Home > abandonment, Outer Child > Good Riddance to Separation Anxiety!

Good Riddance to Separation Anxiety!

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.

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  1. October 14, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    I have been living with someone for two years. He seemed so sweet and caring. He did many nice things for me and my grown children. He called them his children. Months ago, he decided to go to the bus station to leave. My son went there and found him. After that I didn’t trust him. I didn’t know what was wrong. Recently his friend told him to come clean and tell me about his past. He did not tell me things about himself that were very important. I was devastated and treated him with a cold shoulder after finding out. I know your past is your past, but, he was living this lifestyle just prior to coming to my home. He was penniless when he came. He managed to get his VA disability while he was here..and then got a FEMA settlement coming in for November. How convenient to leave right before his money comes. How do I go on with no closure. I didn’t know that he could be so evil. I wasn’t about money as you can see when he came without anything to offer. I will never let myself be in that position again. I spoke to him for several years before he came to be with us. He effected all of us. I am in shock from this even now.

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