Archive for the ‘Outer Child’ Category

INSECURITY – IS IT HIM OR ME? Is He (or She) Pulling Away, or am I Overreacting?

December 27, 2011 1 comment

Susan Anderson © Dec 9 2011

Sometimes you just can’t tell.   Is it your old insecurity acting up again, or did you pick another emotionally unavailable lover?  If the relationship doesn’t work out, you’ll say you should have trusted your gut.

But wait a minute… you’ve already figured out that you can’t trust your gut because you’d feel insecure at the beginning of ANY relationship especially if you really like the person.  We’re all like that.  Being strongly attracted to someone creates high emotional stakes and makes us crave constant reassurance.  If only there were love-insurance, we’d all buy it!

So if you can’t go by your gut, how can you tell?  When you can’t come up with a clear answer, then you’re asking the wrong question.  The better question is:  “How can I hold myself in such a way that I can let this relationship play itself out to see what its potential really is?”

To this question there IS an answer.  To remain self possessed, you must take 100% responsibility for your own emotional security instead of laying this need at your lover’s feet.  It is not his (or her) responsibility to make you feel secure.  It is YOUR responsibility.  Remind yourself frequently: ONLY YOU can make yourself secure.  Don’t lay it on your lover.  ONLY YOU can develop emotional self reliance.  It’s nobody else’s job but YOURS.

Don’t expect to accomplish this task perfectly.  You become self assured imperfectly – the way all of us humans accomplish this type of thing.  Even making a small improvement can make all the difference in your love life.

This change (which is really a seismic shift) begins with accepting the challenge: Feeling insecure with your lover places you exactly where you need to be to work on what you need to work on.  Use it as an opportunity to increase self assurance.

Here’s how it works. The more you’re attracted to someone, the higher the stakes.  The higher the stakes, the greater the insecurity.  The greater the insecurity, the harder to accomplish emotional self assurance.  The harder to accomplish, the more emotional strength you gain from the effort.

There are hands-on exercises that absolutely make it possible for you to give yourSELF emotional security – especially when you’re freaking out and panicking over a new relationship!  Don’t expect to become self assured just by wanting it; you have to DO something.  DOING means getting on program and practicing exercises that strengthen your ability to give yourself assurance.  Remember: You don’t have to become perfect at it, just self possessed ENOUGH to let the relationship be what it is, without losing yourself in the process.  Make the more important thing your own growth.

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Categories: abandonment, Outer Child


December 14, 2011 3 comments

By Susan Anderson © Dec 7 2011

Do you sabotage your relationships?  Your long range goals?  Your diet?  There are myriad ways we all abandon ourselves, forsaking our true needs and goals on a daily basis.  Many of our (Outer Child’s) self-defeating patterns are aimed at our love-lives; others at our careers or life styles.

Self sabotage has everything to do with self abandonment.

Self abandonment is what happens when you love yourself ONLY ENOUGH to give yourself immediate gratifications, but NOT ENOUGH to postpone those gratifications and give yourself what you really want.  So you fall into old habits and let your Outer Child run your life:

  • You grab for the second piece of cake rather than delay that gratification to achieve your true goal of becoming trim and fit.
  • You overreact with insecurity or rage toward your lover rather than postpone that impulse and remain open to a healthy, adult exchange of feelings.
  • You run up your credit card, numb out in front of the TV, or avoid career goals.

When you hold yourself in high enough regard, your Adult Self is empowered to take charge and lovingly shepherd you outside of your comfort zone where you take forward reaching actions that are good for you in the long run, rather than indulge in avoidance, procrastination, and other short term fixes.   As a self-loving adult you

  • remain self possessed in your love-relationships even when things heat up inside
  • stick to your diet even when tempted
  • make that awkward phone call to open up a career opportunity even though the easy road would have been to procrastinate and justify it with excuses like fatigue, unfairness, or too much competition.

Look how many millions of people love themselves ONLY ENOUGH to take the easy road:  Eat now, diet tomorrow; spend now, pay tomorrow; cling now, cry tomorrow.

When you practice unconditional self love, you forgo your complacency at work, your sweet tooth at mealtime, and your temper in relationships.  Instead, you build steadily toward all of your long range goals.

