is experiencing internally. Normal feelings turn into something shameful.
Parental abandonment can also occur when the parent/child roles become reversed, and the parent unloads his or her problems on the child and expects the child to be the parent’s source of comfort instead of the other way around. The parent may be there physically but has abandoned the child emotionally through age-inappropriate expectations. The resultant feelings of abandonment can continue into adulthood.
When We Grow Up
Children who were abandoned emotionally may crave intimacy as adults, but the idea also terrifies them. It is too unfamiliar and too far out of their comfort zone. They deal with the dilemma by refusing to get close to anyone or by becoming involved with someone who is also fearful of intimacy. This provides the necessary distance for the person to feel emotionally familiar and safe – and abandoned. Technically, they have someone in their lives (as they did when they were young), but they continue to remain emotionally distant. Many of such relationships involve at least one partner who is an addict, a cheater, or an abuser. These personality traits make creating emotional intimacy virtually impossible. These relationships are painful, but they are within the person’s comfort zone. He or she knows how to function within these boundaries.
Signs of Fear of Abandonment
Here are some signs that you or someone you know may be suffering from fear of abandonment:
- Extreme sensitivity to being criticized.
- Difficulty in establishing positive relationships.
- A pattern of bad relationships.
- Becoming attached to someone too quickly and becoming disappointed equally as quickly.
- Not fully committing to a relationship.
- Always worrying about pleasing someone else.
- Taking the blame when there are problems in a relationship.
- Remaining in an unhealthy relationship for fear of being alone.
- Always feeling nervous in a relationship
- Feeling socially uncomfortable.
- Fear of being alone.
- Acting too clingy.
- Feeling jealous without provocation.
People who are emotionally abandoned actually dread becoming physically abandoned, as well. They either avoid relationships altogether, erect a wall between themselves and others or simply move on to the next emotionally unsatisfying relationship. When the relationship ends, even more fears of abandonment and intimacy can be created. Then, these same people become more guarded, less emotionally open, or enter another abandoning relationship.
The fear of physical rejection may be so great, such a person is on the constant lookout for negative signs. Any bit of criticism is interpreted as an absolute rejection. A phone call not immediately returned is proof of infidelity. Soon, the person will begin the circle with yet another emotionally unavailable partner.
Breaking Through the Fear of Abandonment
A professional therapist can help someone deal with long-ingrained fears of intimacy and fear of abandonment. It usually requires healing the childhood pain, when the child had every right to feel safe but had parents who were unable to provide that sense of security.
A huge and necessary step is to separate the perception we have of ourselves from how our parents perceived us. Our parents may have dismissed our feelings and needs decades ago. However, that is not mean we have to continue to do so. Our feelings and needs matter. Self-love and self-care can help us validate ourselves and our emotions without having to justify them.
We don’t have to reject our parents to reject the past and their behavior toward us. If we desire, we can love our parents while rejecting their voice, which may be still playing in our adult minds.
We are Worthy
As soon as we let go of the idea that our needs do not matter, we shift mentally to understanding that we and our needs are important. It means seeing ourselves through new eyes. We deserve respect, and we don’t have to settle for less.
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