Like other schemas, abandonment schemas take the form of a belief about yourself or the world. People with abandonment schemas can be overly emotional and sensitive. They have certain “emotional triggers” or buttons about their value as perceived by other people. In turn, this makes them feel insecure in their interpersonal relationships.
To heal abandonment trauma, patients need to identify the underlying traumas that are contributing to the abandonment schema. This relates to cellular memory of trauma, whereby our cells hold memories of traumas from our current life as well as trauma that we’ve inherited from our parents or grandparents. Such traumas can be when a parent leaves the young child or a baby or child feel like their parent or parents aren’t there for them emotionally and don’t give them enough attention. The child feels abandoned and their cells store this life experience, like an inventory of all the events that have happened.
These experiences can be contemplated. We can learn from them and become wiser – or simply store them and let them run their course. Ultimately, they can do damage, especially when a person is not capable of processing the traumatic experience. It is stored in the cells in its raw form. It’s there without us realising it.
Trauma and abuse are stored on a cellular level just like all other experiences. Traumatic events are stored in raw form if we do not have the necessary resources, consciousness, or support available to process them.
The cells and tissues store information. As the body changes, threat detection systems in the primitive brain can be activated. This part of the brain responds strongly to touch, safety, and presence. If change in the body can be supported, cellular memory can be modified without needing to remember or even understand the traumatic event.
What we need to do is access the traumas at the subconscious level and reprocess them so they can be healed and integrated and no longer affect us in the same traumatic way. Then, we are more at peace with the trauma and we no longer need to keep thinking about it, living from it, and responding to current situations based on their past traumas.
This is a goal we need to work toward gradually.
Shelley is married to John, a man who constantly cheats on her. She knows about it, John promises he will stop, but he doesn’t. When he leaves the house, she knows where he is going, but he denies it. She knows he is lying. And so on. When Shelley is waiting for John to come home, she feels like she felt as a child waiting for her mother to come home.
This isn’t the only issue with this marriage. John goes from woman to woman, loses interest quickly, and pulls away. He tests his partners, seeing how faithful they’ll be. He never believes them. Ultimately, all his relationships fail.
The Abandonment Life Trap
The first step to healing abandonment trauma is realising you have the schema. The following questionnaire is an indicator of whether you are suffering from the abandonment life trap. If you answer “yes” to more than 6 of these statements, it is likely that you are.
* I worry a lot that the people I love will die or leave me.
* I cling to people because I am afraid they will leave me.
* I do not have a stable base of support.
* I keep falling in love with people who cannot be there for me in a committed way.
* People have always come and gone in my life.
* I get desperate when someone I love pulls away.
* I get so obsessed with the idea that my lovers will leave me that I drive them away.
* The people closest to me are unpredictable. One minute they are there for me and the next minute they are gone.
* I need other people too much.
* In the end, l will be alone.
People who suffer from the abandonment life trap are drawn to partners who are likely to abandon them. They avoid intimate relationships even with committed partners because they are afraid of losing the person or getting too close and being hurt.
They always worry that their partner will be lost in one way or another. They overreact to minor things their partner does or says, jumping to conclusions that these things mean their partner will leave them. Like John, they are very jealous and possessive, which drives all women away from him.
Sometimes victims of the abandonment life trap are clingy and can’t stand to be away from their partner, even for several hours.
Failure to Recognise Stability
Sometimes, these people are in stable, healthy relationships, but they don’t understand this. They continue being wary. They can behave in ways that tend to drive significant others away. They have excessive emotional reactions whenever the relationship feels threatened in any way. It could be the mere mention of someone who incites their jealousy, temporary separation, or a change in their partner’s mood. Their partner almost always feels their reactions are too strong and might be very surprised.
For example, you are going on a three-day business trip and your wife is seeing you off at the airport. Suddenly, she starts crying or yelling at you, seemingly out of nowhere. She’s acting like your marriage is over, and that’s hardly appropriate. As a person who does not share this life trap, it feels like a tremendous overreaction.
Living with Abandonment
People suffering from this life trap rarely feel good when they are alone. They often feel anxious, depressed, or detached. They yearn for a connection to another person. If they have a partner and he leaves them even for a day, they experience a strong sense of disconnection. The sense persists until their partner comes back.
