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Living with Abandonment Anxiety

How to recognize and reduce your longings and fears.

By: Lindsay Rosser


Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist #87065, Integrative Body Psychotherapist

In my training at the Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) Institute we learned a lot about abandonment and inundation anxiety. IBP believes every human falls on the spectrum of abandonment and/or inundation injuries. Why? Because there’s no such thing as perfect attunement and as children we all end up with needs that were met and unmet by our caregivers. We develop defenses which can later create challenges in our relationships with ourselves and others. There is no cure for these anxieties but, we can learn to recognize and work with our own psychology. When we are more conscious of our patterns, we can enjoy giving and receiving love more easily. Below is a excerpt from the The Intimate Couple by Dr. Rosenberg, Ph.D., & Kitaen-Morse, Ph.D. Please enjoy learning more about how to work with abandonment anxiety.

Introduction

Because your emotions, longings, and fears are on the surface, you may look as though you are in more emotional trouble than the inundation and abandonment-inundation styles. This is not true. Stop apologizing for your abandonment anxiety and at the same time, learn how to lower it. Don’t forget that your emotional pain did not originate in the present or with your partner. It is your abandonment anxiety and only you can attenuate it. When it is difficult to contain your feelings and thoughts, write them in your journal rather than spilling them out on others in an attempt to soothe your discomfort. In this way your journal can hold them for examination so they can deepen or dissolve with clarity.

Abandonment Anxiety Signals

To become familiar with your abandonment anxiety, turn inward rather than examining how you are treated by others. Discover your unique body signals of abandonment. You must remember that if you carry a large load of abandonment into a relationship, it takes only the tiniest injury to make your load become unbearable. Some of the following body signals may help you identify your body clues more clearly. You may feel:

  • Longings in your chest; a calling for to love, to embrace or reach out. Paradoxically, the outpouring of longings may cause a sinking, closing feeling in your chest from the effect of cutting off these painfully strong desires.
  • Oral habits, desires, or obsessions; smoking, drinking, biting fingernails, eating, etc.
  • Eyes that search restlessly from face to face, object to object, eyes that seek but do not really see. Vision and other senses that are fuzzy or dull.
  • Holding onto a conversation after delivering the message, a reluctance to hang up the telephone, or a need to reveal more about yourself than anyone wants to know, telling the same stories to many people or too many times.
  • Colds, sore throats, stomach upsets, headaches, and other physical symptoms. These inadvertently allow you to nurture yourself.
  • Breathing shallowly or holding your breath, then desperately sucking air in, sighing or muttering expressions of sadness, “oh dear, my god, oh brother, what will I do?”
  • Rapid heart rate accompanied by anxiety, jittery feelings of panic in your body.
  • Tears for no reason, lump in the throat, cracking of the voice, and feelings of loneliness.
  • Thoughts and dreams about death.

Make every effort to detect abandonment signals early while it is easiest to restore your sense of wellbeing. Abandonment anxiety is cumulative, and the longer symptoms linger in your body-psyche, the more opportunity for everyday slights to be compounded into a fragmentation (aka emotional dysregulation) and all the problems that this state brings about.

Reduce Abandonments

These are practical suggestions for keeping your abandonment anxiety at a lower level. Building consistency in your life is one of the most important themes.

  1. Create a routine.
  • Eat, exercise, etc, at the same time of day
  • Shop at the same stores - use the same checkout person
  • Use a planner
  • Schedule regular activities as well as pleasant social occasions. This will keep you from feeling adrift.
  • In relationships, schedule certain routine times for skin time, sex, conversation and nonproductive playtime.

2. Develop friends you can count on and see them regularly.

3. Develop consistency, order, a sense of wellbeing, and prevent feelings of isolation through hobbies, reading, writing, art, etc.

4. Memorize the Good Parent Messages (an IBP therapy tool) and keep them handy to remind yourself you are okay. These also help heal your inner child.

5. Become an avid journal writer. It can become a trusted friend.

6. Pets keep you connected to something alive. Gardening does too, and is also grounding. Share your harvest with your neighbors.

7. When you travel…

  • Always plan where and what you are going to do
  • Stay in familiar hotels
  • To feel more included, participate in the planning.
  • Carry pictures of loved ones wherever you go
  • Bring anything you need for your self-care practices (i.e. yoga mat, essential oils, etc)

8. Learn to meditate. It will deepen your connection to a spiritual source in yourself. Do the Sustaining Constancy exercises or yoga. Focus on the “I am,” sense of wellbeing that you establish in your body. See how long you can sustain this feeling during and after.

9. Try to have jobs where you work with others on a regular schedule. Don’t work with unreliable people. People who show up late or not at all will upset you more than you can tolerate. Be choosy as each disappointment will increase a sense of abandonment.

10. Change your residence as little as possible. When you must move, make your new home as comfortable and homey as you can, and do so quickly.

11. Shop with a friend. You’ll be less likely to long for things you can’t have or to feel abandoned by salespeople.

12. Never spend holidays alone. Plan ahead to spend them with people you want to be with.

13. Exercise regularly, with a partner or trainer, if possible. Team sports are ideal. Exercise helps you gain a sense of wellbeing, strength, and consistency in your body.

I hope this article helped you identify if you may be struggling with abandonment anxiety and how to work with it. Some of us struggle more with inundation or a mixed abandonment-inundation pattern. If so, make sure to check out my other posts. Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have - I’d be happy to help.

References

Rosenberg, J., Kitean-Morse, B. (1996) The Intimate Couple: Reaching New Levels of Sexual Excitement Through Body Awakening and Relationship Renewal. Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing.