My name is Savannah. I'm 25 years old, and I have abandonment issues.
The time it took for me to be able to accept such a fact about myself is almost as long as my existence—although I must say that I discovered at a young age that abrupt separation, no matter who it involves or what the circumstances are, is an extremely painful emotional trigger for me.
It has never been clear as to why that's the case, though. I have yet to pinpoint the reason it always feels like a part of my soul gets ripped away from my body every time someone walks out of my life. Or, like I confessed in the past, why it's so difficult to peacefully let people go without ultimately questioning my worth and the importance of my own existence. This is partially why I felt compelled to grab my pen and write on the matter of abandonment issues. To me, rare are the issues that writing—and of course, researching—can't solve.
To help me get a grip on this fear, I interviewed Shanta Jackson, AKA The Homegirl Therapist, a Black licensed therapist and advocate for mental health awareness, therapy, and healing. "Abandonment issues can be complex," explains Shanta. "They can come from the loss of a loved one or the loss of a relationship or marriage. There is also emotional abandonment that a lot of my clients have experienced, which is where a parent or caregiver is not emotionally present or available to you."
Shanta's last words resonate in my mind because of how familiar they are. They brought back to mind what one of my girlfriends told me earlier this year. We were discussing the subject and she was trying to convince me that my father's behavior toward me as a child is at the heart of my abandonment issues. It sounded illogical to me. My father never did or say anything that made me feel unwanted, and I can't recall a time in my life where I had reasons to complain about his attitude toward me. Even if he wasn't as present as my mother was and I never really got to spend a lot of time with him because of his job, I never once doubted how much he loved or cared for me. Neither did I feel like he was missing in my life.
But my friend insisted and promised me that if I read Heal Your Wounds and Find Your True Self—a book that explores with depth the five wounds of the soul: rejection, abandonment, betrayal, injustice, and humiliation—I would have a better understanding of my emotions.
In the book, Lise Bourbeau writes that indeed, the wound of abandonment is awakened in a child between ages of one and three by the parent of the opposite sex as a result of lack of parental support and emotional attention. While as a writer, I know that facts written in books are not a synonym for truth and I could've chosen to trust only my memory, somehow Bourbeau's case study still incited me to dig a little deeper into my feelings of abandonment. And surprisingly, I think I may have found something. It took me a minute to see things in this way but after all, maybe my father is responsible for my abandonment issues.
Perhaps my fear of being abandoned was sparked by my father's refusal to educate me on our ethnic background—our North African roots—simply because he didn't care.
I asked Shanta about my theory. "Absolutely!" she said. I could easily imagine our Homegirl Therapist nodding as I read her reaction to this thought. "It's possible that this is where your abandonment issues stem from. You feel abandoned in a sense that you don't know that side of you—because of his lack of interest in his own ethnicity and teaching you as well. So, you feel lost as it relates to you knowing who you are, which fuels the abandonment issues."
I went back to Bourbeau's book, scanning from one random page to another, and I came across a passage that led to another defining a-ha moment. It was a revelation that not only made sense immediately but also opened up the path for me to finally reach a place of peace regarding my fear of abandonment. It is said that our souls come on this earth carrying at least one of the five wounds mentioned earlier. Depending on which they suffer from, the right lives will be assigned to them.
By the right lives, I mean human experiences that will expose our souls to situations that will awaken and trigger the wounds with the intent to heal them. Where it gets tricky is that a soul may not have enough of one human experience to heal. Therefore, it carries its wounds to the next life, and the next life, and the next life until they are taken care of properly, with love and acceptance.
Now, you're probably wondering, what does it mean to take care of your abandonment issues with love and acceptance? How do I do that? Well, this is something I also discussed with our Homegirl Therapist. Here's what she said:
"Abandonment can't necessarily be worked out in a series of at-home exercises. To truly uproot the start of that abandonment, it is suggested that you attend counseling. Without discovering the root and working through that, it is difficult to manage the symptoms of abandonment issues, and that is where the problems happen for a lot of people. The latter as well as all of the symptoms can really be combined into…self-sabotage. We sabotage relationships because of our fear of being abandoned."
