Archive for October, 2010


October 25, 2010 1 comment

Some people have written in this week about being in relationships where they feel painfully insecure. This kind of pain is different from that expressed by those who are lonely – folks who are emotionally alone because they can’t make a connection with anyone. Which pain hurts more? Most of us can identify with both of them. If your relationship gives you a constant knot in your stomach, you’re in a kind of torture that takes complete control over your life. After a while, being in the “one down” position brings shame. It causes your self-esteem to plummet. It causes your friends to lose patience with you.

It becomes a negative central focus for your life – an obsession. So why stay in? For most people, it’s because the fear of the other kind of pain — the pain of being completely alone — somehow seems worse. In fact, most people have a fear of being alone. The fear is always worse than the reality.

You rationalize staying in a painful relationship by telling yourself that a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. Your fear of abandonment prevents you from taking any action that will sever the connection.

The antidote is to suddenly pull back and take stock. Helping people (and myself) to this point is always a challenge. The task involves putting on the breaks and taking complete responsibility for your own emotional well-being — whether you decide to stay in the relationship or not.

Stop looking to your partner to fulfill your needs. Due to the circumstances, you alone must make yourself secure — and not lay your needs at the feet of the other person. When you look to the other person, you give up your power.

When a relationship is going smoothly, you can afford to look to your partner for love and security. It’s normal to depend upon someone to care for you and give you mutual love. But when your partner isn’t meeting you halfway, your task is to get yourself out of the emotional torture. This is where you must act on the realization that you and only you are responsible for making you feel secure.

The tools are available: i.e., “Big You, Little You” from JOURNEY FROM ABANDONMENT or JOURNEY FROM HEARTBREAK. Learning how to take complete care of yourself emotionally is a task that will help you grow — and it might also salvage your relationship.

Guilt Loves to Turn the Tables

October 22, 2010 Leave a comment

This week the theme of the messages I receive has been GUILT – not FEELING GUILTY, but feeling the brunt of someone else’s DISOWNED GUILT.

An example: According to Sarah, her boyfriend treats her badly. He makes promises, but doesn’t show up. Then he showers her with passion, only to go online and talk with other women. When she catches him, he tells her it’s because she has been cold and angry lately.

Sometimes he invites Sarah over to his place to spend the evening, but when she gets there, he spends the whole time in bed, remains uncommunicative, unaffectionate, and unresponsive. She feels rejected, stops calling him, and keeps away. Then he suddenly declares his love for her, claiming he was just depressed and that things will be different.

She acquiesces and they make passionate love, but then he doesn’t return her phone calls for days.

When she finally gets to talk to about this and confronts him, he blames it on HER. He says she is too demanding, too dependent, and too needy – doesn’t she understand that he gets depressed?! These criticisms and excuses are cliché. I hear the same ones over and over again from so many different people.

Besides all of the other obvious things that may be wrong with this relationship, Sarah suffers from her boyfriend’s guilt – his unwillingness to own his own his behavior– his tendency to blame the victim.

What’s the mechanism he’s using? He treats her badly and wants to get away with it. He doesn’t want to feel guilty over it. But somewhere in his head, a faint voice is telling him that he has behaved badly.

What does he do with this voice? He does everything he can to get rid of it.

The easiest way is to turn the tables. He faults Sarah. He tries to get HER to feel guilty. If he rejects and criticizes her enough, maybe he can even get her to regret her entire existence. He even turns the tables when she tells him how much it hurts, by emphasizing his own pain – his depression –and then accuses her of only thinking about herself.

Taking his guilt and loading it into her makes Sarah to “look bad” which in turn, enables him to rationalize his behavior.

Guilt can be so helpful when it’s acknowledged. It gets us to closely examine our actions so that we can evolve as human beings. Owning our guilt – and sharing our own culpability within our relationships – can lead to a true reckoning. The relationship then serves as a crucible for positive change.

