There is a hollow feeling that comes when you feel like you’ve been abandoned. A tension or tightness in the chest or stomach may constantly linger when you are with others but when they leave, and you are alone, the hollow feeling comes right in. You don’t know which is worse, the ever present tension or the emptiness but you do not that you feel anxious all the time.
Not only do you feel anxious all the time but you often feel empty, alone, unloved, uncared for, and unsafe. When your loved ones leave you, you may feel angry and question why they have left you. You may even feel jealous when you see them spending time with other people, and this jealousy, born from anxiety, makes you feel angry and shamed. When you are hit with that feeling of abandonment you seek out reassurance from the people around you.
Feelings of abandonment can be pervasive and impact all parts of your relationships-friendships, family, romantic and even relationships with coworkers. The intense body sensations and emotions that come along with feeling abandoned can lead you to extreme behaviors which actually drive people away instead of keeping them close to you. This ends up being a vicious cycle in which you have fear and anxiety around loss, make attempts to keep that loved one(s) close, but these attempts actually make the person move away, and thus your fear around loss is confirmed. This belief that you are unloved and that people will leave you.
Please Don’t Abandon Me: When Separation From Loved Ones Make You Feel Tension and Anxiety
Feelings of abandonment are all about fear and anxiety around loss. The loss of someone who is special to you. Someone who will love and care for you.
These feelings often stem from ones early experiences of inconsistent attunement from their primary attachment figures. Attachment figures are adults in child’s life who act in the role of parent-so this includes a variety of different types of parents/caregivers who are involved with the care-taking and raising of a baby/child.
There are two main types of attachment, according to attachment theory. Insecure vs secure attachment. Within the insecure category you have children who are anxiously attached, avoidant attached, or disorganized attached to your caregiver/parent(s). There is a lot of information on the development of different attachment styles, but the focus in today’s blog is going to be on anxious attachment style and how this contributes to those feelings of abandonment. I want to add that when someone experiences trauma, such as (sexual) abuse by the hands of their parents/caregivers this also impacts the quality of the attachment relationship in the child.
Why Early Attachment Matters and The Role of Attunement
When parents/caregivers are attuned to the needs of their child what they are doing is showing that A) the child as individual matters B) The parent/caregiver is there to offer support in the form of co-regulation when they are distressed and C) Being available when the child needs the parent sets up an expectation that the child can rely on the parent/caregiver when they need them. As babies and toddlers develop, typically, they become curious about their environments. They go out and explore on their own and come back to their parents/caregivers when they need reassurance. When reassured they go off again and explore. Sometimes they get hurt or they are startled during their exploration and they return to their parent for reassurance. This sets up a relational template between parent and child where separations are not distressing because the parent/caregiver will be there, even when the child physically cannot see them. Moreover, emotionally the parent/caregiver is emotionally available to soothe, comfort, love, and nurture their child.
But for folks whose parents were not there growing up, who experience fear, pain, rejection, etc out in the world and seek support from their parents, they come up against a parent who may be there or who may not be there, emotionally (or physically). The inconsistency of the parent/caregiver is anxiety producing and being left to ones own devices without having the tools to manage them is also anxiety producing. So an anxious attachment between child and parent develops as a result. Now we are not talking about one or two repeated interactions, but many many interactions over a time frame. Not only that but we must also take into account the childs individual capabilities to tolerate stress, what is overwhelmingly stressful for the child (how activated are they their stress response system), and other factors going on in the environment. The point is that anxiety around separation from ones primary attachment figure during childhood can lead to problems in adult (romantic) relationships later on.
5 Tips to Overcome Feelings of Abandonment
When looking at how to mange your own anxiety around loss or separation from your loved ones we want to look at your attachment style. Again I see this a lot with children who were anxiously attached as children and are now adults who still struggle with the same problems. I want to add that this fear around abandonment is also typical in people who have a disorganized attachment style as that dynamic is fueled by a lot of chaos which raises a persons anxiety. So the tips below will be on how you can manage your behaviors around your attachment style and learn new ways to cope with overwhelming body sensations, increase your regulatory capacity, and finally how you can learn to communicate with your loved ones so that you can feel more secure within that relational dynamic.
1. Get familiar with your body sensations, you’re triggers for unsafety but also what it feels like to be safe. You want to get familiar with how your body responds to different situations but also what thoughts and emotions come along with these sensations. When you take the time to get to know your body and how it responds you can then learn how to manage your emotions better. Moreover you can learn how to have more compassion for yourself and accept your individual differences without judgement. Now I do want to add that if you have trauma that this might be something that actually triggers you so I encourage you to work with a therapist when trying to get connected with your sensations so that you don’t retraumatize yourself.
2. Increase self regulatory capabilities. As you’re learning how to be more in touch with your own body sensations you will learn what activates you and what this looks like. Theres nothing inherently bad or wrong about having feelings about something but sometimes those feelings can lead us to acting out in ways that hurt others (and thus ourselves). By learning how to regulate your own neurobiology so that you don’t just respond on reflex you can have more control over how you communicate to others. Going for walks, dancing, taking deep breaths, grounding exercises, meditating, praying, etc are all examples of ways in which you can settle your nervous system down and allow the top part of your brain to come online and do the job of problem solving. Again you might want to work with a therapist if you have trauma or you really struggle in general with the ability to self regulate, so that you have someone there who can help you regulate though co regulation and also help you sow down enough so you can notice the shifts in your body.
3. Try doing things on your own. This can be any activity which you might do with another person such grabbing a bite to eat, going to a movie, going to an event alone, etc.
4. Learn basic communication styles such as using “I” statements but also how you can truly listen to what your loved one is saying.
5. Practice Communicating with your partner. Share with your partner what your needs are and ways in which your partner can support those needs. Compromise with your partner so that both of you can get your needs met without feeling burdened by the compromise.
When you fear being abandoned by those you love and care about you often engage in behaviors which actually drive your loved one away. This often leads to a negative feedback loop in which you fear that the person will leave, try to keep them close by being clingy or confrontational, and then the person leaves because they are overwhelmed and thus your fears and negative beliefs about your worthiness are confirmed. As a result you are constantly in a state of anxiety which leaves you feeling little peace or happiness. If you start to incorporate the 5 tips above then you can learn how to manage your own internal responses and communicate with your loved ones effectively so that you no longer have to fear loss. You can tolerate some separation and build trust in your loved ones as well as yourself.
As someone who is struggling with feelings of abandonment, you’re finding your relationships are becoming strained because of it, so now you are looking for some support to overcome this. Reach out here to schedule your free 15 minute consultation to learn more.