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How Universal Fear of Abandonment Can Undermine Success in the Workplace.

May 27, 2011 5 comments

You don’t even know it’s happening – it’s that subtle.  Twelve principles for moving forward in your career and healing from the inside out at the same time.

Susan Anderson © May 2011

The raw human nerve of abandonment can tingle during the course of normal work day – even when you’re unaware of it – when you feel ignored, unrecognized, or dismissed, or sense any hint of disapproval, criticism, or rejection.  These feelings are not the problem; they are givens.  It’s how you handle them – how you let your Outer Child (your self-saboteur) act them out in self defeating patterns that can hold you back.

The underlying fear of abandonment is a major trigger for Outer Child’s self-sabotage to spring into action with its knee-jerk defenses. This subliminal fear has many facets, and your ever-active, ever-intrusive Outer Child is always at the ready to react to each of them in defense mechanisms that have become maladaptive. These default defenses interfere in reaching your adult potential:

Fear of disappointment gets you to set your sights too low.

Fear of failure gets you to become passive, unmotivated, stuck in underachievement.

Fear of success gets you to hold back from excelling in order to avoid the competitive backlash….

Fear of rejection – difficulty handling criticism – gets you to avoid standing up for yourself, making you easily passed over for promotion.

When you’re afraid to assert yourself, speak up for your rights, take a position, it’s because you’re afraid of breaking the connection – afraid to ask for “too much,” lest the powers-that-be get annoyed, judge you, or heaven forbid, want to get rid of you – and there you’d have abandonment.

Rejection sensitivity:  Fear of abandonment manifests in difficulty handling criticism and heightened sensitivity to rejection. You make an excellent suggestion at a meeting, for example, but it is passed over in favor of someone else’s suggestion – someone with less substance but better able to gain approval than you.  You feel abandoned and self condemning all at once.

Whether or not you are conscious of underlying abandonment fear, it creates a background tone which keeps you slightly on edge and hyper-vigilant, constantly warning you: “Don’t rock the boat.”  This undercurrent of abandonment fear, though subliminal, inhibits you from properly showcasing your skills, talents, and competence.

Abandonment fear can silently subvert your efforts to manifest self worth.  For instance, your self esteem can say, “I’m valuable in this job” and your self image can say, “Everybody likes me and sees I’m doing a great job.”  But your fear of abandonment, lurking beneath the surface, can trump this by saying “But I don’t want to express my needs because they may like me less.”

Fear of abandonment leads to codependency.  A co-dependent employee can be easily taken for granted by employers and fail to get properly rewarded.  This employee, driven by the fear of losing ground (abandonment), manages to communicate to her employers that she’ll continue doing a great job even if they were to give the promotion to someone else, because she just LOVES doing work for the company.  So the promotion goes to someone less deserving but who, by contrast, has communicated that he is moving onward and upward – with or without the current company – and must to be given incentives to stay.

In fact, to get ahead, it’s almost more important to show self-loyalty – that your own best interests come first – than to demonstrate good skills, talent, and selfless work-ethic.  Self-loyalty is a component of confidence, and as we all know, confidence impresses others more than competence does – at least at first glance.  The ability to exude confidence promotes successful self-marketing, even in the absence of the person’s substantive effectiveness.  Many an incompetent ne’r-do-well has been promoted ahead of many an effective workhorse for this very reason.  Self promotion is able to impress people more than selfless hard work.

People with low self-confidence may feel inwardly angry and resentful when they are overlooked, but are afraid to express it directly.  Instead, in order to leave their friendly connections to their coworkers unblemished by their anger, they blame the unfairness on themselves for being such a wimp.  And so they dig themselves deeper in an ever escalating cycle of self-loathing and co-dependency.

Here are 12 principles to take primal abandonment’s many incarnations by the tail and use them as grist for moving forward in your career.  As we’ve seen, the raw human nerve of sensitivity jangles so easily in the workplace because of unresolved abandonment.  By resolving your workplace issues, you’re actually resolving your primal abandonment wounds – healing from the inside out.

As I’ve emphasized many times before, the principles of healing abandonment and overcoming Outer Child self-sabotage, involve an integrated approach, combining self-nurturance, constructive use of imagination, and action.  They work like physical therapy for the brain – incrementally, over time, with repeated effort.

1)    At the beginning of every workday, tune into yourself emotionally – center in on what’s going on within – so you can be aware of your innermost feelings, needs, and wants as you go about your day, especially the subtle twinges of abandonment fear.  These feelings are sacred, belong to you, and although uncomfortable at times, are what potentially connect you to yourself in a powerful new relationship.  You can’t neutralize abandonment fear by remaining oblivious to it – can’t squelch it, since it is indeed primal.  Only by getting in touch with your human vulnerability, can you tap into its potential healing power to act as a spur.

2)    Prepare to use your imagination, your most powerful, largely untapped human resource.  Imagine that you have a remote control in your hand and that one click changes the channel from the hypersensitivity channel to a new channel where you feel your power.  As if on a screen before your mind, imagine that from your depths, you see yourself step into your power, all of your feelings in tact.  You are still YOU.

3)    Recognize that in adulthood all abandonment is actually self-abandonment – and by ignoring your abandonment wounds, you’ve been abandoning yourself over and over.

4)    Know that the only person who can reverse self-abandonment is You.  It is not up to anyone else – is no one else’s responsibility but yours to assuage your self-doubt and delimit your self-depreciation.

5)    Recognize that if you hand this task over to others – if you continue looking to others for recognition, acceptance, or approval – you keep giving your power away and abandoning yourself in yet another way.