But guilt without
• remorse
• intention to make amends
• the will to change
is guilt that gets buried, rationalized, and displaced in destructive ways – destructive to self and others.

This is Sarah’s boyfriend’s brand of guilt. If she can understand the manipulation he is using, she can stop buying in.

Of course, we all want Sarah to get another boyfriend. But while she’s in this, she can use it as a giant growth experience.

Trying to Take Back Control of your Life?

October 19, 2010 Leave a comment

So many people are in relationships where they have given their power away.

Two Scenarios:

One: You’ve been abandoned and you’ve given all of your power to the abandoner. Your life rests on whether they call, whether they don’t call. You impotently wait and hope for them to come back, because only their return can take your pain away. Why? Because you have given them your power. One person put it this way: “My abandoner walked away with all of the gold. I need to get it back.”

Two: You’re current relationship doesn’t feel mutual. Your partner tends to withhold love, putting you in the “emotional beggar” role. You walk around starving in emotional hunger, desperately needing a love-fix, groveling for crumbs of attention. The sun rises or sets depending on whether today you are treated you lovingly or not. Why? You have invested all of your power in your partner and you’ve become impotent.

The antidote: Take back control of your life. Regain your power. Invest in yourself. Claim your gold.

But how? This seems “more easily said than done.” But that’s because you might not know where to start, or what to do to make it happen. First, you need to know it is doable. Second, you must learn to to become a separate person.

Being a separate person doesn’t mean you have to be single, alone, or in a state of break-up. It means taking 100 percent responsibility for your own emotional well-being and stop laying your emotional needs at the feet of your partner.

If things are going well and you trust your partner, it is okay to count on them to satisfy your needs to feel loved, special, and important. It is okay to look to them for a sense of belonging and security.

But if things are not going well, then you get to practice learning to stand on your own two feet – and I mean emotionally. Learn to look to yourself rather than your partner to make yourself feel secure. It means work. It means taking complete responsibility.

It involves taking actions that are on your own behalf. Take strides in your own life. You might begin with a small step. For example, depending upon your interests, go to the library and take out a book with beautiful photographs or paintings or travel pictures and study it intently. Do this in the presence of your partner. Your focus is not on them, but on your own interests. You are taking responsibility for yourself.

You have to keep making these efforts larger and larger, until you transform into a self-assured person who can command your own power and sustain your own supply of gold.

Usually, this transformation completely changes the dynamics of your relationship, but even if your partner continues to neglect you, it elevates your life where you need it to be.

Good Riddance to Separation Anxiety!

October 13, 2010 1 comment

Someone wrote in and asked, “Is separation anxiety related to abandonment?”

“Oh yes,” I resounded. Separation anxiety is the basis for all emotional distress – anxiety, depression, insecurity-in-relationships, fear-of-loss. Abandonment feelings trigger separation anxiety and separation anxiety trigger abandonment feelings.

Let’s say you walk into a restaurant with your friends and you suddenly see your husband sitting at a table with another woman. Your heart starts to pound as if you had just seen as bear! This “panic” is separation anxiety. Or let’s say that you’re alone because you just can’t seem to find someone to love. You’re beginning to give up hope. You feel this constant malaise, an energy-drain, sometimes jittery in the morning, on-edge during the day, maybe even downright unhappy. This “depression” is separation anxiety.

Or maybe there are layoffs at work. You’re worried you’re next. You’ve become very sensitive to any nuance of rejection or criticism from the higher ups. These “paranoid” feelings are separation anxiety.

The antidote: Use these experiences to practice becoming a “separate person.” Once you find the internal switch (an adult switch) that regulates your separation anxiety, you can strengthen your emotional self-reliance. You gain personal power over feeling abandoned, alone, afraid, even under stressful circumstances.

