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- Where does fear of abandonment come from?
- Fear of Abandonment: Overcoming the Fear of Being Left Alone
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You're apart and you can't see them, but you know they still exist and they still love you. People who fear abandonment struggle with this, and it makes them jealous and clingy as a result. It's as if, during those moments when a connection or relationship isn't something you can see or feel or touch, it's not real. I don't know if I was ever very good at it. I was the type that would try to spend the night with a friend or grandparent, only to wake up crying in the middle of the night wanting to go home.
I cried on my first day of school.
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I really don't know why, but I do know that the time period we're talking about is the early '80s, so the industry that's blossomed around trying to figure out why kids sometimes act up wasn't quite in place yet. Which means I never really looked into it like a responsible child should. Wikipedia They probably would have just written me a prescription for cocaine, like everyone else in the '80s. There's probably never been a time when being in a relationship with me wasn't at least sort of a nightmare.
I get irrationally jealous over stupid things. I've had a lot of relationships that ended with me being cheated on, and for the longest time I assumed that justified my antics. Sure, I was a mess, but I also dated some terrible people. Looking back now, I think it's way more likely that me being an overbearing maniac probably pushed a lot of people who were just as broken as me to do things they otherwise might not have.
So it's not just that they were terrible people, I guess. Anyway, that lessened sense of object constancy also impairs a person's object permanence. What that means is that any extended absence from a loved one has the potential to feel like a legitimate loss, complete with adorable miniature-sized versions of the various stages of the grieving process.
In other words, I'm that lunatic who cries when I drop someone off at the airport. It's obnoxious. It's not just separation that makes a person with abandonment issues come off as an obsessive nightmare. Their issues with object constancy also tend to make the most minor things seem like a slight.
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Minor things like a text message that goes unanswered or a request for more space or free time. These are normal things in any relationship, but a person who fears abandonment will very likely see them as the first signs that the person they love is starting to pull away. If that person is in a less-than-pleasant mood, you immediately assume they're angry at you. Digital Vision. What did I do wrong???? It's a constant state of believing that everything is going to come crashing down at a moment's notice.
That's how love works in your head. It's there one day, then it's just gone.
You worry about that happening, to the point that it eventually happens, one way or another. I'd love to tell you about some of the petty or otherwise insane reasons I've found myself worked up into a jealous rage or some kind of emotional meltdown, but I really can't. It's too embarrassing.
The time I smoked crack? Sure, I can talk about that all day. The years I spent addicted to cough syrup? Definitely, fire away with your questions. Talking about either of those things couldn't make me sound half as crazy as talking about the absurd things I've gotten jealous over would. It's inevitable, though, that a moment like this will happen when a person with uncontrolled abandonment issues enters into a relationship. The person on the receiving end of all that insecurity and worry probably won't even realize that they've done anything wrong.
They haven't done anything wrong. But it almost always ends up being a huge turning point. It's the moment when that irrational part of your brain starts dictating your behavior. It's the beginning of the end. All of that fear and suspicion is in your head, of course, and somewhere deep inside, you know it. But that's sometimes a hard conclusion to come to, on account of another common characteristic among people who fear abandonment The urge to self-medicate is extremely common among people who fear abandonment. I got blackout drunk for the first time the night before my father's funeral.
I woke up on the bathroom floor with a python in my face, and that's not a dick joke.
Where does fear of abandonment come from?
I've told the story before in this column. If it was a scene in a movie and you already knew what my history with alcohol would be like after that day, you'd see that snake and complain about how heavy-handed the filmmakers were with the symbolism. In the months following my father's death, I formed a strong bond with chemicals.
It's not like I had a ton of people I could talk to about my feelings, so burying them seemed like a reasonable option. With the possible exception of infancy, that's probably the worst point in life to make a decision like that, but I can't really unring that bell now. For a lot of years, that just meant smoking weed. I didn't have friends so much as people I'd get high with. I mostly dated girls who already had boyfriends.
I bonded with no one.
Finding it would have meant making friends with drug dealers in that state, which likely would have entailed pretending I enjoy things like hunting, camping, fishing, and racism. I'm not interested in any of that, so I decided to fill that hole I'd made for myself with alcohol instead.
Fear of Abandonment: Overcoming the Fear of Being Left Alone
It was just so much easier. What I didn't realize at the time is that all of those crazy thoughts and impulses that come with fearing abandonment become almost impossible to control when you drink. Trauma is considered in some circles to be a disease of the amygdala. That's the emotional center of your brain. It's responsible for your fight-or-flight instincts, among other things. When you suffer a trauma, information about it is imprinted on that part of your brain. When something triggers memories of that trauma, that part of your brain reacts like a squirrel darting out of the way of something thrown in its direction.
It doesn't take time to consider what's being thrown, it just goes. For people with abandonment issues, those panicked messages hit the brain first. It's an overwhelming feeling. Abandonment is a primal thing. Of course people fear it. In those moments, that's your brain tapping your most basic instincts, and in most cases, it's going way overboard. When you're drunk, those messages read like perfectly reasonable responses. All the jealousy and anger you're directing at people who don't deserve it seems like the right way to go.
I've sent a lot of emails I regret. That's putting it so mildly. That said -- and I know this is going to bother a lot of people -- I've never really felt like I was addicted to any one substance or chemical over the other. Well, nicotine, definitely. I've been chewing nicotine gum for longer than I can even remember now. But I've never felt a physical need for alcohol, for example. I'm definitely a menace when I drink, and I realize now that it's something I just can't do, but it's never felt like a "disease" to me.
I know it's supposed to, but it just doesn't. Is that just me being in denial? A lot of people will say it is, but what I'm implying isn't that crazy.
A lot of people have come around to the line of thinking that a lack of bonding and connection with the world around you is the real driving force behind addiction. That addiction is a nearly unbeatable disease is a theory that came about, in part, thanks to a study where a rat was placed in a cage with a regular water bottle and another laced with cocaine. The rat kept returning to the cocaine bottle until it finally died. That's pretty harrowing.
What no one ever mentions, though, is that the exact same experiment was tried a few years later, but instead of putting the rat in the cage alone, it was with other, less cocaine-addled rats. In that setting, the "addicted" rats would still occasionally return to the cocaine water, but it was rare and certainly not enough to lead to a fatal overdose.
That one difference -- not being alone -- was enough to keep them from getting perilously addicted to drugs.