Most of the great pop songs (and many operas) are about abandonment – often written and performed by singers with abandonment issues of their own.
Whether it’s Adele Kelly Clarkson, the Beatles John Lennon, Eminem or rapper 6ix9ine – all abandoned by their father, or Sarah Mclahclan or Eric Clapton – abandoned by their mothers, the trauma of childhood abandonment can be carried throughout your life.
Similarly, being deliberately dumped by a partner can be baffling or deeply traumatic – amongst the most difficult emotional trauma to process. One of the hardest is the ‘first love’ relationship – which when it ends you have no previous experience of handling and maybe deeply wounded by.
Symptoms of abandonment trauma typically include feelings of low self esteem, anxiety and depression. Add to that inability to trust, guilt and shame. All that makes finding healthy new relationships very difficult.
Abandonment trauma can also come out in other ways. People might think you ‘cold’ or ‘clingy’ or ‘controlling’. Yet another is so-called counter abandonment, where you develop a belief that you don’t really need anyone else and it follows that it is not a good idea to ever depend on someone else.
In some cases people who have experienced abandonment as a child end up by keeping selecting romantic partners who are likely to abandon them again because the abandoned person feels that they deserve to be abandoned. This is the point where childhood abandonment trauma and adult abandonment intersect.
All these are emotional defense mechanisms put up due to fear of more abandonment. Having been hurt once, it seems natural to react in one of these ways.
To understand why abandonment hurts so much – and what to do about it – we need to dig deeper into just why secure emotional attachment is so important.
Fear of Abandonment and Why Humans need to Bond
Humans are ‘naked apes’ – highly social creatures and we thrive in healthy relationships, families, and groups. It’s no accident that solitary confinement is used as a severe form of punishment and being separated from someone you love – or worse still having them die, is devastating.
However, what can be even more damaging than bereavement is being consciously abandoned by someone you love. This can be someone you are in a relationship with or this can be a parent. Some of the greatest literature, films, and stories deal with the heartbreak of
abandonment. What’s more, parental abandonment acts as a kind of spring inside us, driving our behavior in later life. It’s a fact that our prisons, the boardrooms of companies, politics, sport, and especially the world of entertainment are vastly over-represented by people with abandonment issues. This is the range of effects childhood attachment trauma has later in life on the adult victim.
We have ceremonies and religions to help us deal with the trauma of a loved one dying – but precious little for the trauma of intentional abandonment.
Abandonment trauma can start at any age. Children need to feel secure and for millions of years, we and our ancestors lived in groups or tribes of extended families. Although life was harsh and death – including that of a parent – was common, there was almost always an extended circle of other adults including grandparents aunts and uncles or cousins, to provide replacement love and comfort.
What’s more – so far as we can tell – there would be little opportunity for a parent (especially a mother) to ‘walkout’ and even if they did, a natural support network would often be in place, should it happen.
This is not the case today, so help has to come from other quarters.
Help with abandonment issues
Healing from your childhood trauma has to be taken carefully and step by step. You may have repressed painful memories and it can be hard and painful to bring them back up to the surface. The good news is, once you have an understanding of what happened, how it affected you then, and how it may be affecting you now, you are already on the road to a better you.
We know how difficult dealing with abandonment is and have practical and effective tools to help you understand the root causes. Once you have that understanding, you are on track to shed those negative emotions and take a positive way forward to better relationships and healthier and happier life choices.
If this is striking a chord with you, the team here at Safe Place Therapy is here to help.