6)    Each time you feel a twinge of vulnerability (feel dismissed or reticent to speak up for yourself), make a commitment to accept yourself unconditionally.  Use any icky self-doubting moment as the basis for practicing radical self-acceptance.

7)    To practice radical self-acceptance, imagine that you have your arm around yourself in a display of self-affection and self-assurance.  Do not squelch your vulnerability or shame yourself for having it, but embrace yourself for it.  Reassure yourself it’s okay. You’re human.  You come first – anxiety and all.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.

8)    Know that by giving yourself unconditional love – accepting yourself warts and all (anxiety, fear, reticence, and all) – you are reversing self abandonment.

9)    By looking to yourself for acceptance – by wholeheartedly accepting all of your human feelings, foibles, and talents – you are taking other people out of the loop.  YOU become the best person to give yourself esteem, to approve of you, to accept you.  YOU are responsible for making yourself feel secure and worthwhile, and no one else.

10) Each time you feel a twinge of vulnerability, use it as a spur to plan a positive action, one that is realistic, involves doing, forward working, and career enhancing.  Break the action down into at least three baby steps, the first being so small, that though seminal, will be easy to take immediately.

11)  Imagine yourself taking that action – i.e. a new job initiative, a positive gesture toward a colleague, a phone call to gather information about new employment.

12) At least three times a day, as if on the screen before your mind (your power channel), project an image of yourself as you would like to be – self-possessed, self-reliant, self-assured, and self-deserving.  Imagine yourself to be a person who is willing and able to feel your abandonment nerve jangle during the day without shame or self-censure– and that you no longer look to the outside world for crumbs of approval and recognition. Imagine yourself as taking self-directed actions -directed and moving forward.

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PROFILE OF AN ABANDONER

May 11, 2011 2 comments

I usually don’t like to stereotype, but I cannot help but wonder if “abandoners” can be identified, stamped, and catalogued. Someone suffering through an abandonment – after being left by someone s/he loves – spends a great deal of time analyzing the abandoner. It’s called obsession. It’s the mind’s attempt to “understand” what has caused the dense tissues of one’s love-attachment to rip apart. So we “study” the abandoner’s putative “pathologies” and character traits – searching for clues is an effort to feel sane again.

So, based upon hundreds of emails filled with such obsessive analysis, not to mention my own personal experiences, I have tried to come up with a profile of an abandoner.

Abandoners come in every possible size, shape, shade, age, social form, and disposition. Parents, friends, employers, and lovers can become abandoners, usually without realizing the pain they cause.

People out there looking for new relationships might not be able to tell who is safe to attach to and who is liable to abandon you. Even those who are incapable of being emotionally responsible, look like ideal partners in the beginning when they are trying to win you over with their charms. Unless you know their M.O. (that they’ve dumped a lot of people before), it’s impossible to know for sure just who is trustworthy and who is an abandoner.

What complicates the picture even more is that one person’s abandoner is another’s permanent partner. Also, many abandonment victims go on to become abandoners themselves. The circumstances surrounding relationships are so complex, that no one of us is really in a position to point the finger. Most of us can swing back and forth – sometimes we’re abandonees and sometimes abandoners.

But everyone knows that are serial abandoners – you know, the ones who get off on inflicting emotional pain on the other person. They create devastation to show their power and sometimes, to express their anger – anger pent up from some dark corner of own abandonment history, perhaps.

But even abandoners who are not power-driven, can get a swelled head as an unintentional by-product of hurting you. They might feel badly about it, but they can’t help but go on an ego trip as they witness the intensity of your agonized desire for them. They’re not, however, about to openly admit to feelings of triumph. This would make them seem like cads. Instead they try to show their humble feelings of regret over having caused you “disappointment” or “inconvenience” (note the understatements!). They are usually easily distracted from their guilt, because they get caught up in their new lives (and new loves).

Yes, many abandoners seem oblivious to the emotional crisis they have caused by leaving you. This obliviousness seems callous and self centered to the one who was thrust into the torment of abandonment.

Ironically, this somehow puts them in a one-up position to you, and what do you do? You idealize THEM. This makes it that much harder to let go. The more they hurt you, the deeper their hook sunk into your heart.

Many abandoners attempt to BLAME the one they left behind – for the break up. “It’s because you were too needy and dependent” or “angry,” they might say.

Meanwhile, yeah, okay, you became “needy” “dependent” “angry”, but not because you ARE these things, but because you were REACTING to their gradually pulling away. None-the-less, you will beat yourself up anyway.

The reason abandoners blame the other person is to justify their actions and avoid feeling guilty. They want to keep their positive self- image at all costs – at your expense. They take as little responsibility as possible, and this just adds insult to injury. Now, as the abandonee, you’re left to grapple with the pieces of a broken relationship, feeling rejected and “kicked while your down” by their blame, criticism, betrayal, and rejection.

Then, of course, you turn the rage over being rejected against yourself, and you blame yourself, causing your self-esteem to plummet and your spirit to sink into a major depression.

Not that you don’t have some of your own soul searching to do. It’s really important to take personal responsibility for your side of the difficulties in the relationship. This self-evaluation process is painful and necessary. If you do it constructively, you’ll grow. But during the soul-searching, you’re even more vulnerable (and gullible) to your abandoner’s blame than usual. Instead of getting honest feedback, what you usually get is your abandoners’ “excuses” for his/her own commitment problem.

But wait a minute, let’s be honest. Most abandoners (don’t forget, we have all been abandoners at one time or other) do not set out to abandon. They aren’t tying to hurt you. Most are just human beings struggling to find the answers to life’s difficult challenges along with everyone else.