It is very hard to distract oneself from the feeling of being disconnected. It is always there, lurking in the background, lying in wait. Almost every victim of the life trap can distract themselves for only so long. You can be alone for longer periods of time if you are good at distraction. If you aren’t, you’re prone to experience disconnection, longing, and a sense of loss quite soon.
Below are the main steps to healing abandonment (to be elaborated on).
* Understand your childhood abandonment.
* Monitor your feelings of abandonment. Identify your hypersensitivity to losing close people; your desperate fears of being alone; your need to cling to people.
* Review past relationships, and clarify the patterns that recur. List the pitfalls of abandonment.
* Avoid uncommitted, unstable, or ambivalent partners even though they generate high chemistry.
* When you find a partner who is stable and committed, trust him/her. Believe that he/she is there for you forever, and will not leave.
* Do not cling, become jealous, or overreact to the normal separations of a healthy relationship.
Understand Your Childhood Abandonment
Take into account biological predispositions to develop abandonment life trap. As a child, did you find it hard to separate from loved ones? Have you always been an emotional person? Was it hard for you to start school or stay over with someone for a night? Did you cling to your parents more than the other children when you were in a new place? Did you become really upset when your parents went out for the evening?
Are you still struggling to cope with the intensity of your feelings?
If you answered to most of these questions affirmatively, it may be that you could benefit from therapy greatly. In more serious cases, a psychiatrist might recommend medication to cope with particularly turbulent emotions that cannot be contained. Answering with “yes” to these questions might also mean you are biologically predisposed to develop the life trap.
Understand what occurrences contributed to your life trap as a child. Find a time when you’re free and go to a quiet, peaceful place. Once there, try to conjure up images of your childhood. The images need to emerge undisturbed. Let them float to the top of your mind – don’t force them to appear or consciously push them in one or another direction.
The best place to begin is with a feeling of abandonment in your life right now. Close your eyes and try to remember when you last had this feeling. What happened in your life that triggered it? What triggers it now? It’s important to try to monitor these feelings of abandonment. This means becoming aware of the feelings of abandonment now in your life. Develop the ability to recognize when your life trap is
triggered. Is it because you are completely alone, protecting yourself from the feeling of loss? Are you experiencing a loss somewhere in your life? This may be a sick parent, a marriage that’s close to breaking, a spouse who is going away, or an unstable relationship.
Recognise the Cycle of Abandonment
These feelings run in cycles. Look at your past relationships. Can you see any patterns emerging? Write down all the romantic relationships you had in your life (if you can) and what went wrong with each one. Were you too clingy? Was your partner overprotective or unstable? Did you leave them before they could leave you? Do you keep picking volatile, unreliable partners because of great chemistry? Did your possessiveness or jealousy drive them away? What patterns do you see? These are the pitfalls to avoid in your current or future relationship.
When you make this list, you may find you’ve gone through one unstable relationship after another. It may be that your relationship with a therapist will end up being the first time another person is there for you on a consistent basis, somebody who won’t leave. This is a relationship that fosters stability in your life. Eventually, a victim of the abandonment life trap is able to become more centered, settle down, and be more capable of focusing on just living.
Avoid Unstable Relationships
Despite the force of attraction between you and these like-minded people, do take great care to avoid them. Your partner should not be uncommitted, unstable, or ambivalent about you or your relationship. Seek out stable people, not people who’ll jerk you around and take you on a roller coaster ride. Don’t assume a committed, caring person will just leave.
Don’t get jealous, clingy, or overreact to temporary separation. Learn to control your tendency to overreact to emotional slights if you are in a good relationship with a stable, committed partner. The best way to achieve this is by working on yourself. You will find you have plenty of resources and you can survive alone, even flourish. Take it one day at a time.
Some psychologists recommend making flashcards. Using a flashcard each time something triggers your life trap eats away at the life trap, making it weaker. For example:
“Right now I feel devastated because my boyfriend is pulling away, and I am about to become angry and clingy. However, I know that this is my abandonment life trap, and that the slightest evidence of withdrawal can trigger my life trap. I need to consider that all people in good relationships can withdraw from time to time, and that withdrawal is a normal part of good relationships.
If I start behaving in a needy or angry manner, I will push him even further away. He has a right to be distant at times.
Instead, I should think about the relationship in all its complexity. I need to see it as a whole. My feelings are not justifiable. In the big picture, he and I are still connected and we have a good relationship.
It would be best if I turned my attention to my own life. I should focus on my personal development and growth. If I am able to be on my own, my relationships will improve.”