Shanta then broke down the process of coming to terms with your abandonment issues into three steps:
1. Identify Your TriggersGiphy
Identifying your triggers is important in the process of healing your abandonment issues. Knowing what triggers your unhealthy behaviors allows you to identify the emotions that come, and intervene on these behaviors before falling victim to self-sabotage.
How can you identify your triggers?
- When you start to experience intense emotions, pause for a second, take a deep breath and take inventory of what just happened. Ask yourself why you feel the way you do at that moment.
Example: Your partner decides to go out and hang with a group of friends for the night. You begin to feel anxious and upset. What bothers you the most about your partner hanging with friends? Is it the friends they're hanging with? Do you not want to be alone tonight? Do you have a fear that they will be out late and won't answer your calls? When was the last time you felt this way?
2. Identify Self-Sabotaging PatternsGiphy
You must identify what your self-sabotaging patterns are and the exact symptoms of your trauma. This will allow you to become more self-aware, and gain the ability to catch emotions at the onset. Note that it will require complete honesty on your part.
How can you identify your self-sabotaging patterns?
- When you find yourself triggered, what has been your "default setting"? What behaviors do you engage in the most? Do you find yourself feeling the need to withdraw or hold back, to attack, or become defensive? Do you turn into yourself and shame yourself for feeling upset? Do you blame yourself or external factors for the perceived issues?
- When you feel insecure, ask yourself, "How do I usually behave? How do I protect myself? If I evaluate my past and current relationships, have there been patterns in my exes' or entourage's complaints?" Examples can be never sharing your emotions, shutting down during conflict, seeking attention through conflict, or becoming clingy or needy.
3. Break The CycleGiphy
While identifying triggers and self-sabotaging patterns are important steps, they can only take you so far if you don't heal yourself. When dealing with abandonment issues, it's likely that in our brokenness, we expect our partner or the person who awakened the fear to fix it. The truth is, they can't. The secret here is self-work.
How can you break self-sabotaging the cycle?
- Talk about it: Communication can truly aid in preventing some unnecessary anxiety or fears with those we maintain any kind of relationship with. Oftentimes, we create narratives in our minds that are likely untrue and then allow those thoughts to drive unhealthy behaviors. When triggered by certain situations, express calmly how you feel, using "I" statements, so that you can take ownership of those feelings and not display blame.
- Be present: One of the other things that we tend to do when we have fear of abandonment is that we focus so much on the past where the trauma happened and the future of what could happen versus being mindful and present in a relationship. Your relationship is happening right now, so put less focus on what might happen and more focus on what is happening.
- Seek therapy: I can't stress enough how important therapy will be to your overall healing, especially when it comes to abandonment issues. Abandonment is tricky and it is important that you seek the help of a mental health professional to process and work through the traumas.
Personally, this is a journey inward that I've taken on for nearly a year now. If you asked me what it looks like for me and what it has taught me, I would say that chasing emotionally unavailable men is how I self-sabotage.
I figured out that by mothering my inner child spiritually and physically by speaking life into her, respecting her boundaries, avoiding putting her in situations that could result in heartbreaks, patting her on the back when she needs a little support, holding her hand at night when she needs to feel loved, pampering her when she doesn't like the reflection she sees in the mirror—doing all of this instead of navigating life from a place of loss and void is how I engage in healthy behaviors. I'm still a work in progress, though.
Moreover, I'm learning that the end of a relationship doesn't have to feel like the world is ending. Some people aren't meant to stay in our lives forever—that's OK. If it's tempting to fight and beg for them to stay, sometimes the best we can do is just to cling to the good memories that we share and understand that those we love are free to continue walking their own path on their own terms.
Their decision to part ways with us doesn't mean that we aren't worthy of love. Quite the contrary, I like to think that it means that a better love is coming.
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