To be human is to feel these things. But to be adult is to accept your humanness while at the same time accepting that you are in fact SEPARATE. The old adage about “coming into the world alone and going out alone” may sound obvious, but it attempts to break our denial and therefore is extremely meaningful. The adage reflects that many adults have made this discovery before us and have made a special point of sharing this wisdom – because they know that we are in denial – that we protest its simple reality. They know the acceptance of our separateness is the basis becoming a true adult.

Separation anxiety is a throwback to childhood when we knew we’d die unless someone nurtured our needs. This life-and-death-fear gets triggered by any perception of abandonment within our adult relationships. But once triggered, this fear challenges us to find the adult switch – the reality switch – the one that reminds us that we can stand on our own two feet. We learn to manage the fear by facing rather than fighting our separateness. Protesting our separateness keeps us in the panic and anxiety. The task is to face the “worst case scenario” (the realization of that we are each emotionally alone) and then to realize that we can take care of ourselves. This acceptance must be made, not begrudgingly, but wholeheartedly.

Once we realize that as adults we are responsible for meeting our own emotional needs and not the person we are obsessing about, we begin to take back control of our lives. Incidentally, this new-found power also dramatically changes the dynamic in our relationship, often turning the tables to our advantage. We lose our neediness and become mysteriously self-sufficient.

An essential point here is that separation anxiety is a form of protest. It is a reaction to not-accepting the existential reality of our separateness. Any threat to our primary relationship makes us anxious the same way little children feel anxious when they can’t find their mommies: the world looms lonely and scary.

The abandonment feelings triggered when our jobs, our lives, or our plans go awry – are just feelings, not facts. The reality is that adults cannot be abandoned, because they are capable of taking care of themselves. The only real abandonment in adulthood is self-abandonment. Believing ourselves to be helplessly dependent upon someone contributes to abandoning ourselves. Self-abandonment occurs when we momentarily forget that we are capable of self-care.

Self-abandonment occurs when we as adults blame ourselves for being left by someone we love, and then we compound it by blaming ourselves for becoming so emotional– for feeling so desperate. All of this leads to self-abandonment. And it is this self abandonment that leads to the loss of self-esteem which is cornerstone of abandonment’s severe depression.

Let’s say that we stay busy, have a million routines, and sustain close relationships with our loved ones. These are not bad things. In fact, they are good things, even though an underlying motive is to stave off separation anxiety. When things are going smoothly there’s no incentive to find that adult switch and learn to practice becoming a separate person. So we can become complacent…and dependent…even on our routines!

Those of us whose separation anxiety has been triggered by loss or disappointment are the lucky ones – because we get to develop emotional self-reliance – and we’re better for it.

The More They Hurt You the More They Hook You

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Why is that? Why is it that the more they hurt you, the deeper in goes the hook?

It’s a demoralizing dilemma to be in. A lot of you wrote about it this week. One person sent this message: “I feel like a fool. I should hate him [her husband] for all of the sneaking around with ___ [the other woman], but all I want is to lie next to him and have him put his arms around me. I keep begging him to stay, not to leave me. I’ve become pathetic. I don’t blame him for not loving me”

Another woman was beginning to lose interest in her boyfriend, that is, until he became a no show on Friday night. The next day, she still hadn’t heard from him and his phone was turned off. She went into a panic that could only be quashed if he called.

Eventually he did call, told her he’d call her again that evening, but didn’t follow through. She went back into panic. Now she imagines that she is madly in love with him, that she doesn’t care about what a louse he’s been, she wants him and only him.

A man writes that he suspects his wife of having affairs. She flirts outrageously with other men right in front of him, avoids spending time with him, and doesn’t like having sex (with him), and seems to only care about her own needs. “I hate to grovel for her attention,” he explains, “and if I do try to talk to her about our relationship, she becomes angry and accusatory.”

Yes, it’s demoralizing to be in the “emotional beggar” role. But it doesn’t mean you’re a weak person. It just means you’re human. It could happen to almost anyone, given certain conditions. And it takes tremendous strength and insight to get out of it.