Hot to reverse self abandonment?  Well, it doesn’t happen by osmosis or by reading about it, although your Outer Child will try to con you into holding out for the magic bullet.  No, you must get on the program to resolve your ambivalence toward yourself and take actions that inculcate unconditional self love (self esteem, self regard).   The program involves behavioral steps that function like physical therapy for the brain. You change incrementally, steadily reversing self abandonment and reaching your goals.

Categories: abandonment, Outer Child

Addicted to Chasing Unavailable Lovers: Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic – Part 2

September 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic

© Susan Anderson 2010

The emotional pendulum swing

Abandoholism is driven by both fear of abandonment and its correlate fear of engulfment.

Fear of abandonment: When you’re attracted to someone, it arouses a fear of losing that person. This fear causes you to become clingy and needy. You try to hide your insecurity, but your desperation shows through, causing your partners to lose romantic interest in you. They sense your emotional suction cups[1] aiming straight toward them and it they run to avoid getting trapped (engulfed).

Fear of engulfment: at the opposite end of the spectrum. It occurs when someone is pursuing you and now you’re the one pulling back. You feel engulfed by that person’s desire to be with you. When fear of engulfment kicks in, your sexual and romantic feelings shut down. You no longer feel the connection. You panic – it’s about your fear of being engulfed by the other person’s emotional expectations of you. You fear that the other person’s feelings will pressure you to abandon other potential romantic options.

Fear of engulfment is one of the most common causes for the demise of new relationships, but it is carefully disguised in excuses like: “He just doesn’t turn me on.” Or “I don’t feel any chemistry.” Or “S/he’s too nice to hold my interest.” Or “I need more of a challenge.”

Abandoholics tend to swing back and forth between fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. You’re either pursuing hard-to-get-lovers, or you’re feeling turned off by someone who IS interested in you.

What is Abandophobism?

Abandophobics are so afraid of rejection that they avoid relationships altogether.

Abandophobics act out their fear of abandonment by remaining socially isolated, or by appearing to search for someone, when in fact they are pursuing people who are truly unattainable, all to avoid the risk of getting attached to a real prospect – someone who might abandon them sooner or later.

There is a little abandophobism in every abandoholic; the two outer child patterns can be interchangeable.

For both abandoholics and abandophobics, a negative attraction is more compelling than a positive one.

You only feel attracted when you’re in pursuit. You wouldn’t join any club who would have you as a member, so you’re always reaching for someone out of reach.

How do abandoholism and abandophobism set in?

These patterns may have been cast in childhood. You struggled to get more attention from your parents but you were left feeling unfulfilled, which caused you to doubt your self-worth. Over time, you internalized this craving for approval and you learned to idealize others at your own expense. This became a pattern in your love-relationships.

Now as an adult, you recreate this scenario by giving your love-partners all your power, elevating them above yourself, recreating those old familiar yearnings you grew accustomed to as a child. Feeling emotionally deprived and “less-than” is what you’ve come to expect.

Why does the insecurity linger?

Recent scientific research shows that rather than dissipate, fear tends to incubate, gaining intensity over time. Insecurity increases with each romantic rejection, causing you to look to others for something you’ve become too powerless to give yourself: esteem. When you seek acceptance from a withholding partner, you place yourself in a one-down position, recreating the unequal dynamics you had with your parents or peers. You choreograph this scenario over and over.  It becomes a repetition compulsion, otherwise known as an ‘Outer Child Pattern.’

Conversely, you are unable to feel anything when someone freely admires or appreciates you. For more about abandonment, go to For more about abandoholism, read Taming Your Outer Child (2010) and WORKBOOK: Journey from Heartbreak to Connection (2003).

Categories: abandonment, Outer Child

Addicted to Chasing Unavailable Lovers: Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic – Part 1

September 9, 2011 2 comments

Outer Child is a Notorious Abandoholic

© Susan Anderson 2010

What is Abandoholism?

You’ve heard of food-oholism, work-oholism, shop-oholism and, of course, alcoholism. Now here comes another, most insidious, addictive pattern – abandoholism.

Abandoholism is Outer Child’s tendency to become attracted to unavailable partners. Abandoholism is one of Outer’s most insidious patterns, and it is shared by millions.

Abandoholism is similar to the other “oholisms,” but instead of being addicted to a substance, you’re addicted to the emotional drama of heartbreak. You pursue hard-to-get partners to keep the romantic intensity going, and to keep your body’s love-chemicals and stress hormones flowing – an intoxicating brew to which you become both physically and emotionally addicted.

