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Dysfunction Interrupted-The Fear of Abandonment Can Make You Do Funny Things

By funny I don’t mean Ha Ha. By funny I mean things that when you look at them in hindsight make you say, “What was I thinking?” Or that your friends and family looking in wonder what in the world you are doing with your life.

Dysfunctional families and parents come in many styles and carry out many different dynamics. One of the most damaging styles or dynamic is one where as a child you are abandoned or you live in fear of abandonment. I call these families the Abandoning Families or the “Here Today, Gone Tomorrows”. This can mean actual physical abandonment or emotional abandonment.  Threats of abandonment are also damaging and are also common in these families. You may have lived in fear of being abandoned if you did not please your parent or caregiver. This message can come from one parent or both.

If you grew up under these conditions you may not handle separation well, as you expect to be abandoned. That pending abandonment feeling can be fueled by very subtle things, like your partner being distracted or non-attentive. When in relationships, there is a pervasive feeling and belief that the other person will eventually be gone. These trust issues tend to hang on for life if not addressed. They tend to hang around and cause depression, anxiety and even chronic anger.

These trust issues and underlying beliefs of being unlovable or that you can’t experience unconditional love, combined with low self-esteem and the fear of being alone can drive you to desperation in relationships. Often with low self-esteem there comes the belief that you can’t make it on your own, either coping with day to day life or being financially independent.

The problem with this combination is that it usually drives you to choosing the wrong partners. Controlling partners come into play as they seem to have it all together. Narcissists also as they sense your vulnerability and desire to please. Human predators of all types seem drawn to this dynamic as they crave the power that is given to them. I can’t begin to tell you of the clients over the years that I have seen who engage in unwanted sexual threesomes or orgies, loan all their money, allow themselves and their children to be abused and hop from one bad relationship to another all out of a fear of abandonment.

In the above scenarios you can see where they would have been better off abandoned by those who victimized them. But that fear is so strong it keeps them tied. Some psychologists believe this fear is even deep wired into our brains as survival is more likely in groups or with others. Whatever the cause, it certainly wreaks havoc in your life.

It may not manifest itself this blatantly in your life. You may instead always be looking at your partner’s emails or phone, accusing them of cheating or getting ready to leave you as you prepare yourself to be abandoned. You believe that if you catch it in time you will reduce your pain and not be blindsided. You may be oversensitive and interpret any small slight as the beginning of the predicted end.  You are most likely very anxious.

You may find yourself choosing partners that are not equal to you in many ways, thereby “saving” yourself the pain when the perceived breakup occurs as “they weren’t good enough for me anyway”.

I have found the following 6 things to be the most helpful in overcoming this dynamic:

  1. Understand the root of the abandonment issue. This was a threat or something done to you by others, not a product of you. This speaks to their issues in life, not issues you were born with. They were being childlike, selfish and cruel. Being able to separate this and see it as a “them” issue rather than a “you” issue begins the healing and the growth of a sense of self. Compartmentalize this issue.
  2. You will most likely have to evaluate your current relationship if you are in one. If it is unhealthy or abusive I recommend you find help to let it go. Don’t waste time working on them, work on you.
  3. Don’t become involved in another relationship until you have done this work. This will be difficult and scary and you will need to learn to self-soothe in order to come out on top.
  4. When you do decide it is time for another relationship make sure to trust yourself regarding any red flags that pop up.
  5. Become as financially independent as you can as quickly as you can.
  6. Do things that build you up and continue to bolster your self-esteem and self love. Make friends, do activities, learn what you can and strengthen yourself internally. Building confidence is the fastest way to feel better. It may seem like a silly therapy but it works. Once you are confident that you can handle whatever comes your way, you will be more likely to make good life decisions. Believe it or not, this is also one of the fastest ways to overcome a non-medical depression.
  7. Working through fear is a difficult process and I always recommend for clients to read “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” by the late Dr. Susan Jeffers as a start.

You can see how I have tied the dynamic of abandonment to that of fear and low self-esteem. I believe it is easier to work on something if it makes sense and is tied to something we do understand. Often, psychological terminology can be confusing and seem like a lifetime sentence of unhappiness, depression and anxiety.

Broken down, these things can seem more manageable.

If you have done things in your life that you are ashamed of due to this issue, let it go. You were trying to protect yourself and doing the best you could with what you knew to work with. Don’t punish yourself further, just promise yourself to now live as you were meant to live.

If you feel you may suffer from dysfunctional thought patterns that are keeping you depressed, anxious, or unable to break free from problematic behaviors, please visit us at Psychskills and get the free resources How to Stop Wasting Your Life Being Depressed, Anxious and Unhappy: The Top 10 Strategies of Emotionally Successful People and/or How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional Thought Patterns.

 

Dysfunction Interrupted-The Fear of Abandonment Can Make You Do Funny Things

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Audrey Sherman is a psychologist, speaker and author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. She has been working with individuals and families for over 20 years and her expertise is in helping others to overcome the emotional baggage that keeps them stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. She currently works with clients in person or via Skype or telephone. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, her book and workshops you can visit her website, PsychSkills.com.


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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2018). Dysfunction Interrupted-The Fear of Abandonment Can Make You Do Funny Things. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/dysfunction/2018/09/dysfunction-interrupted-the-fear-of-abandonment-can-make-you-do-funny-things/

 

Last updated: 23 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 23 Sep 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.