Another young man says his girlfriend has cheated on him more times than he can count, and she always comes back, swearing she’ll never do it again. She’s hurt him so many times, he’s tried to break up with her, and has dated many nice women in between, but the only one he obsesses about, the only one he wants is her. He’s hooked. He’s hooked by the pain she has caused.

I’ve already written about this– that when pain is introduced when you’re forming an attachment, it strengthens the attachment. I mentioned that when the researcher accidentally stepped on the toe of the duck, the duck imprinted him stronger than the other ducks. I also mentioned that fraternities inflict pain in their “hazing” to make the new “pledges” more loyal and bonded to the fraternity.

Here’s a little more explanation. The Zagarnic effect shows that the more problematic a situation is, the more enduring its impact upon your motivation. The study gave problem-solving tests to two groups. The control group had an easy-to-solve problem; the other group was given a problem that couldn’t be solved within the time-limit. Researchers went back to the two groups many years later. The ones who couldn’t solve the problem still remembered what it was about, but the control group had forgotten all about it.

When someone causes you to feel pain, the mammalian part of the brain (it is unconscious) creates an impression of that person so that it can warn you (with stress signals) to proceed with extreme caution during your next contact with him. This extra arousal from your autonomic nervous system gets confused with “being excited.” It arouses your “fight or flight” response, which gears you up for “competitive mode,” and the challenge holds your interest.

Also, someone who arouses those old familiar insecurity feelings reminds your mammalian brain of old feelings you had as a child when you were trying to gain your parent’s attention or acceptance, and this creates a kind of special arousal that hooks you in – and you find yourself “groveling.”
Regardless of the reason, if you find yourself in this position, first know that you are not alone. The best among us have probably been in this position. The key is to learn take back control of your life.

You are not your mammalian brain – it’s just a powerful part of your biological being. The antidote is to take 100% responsibility for your emotional needs, stop looking to your partner to take away the pain that he or she caused in the first place. It’s your job to set your life right.

Just don’t underestimate the strength it takes. And don’t judge anyone who is caught up in this. This is all about being human and learning not to be ruled by your addictive emotions – by your primitive brain.

Where Did My Self-Doubt Come From?

Abandonment vs. the Self
Some people want to understand why: Why do they doubt themselves? Why is their self-esteem eroded? Why does it hurt so much to be abandoned? To not be accepted? To feel slighted by a friend? How did this vulnerability set in? What caused it? What keeps it going?

The simple answer is “unresolved abandonment,” but to really understand the whys and wherefores, we have to go back – all the way back to the primal fear of abandonment.

When we were babies, we cried in terror when Mommy walked away from the crib, afraid she was never coming back. Our survival instinct was at the heart the scream. She was our survival lifeline. Babies, after all, can’t survive on their own.

Then as we developed from babies to children, we began to ask how we could COMPEL our caretakers to continue loving us, nurturing us, and taking care of us. The issue for us became “control.” We needed to feel that we weren’t just helpless recipients our parents’ aid, but that rather, there were things we could DO to enhance our chances (and to prevent them from leaving us and never coming back).

We played peek-a-boo to prove that we could make them re-appear at our own whim. As we developed a little more, we practiced gaining their attention, getting them to pick us up, getting them to laugh, smile, hold us, administer to our needs and wants.

During childhood we felt the ebb and flow of our relationship with our parents. They might be busy at times. There might be other siblings. There might be illnesses, alcoholism, divorces, neglect, abuse, etc. Rather than leave it up to the whims and proclivities of our parents who had lives of their own, we developed all kinds of behaviors to try to COMPEL them to continue taking care of us and loving us.

So some of us became people-pleasers; others learned to stand up for ourselves; some learned how to “get attention” even if it is negative attention; others learned the art of invisibility; some learned how to intimidate and demand; others learned how to grow numb, not care, self-sooth. These behaviors took us out of the passive role and gave us an active role in mediating the connection with our parents.