What makes someone an abandoholic?

Abandoholism sets in when you’ve been hurt so many times that you’ve come to equate insecurity with love. When your wires get crossed like this, unless you’re pursuing someone you’re insecure about, you don’t feel in love.

Conversely, when someone comes along who wants to be with you, that person’s availability fails to arouse the required level of insecurity. If you can’t feel those yearning, lovesick feelings, then you don’t feel attracted. Your Outer Child has taken hold and got you caught up in a pattern of pursuing unavailable partners. You’ve become neuro-biologically addicted to the high stakes drama of an emotional challenge and the love-chemicals that go with it.

This abandonment compulsion is insidious. You didn’t know it was developing. Until now you didn’t have a name for it: Abandoholism is a new concept.

Insecurity is an aphrodisiac.

If you are a hard-core abandoholic, you’re drawn to a kind of love that is highly combustible. The hottest sex is when you’re trying to seduce a hard-to-get lover. Insecurity becomes your favorite aphrodisiac. These intoxicated states are produced when you sense emotional danger – the danger of your lover’s potential to abandon you just when you start to attach.

At the other end of the seesaw, you start to turn off and shut down when you happen to successfully win someone’s love. If your lover succumbs to your charms – heaven forbid – you suddenly feel too comfortable, too sure of him to stay interested. There’s not enough challenge to sustain your sexual energy. You interpret your turn-off as his not being right for you.

How about following your gut?

If you’re an abandoholic, following your gut is probably what got you into this mess in the first place. Your gut gets you to pursue someone who makes your heart go pitter pat, not because he’s the right one, but because he arouses your subliminal fear of abandonment. And your gut gets you to avoid someone who is truly trustworthy, because he doesn’t press the right insecurity-buttons to create the aphrodisiac.

Enrich your mind. Follow your wisdom. But until you overcome your abandonment compulsion, don’t follow your gut – it will only get you into trouble – because your gut tells you that unavailable people are attractive.

Financial Self Sabotage: How Outer Children Acting En Masse Brought Down the Economy

© Susan Anderson 2010

Outer Child likes to sneak your wallet out of your pocket when you aren’t looking.  It hijacks your finances, ties up your assets, drains your bank accounts, and straps you with debt.

Outer child can act out and affect global conditions, especially when it makes poor decisions en masse.  Just look at the outer child antics that caused people to take out mortgages they couldn’t afford “I don’t want to wait, I want it NOW” and bankers to exploit their impulsivity.

What would have been the underlying cause of all of this heedless outer child behavior?  What “inner child feelings” might be going on within the American psyche at large?  My guess is that post NINE ELEVEN fear – the fear of annihilation– coupled with global warming anxiety, had spurred this wide-scale, reckless, Gimme-mine-now behavior.

Fear in the hands of mature adults, can be potentially dealt with and worked through.  But if our nationally shared “fearings”  (anxiety, vulnerability, panic, sense of impending disaster, urgency) remain unresolved, and if the executives in charge of our government and economy have a lot of unharnessed outer child behaviors, then “fearings” get acted out inappropriately – resulting in the debacle of the Iraq war, the mortgage crisis, the sinking economy, and foot-dragging on energy conservation.

When Outer Children interact with other Outer Children, it creates ripples and patterns of behavior at all levels of society – interpersonal, familial, governmental, and global.   These ripples and patterns constitute an Outer Child culture, which runs parallel to the larger culture.  We affect and are affected by all levels of Outer Child culture.

When Nine Eleven hit, Outer’s collective response to the nation’s “fearings” had a powerful impact on global affairs.  The attacks had created heightened, sustained undercurrents of fear that got a lot of Outer Children riled up.  We wanted to feel secure again, to anchor ourselves to the earth, which prompted many Outer Children to buy more real estate.

How did Outer Child culture contribute to financial market decline?  
At the Outer Child level of culture, fear and greed were already driving the markets – greed to make more money, fear of losing it.  Fear and greed were also driving governments – greed for power, fear of losing it.  Outer Children get drunk on power.  Politicians (who have lots of power and therefore very active Outer Children) get quickly addicted to power and need more and more of it to satisfy their habit.  Their decisions are often about getting reelected, not about what’s in the best interest of the country.  Many Outer Child leaders put forward a righteous image only to get caught with their hands in the cookie jar – some acting like TV evangelists who fall fowl of exactly what they tell people not to do.

