I think abandonment issues come in so many forms, it is unusual not to have any. A parent or caregiver with an addiction issue, divorced or deceased parents, a workaholic, someone who is shut down and emotionally unavailable, an abusive or neglectful parent, even someone who isn’t home because of practical reasons like shift work – these and other situations can leave us feeling forgotten, unloved, unnurtured. We are not able to distinguish between what is because of us, and what is due to outside circumstances. As children, we lack context which might explain behaviour. And maybe that doesn’t even MATTER. When our love centre – our parents and even our first foundational relationships (siblings, close family, teachers and early friendships) – are lacking in nurturing, we automatically equate that to our worth.
We form the idea, because we lack context and are focused only on that we are not being cared for, that we aren’t worthy or deserving of love. Which of course, isn’t true. But nevertheless, to keep ourselves SAFE, we create emotional walls and sometimes create emotional reactions that operate as effectively as walls do (like becoming withdrawn or defensive or harshly judgmental of others or consistently belittling ourselves) to keep others away. WHY? Why do we do want to feed the belief that we are unworthy or undeserving by literally PUSHING people away? We’re comfortable in abandonment. No one can leave if we are alone. We don’t have to risk more hurt. We can also start the cycle all over again by adopting some or all of the characteristics of the absent parent above.
So the key to breaking down the walls we create…is to risk. First we need to habitually unravel the limiting belief of unworthiness and replace it with positive beliefs about self-acceptance, then self-compassion, then self-love. Habitually, meaning EVERY time it comes up – because we need to replace the habit of fearful thoughts with the belief that the risk of pain is WORTH it and that WE are worth it. Once we’ve done that we can learn to stop and manage the emotional reactions and behaviours that keep us distanced. That means incredible and ongoing risk and it takes a LOT of courage. It means being vulnerable and scared and unsure and potentially open to more hurt. Hurt; the one thing that people hope to avoid. Unfortunately, without the potential for PAIN we do not have the potential for JOY. They come as a package deal. Two sides of the same coin.
We see examples of the package deal of pain and joy in many way. Childbirth that brings a new life into the world. Loving a grandparent that will likely pass away before you do. Adopting a pet. Working out. A glass of water after being parched. Overcoming our addictions. Sweet things taste sweeter after sour things. Pleasure alone will not make us happy. It’s impossible. We need CONTEXT and CONTRAST in order to experience the variations in our emotional experience. Without the lows, the highs don’t exist. Without the dark, there is no such thing as light.
Most people want to stay SAFE, of course; it’s entirely understandable. Once we love and experience hurt (at least for me) we often exist in a perpetual state of anxiety (due to an insecure attachment). We grieve even AS we love, because we recognize and are intimately familiar with the idea of impermanence. This won’t last, we think. We have been taught that we cannot rely on other people to be there for us. Here’s the thing; we’re right!! It won’t last, we WILL experience loss and suffering. So if we recognize that the MAJORITY of the time we will experience loss and heartache and disappointment and pain and neglect… the issue ISN’T the idea that others are unreliable and hurt us, but the issue is that we expect others to BE reliable and that they WON’T hurt us. We have the unrealistic expectation that they will ALWAYS have our back and be there. Even if they intend that and promise that, it’s impossible to achieve.
Buddhist philosophy teaches that life is impermanence and that ATTACHMENT is the root of dissatisfaction. If we can allow ourselves to free fall into the the notion that everything changes and that is the NATURAL state of things, perhaps we can release our expectations of others and ourselves, and reduce the level of fear when we open our hearts, because we understand that pain is just part of the deal.
I’m a work in progress.