So, our sense of self-worth (our ability to compel the love and attention from others) is at the root of the survival instinct, a survival that continued to be dependent upon our caretakers until we were old enough to take care of ourselves.

At the age of independence, we transferred the need to compel others onto our peers (and especially onto our love-connections).

When, as adults, we feel someone’s love or acceptance slipping away, our most primitive self-doubts erupt. Our deepest fear explodes in our faces – that someone could leave us and never come back. And this fear is complicated by the fact that it’s tied to our sense of self-worth. As the person breaks away from us, we feel at loss of our ability to compel him or her to want to be with us.

We fell as if we are living our worst nightmare – that of being left because we are unworthy. Hence, these episodes of being slighted by a friend, ignored by a teacher, overlooked by a boss, and especially rejected by a lover – have the capacity to erode self esteem and implant self-doubt.

Repairing the damaged sense of self-worth from cumulative abandonment wounds which have been festering since childhood, begins with understanding the dynamics of what has happened. But that is only the beginning and there are tools (which are the subject of my books) to rebuild a sense of self which is invincible and which can never again be taken away from you by someone else.

Don’t Fight the Feelings!

Feelings are the keys to recovery.

When I’m not seeing therapy clients or writing, I go around the country promoting abandonment recovery. This month, I’ll be giving a 6-day Abandonment Workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.

I often feel like my participants are going to “shoot the messenger” when I’m imparting my message of abandonment recovery. I know what I have to say is different from what people expect. Many people come to the workshop in unbearable abandonment pain, grief, and conflict. When I tell them that there are no magic bullets, that recovery involves not “3 easy steps” but a great deal of hard work and an ongoing commitment of time, they feel frustrated.

Most attendees have understandably high expectations. They’ve been hoping that one more book, one more tape, one more workshop will finally free them from the infernal festering of the abandonment wound.

But when it comes to abandonment, there are no easy answers. Instead, there are tools which you must use on a daily basis to get the desired results. And, if you use these tools consistently for a period of months, you can experience complete transformation.

Abandonment recovery works with your primal feelings. Most people try to talk themselves out of these feelings. Or they try to squelch them. Or they deny them. Or they try to distract themselves from them. Or they try to stop the feelings through sheer will power. Or they might to try to use meditative techniques in hopes of becoming a “spirit body” so they can lift above them. Bottom line: they want the feelings to go away.

In fact, those meditative exercises are highly beneficial to abandonment recovery, but their results are hampered by any part of the abandonment wound that remains unresolved. This is because abandonment is in the body – that’s where its primal feelings are “felt” – and its wound keeps pulling you down into its quicksand.

So what to do? The key is to learn how to work with your most primal feelings – the oldest and truest part of yourself. Rather than fight these feelings, you administer to them. In fact, if you’re still fighting your abandonment feelings, you’re not really in abandonment recovery.

Explanation: Adults really can’t be abandoned because they are capable of taking care of themselves. They can certainly FEEL abandoned and those feelings are powerful, but adults can only abandon themselves.

Adult abandonment is really self-abandonment.

When someone leaves us, or doesn’t love us enough, we take the anger we feel about the rejection against ourselves and beat ourselves up for not being worthy (i.e., too short, too fat, too stupid, too un-sexy, too needy), for not being loveable enough. In blaming ourselves, we inculcate self-doubt and injure our self esteem. The effects are cumulative over many hurts, disappointments, heartbreaks, and losses.

To begin the journey of recovery, you have to cherish the painful feelings as important parts of yourself. In self-abandonment, you have put your “self” up for adoption, and now you must turn around and adopt that “self.”

This does not happen by osmosis. This is not one of those easier-than-said platitudes, like “love yourself.” It involves very specific tools (which I teach in the workshops and books), hard work, commitment to a daily regimen, etc.

Wish me luck. Mine is a hard message to sell without people wanting to “shoot the messenger.”