Abandonment Wounds: How to Heal Them and Feel More at Ease in Relationships

“I always wondered why it was so easy for people to leave. What I should have questioned was why I wanted so badly for them to stay.” ~Samantha King

Do you feel afraid to speak your truth or ask for what you want?

Do you tend to neglect your needs and people-please?

Do you have a hard time being alone?

Have you ever felt panic and/or anxiety when someone significant to you left your life or you felt like they were going to?

If so, please don’t blame yourself for being this way. Most likely it’s coming from an abandonment wound—some type of trauma that happened when you were a child .

Even though relationships can be painful and challenging at times, your difficult feelings likely stem from something deeper; it’s like a part of you got “frozen in time” when you were first wounded and still feels and acts the same way.

When we have abandonment wounds, we may have consistent challenges in relationships, especially significant ones. We may be afraid of conflict, rejection, or being unwanted; because of this, we people-please and self-abandon as a survival strategy.

When we’re in a situation that activates an abandonment wound, we’re not able to think clearly; our fearful and painful emotions flood our system and filter our perceptions, and our old narratives start playing and dictate how we act. We may feel panic, or we may kick, cry, or scream or hold in our feelings like we needed to do when we were children.

When our abandonment wound gets triggered, we automatically fall into a regression, back to the original hurt/wound and ways of reacting, thinking, and feeling. We also default to the meanings we created at the time, when we formed a belief that we weren’t safe if love was taken away.

Abandonment wounds from childhood can stem from physical or emotional abandonment, being ignored or given the silent treatment, having emotionally unavailable parents, or being screamed at or punished for no reason.

When we have abandonment wounds, we may feel that we need to earn love and approval; we may not feel good enough; and we may have our walls up and be unable to receive love because we don’t trust it, which keeps us from being intimate.

We may try to numb our hurt and pain with drugs, alcohol, over-eating, or workaholism. We may also hide certain aspects of ourselves that weren’t acceptable when we were young, which creates inner conflict.

So how do our abandonment wounds get started? Let me paint a picture from my personal experience.

When I was in third grade a lady came into our classroom to check our hair for lice. When she entered, my heart raced and I went into a panic because I was afraid that if I had it and I got sent home, I would be screamed at and punished.

Where did this fear come from? My father would get mad at me if I cried, got angry, got hurt and needed to go to the doctor, or if I accidentally broke anything in the house. Did I did it purposely? No, but I was punished, screamed at, and sent to my room many times, which made me feel abandoned, hurt, and unloved.

When I was ten years old my parents sent me away to summer camp. I kicked and screamed and told them I didn’t want to go. I was terrified of being away from them.

When I got there, I cried all night and got into fights with the other girls. My third day there I woke up early and ran away. My counselor found me and tried to hold me, but I kicked, hit her, and tried to get away from her.

I was sent to the director’s office, and he got mad at me. He picked me up, took me out of his office, and put me in front of a flagpole, where I had to stay for six hours until my parents came to get me. When they got there, they put me in the car, screamed at me, and punished me for the rest of the week.

When I was fifteen, I was diagnosed with anorexia, depression, and anxiety and put in my first treatment center.

When my parents dropped me off, I was in a panic. I was so afraid, and I cried for days. Then, my worst nightmare came true—my doctor told me he was putting me on separation from my parents. I wasn’t allowed to talk to them or see them for a month. All  I could think about was how I could get out of there and get home to be with them.

I didn’t understand what was happening. I just wanted my parents to love me, to want to be with me, to treat me like I mattered, but instead I was sent away and locked up.

I started to believe there was something wrong with me, that I was a worthless human being, and I felt a lot of shame. These experiences and many others created a negative self-image and fears of being abandoned.

For over twenty-three years I was in and out of hospitals and treatment centers. I was acting in self-destructive ways and living in a hypervigilant, anxious state. I was constantly focused on what other people thought about me. I replayed conversations in my mind and noticed when someone’s emotional state changed, which made me afraid.

It was a very exhausting way to be. I was depressed, lonely, confused, and suicidal.

There are many experiences that trigger our abandonment wounds, but the one that I’ve found to be the most activating is a breakup.

When we’re in a relationship with someone, we invest part of ourselves in them. When they leave, we feel like that part of ourselves is gone/abandoned. So the real pain is a part of us that’s “missing.” We may believe they’re the source of our love, and when they’re gone, we feel that we lost it.

So the real abandonment wound stems from a disconnection from the love within, which most likely happened when we abandoned ourselves as children attempting to get love and attention from our parents, and/or when our parents abandoned us.

When I went through a breakup with someone I was really in love with, it was intense. I went into panic. I was emotionally attached, and I did everything I could to try to get her back. When she left, I was devastated. I cried for weeks. There were days when I didn’t even get out of bed.

Instead of trying to change how I was feeling, I allowed myself to feel it. I recognized that the feelings were intense not because of the situation only, but because it activated my deeper wounding from childhood. Even though I’ve done years of healing, there were more layers and more parts of me to be seen, heard, cared for, and loved.

The “triggering event” of the breakup wasn’t easy, but it was necessary for me to experience a deeper healing and deeper and more loving connection with myself.

When we’re caught in a trauma response, like I was, there is no logic. We’re flooded with intense emotions. Sure, we can do deep breathing, and that may help us feel better and relax our nervous system in the moment; but we need to address the original source of our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in order to experience a sense of ease internally and a new way of seeing and being.

Healing our abandonment wound is noticing how the past may be still playing in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s noticing the narratives and patterns that make us want to protect, defend, or run away. It’s helping our inner child feel acknowledged, seen, heard, safe, and loved.

Healing the abandonment wound is not a quick fix; it does take self-awareness and lots of compassion and love. It’s a process of finding and embracing our authenticity, experiencing a sense of ease, and  coming home.

Healing doesn’t mean we’ll never be triggered. In fact, our triggers help us see what inside is asking for our love and attention. When we’re triggered, we need to take the focus off the other person or situation and notice what’s going on internally. This helps us understand the beliefs that are creating our feelings.

Beliefs like: I don’t matter, I’m unlovable, I’m afraid, I don’t feel important. These underlying beliefs get masked when we focus on our anger toward the person or what’s happening. By bringing to the light how we’re truly feeling, we can then start working with these parts and help them feel loved and safe.

Those of us with abandonment wounds often become people-pleasers, and some people may say people-pleasing is manipulation. Can we have a little more compassion? People-pleasing is a survival mechanism; it’s something we felt we needed to do as children in order to be loved and safe, and it’s not such an easy pattern to break.

Our system gets “trained,” and when we try to do something new like honoring our needs or speaking our truth, that fearful part inside gets afraid and puts on the brakes.

Healing is a process of kindness and compassion. Our parts that have been hurt and traumatized, they’re fragile; they need to be cared for, loved, and nurtured.

Healing is also about allowing ourselves to have fun, create from our authentic expression, follow what feels right to us, honor our heartfelt desires and needs, and find and do what makes us happy.

There are many paths to healing. Find what works for you. For me, talk therapy and cognitive work never helped because the energy of anxiety and abandonment was held in my body.

I was only able to heal my deepest wound when I began working with my inner child and helping the parts of myself that were in conflict for survival reasons make peace with each other. As a result, I became more kind, compassionate, and loving and started to feel at peace internally.

Healing takes time, and you are so worth it, but please know that you are beautiful, valuable, and lovable as you are, even with your wounds and scars.

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