The recession:  All of these Outer Children bought houses (and other things) they couldn’t afford, borrowing money from lenders who couldn’t afford to lend it.  When people needed to cash out, the structure collapsed – a crash that came as a shock.

Even top financial pundits began sounding like airheads when they tried to explain why they had been so far off the mark.  We realized too late that the heads of financial institutions had been more like Wizards of Ozes than people with real power and wisdom.  In fact, some had been operating on base instincts of personal greed, not on public interests.

Outer Child culture is rife with arrogance.  Arrogance led financial experts to assume erroneously that they had a handle on the markets.  They overleveraged their investment resources because they thought they knew what they didn’t know, but didn’t know they didn’t know it.  Their confidence proved to be Outer Child confidence.

Outer Children are impressed with confidence – especially their own.  But they also are impressed by other people’s.  This is another example of Outer’s attachment to false values.    What’s wrong with confidence, you might ask?  Displaying confidence is considered good form – and indeed we live in a “form world.”  The problem is that people can have lots of confidence and be completely wrongheaded.  Complete fools can have impressive confidence.  Conversely, people who really DO have a finger on the pulse of truth tend to be more guarded, tentative, careful about making absolute pronouncements. Some even have poor social skills.  Unless they can convey their ideas attractively (confidently), the public tends to dismiss them.

To an extreme Outer Child, only having good form counts; substance is entirely invisible.  Financial leaders weren’t investing in real assets, that they’d only been betting on numerical odds, but neither they nor we noticed.  Officials in corporate, government, and academic institutions had apparently conveyed impressive confidence.  This had our whole Outer Child culture hoodwinked.

What about hypocrisy?  At the Outer Child level of culture, people would rather project their shortcomings onto other people than look at their own.  Outer Children are holier than thou.  For example, the Western World had been pointing its finger at corruption in the Eastern World.  The West had a vested interest in diverting attention from its own corruption which was less transparent than the East’s.  We’d thought we had legal systems in place to stop corruption, but the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) turned out to have its own Outer Child self-deception going on.  For more, read Chapter 14 in Taming your Outer Child.


Cluttering and Hoarding – Outer Child Messes – Part II

August 3, 2011 1 comment

Beneath it All

Yes, at the heart of every extreme clutterer I have met lurks primal abandonment fear.  One workshop attendee nominated herself to be poster child for cluttering.


“It’s all about abandonment.  I was sent to live with my aunt when I was a child, so I had this terror about being discarded.  When I lived on my own, I stopped throwing things away.  I became a packrat, a shopper, and a non-returner.  I’m afraid my husband will leave me over the hoarding, so I resort to removing price tags and throwing new clothes on the laundry pile so he won’t suspect I’ve never worn them.  I know the growing stacks push him to the brink, but when he threatens divorce, I panic and go buy more in case I wind up with nothing.”

Another woman reported that her cluttering stemmed from low self-esteem. Her mother had been rejecting and extremely critical and she’d turned this toward herself, creating self-abandonment.


“Although I’m not an extreme hoarder, I’m somewhat messy.  But when my home is out of place, it makes me feel inadequate, so I guess I was recreating the familiar.  My friends kept their homes in perfect order, never had anything out of place.  I compared myself to them and felt inferior.  When they came over, I tried to look like I lived the same way, but I had to scurry around beforehand to clean the mess so they’d never guess that I was an ‘unworthy person.’”

Many clutterers report that a history of trauma – with roots in childhood abandonment – led to their compulsion.


“My parents were both severely abusive and I get easily stressed out.  I’m always reacting to some crisis.  I have too much going on to be bothered with whether stuff is piling up.” 


“Losing so many people in my family was so traumatic that when I’ve faced with the thought of throwing something away, it reminds me of loss.  So instead of feel that all the time, I just save everything.” 


“I was sexually abused and I know it was behind me becoming a packrat, because living like this keeps me in shame.  It forces me to live like a hermit, in a kind of cocoon that keeps people out.” 


“My cluttering started as a cry for help.  I created a physical mess because no one was acknowledging my emotional problems. It was my way of saying, ‘Doesn’t anybody get it? This mess means I’m messed up!’” 

Whatever the cause or level of insight people have into their cluttering and hoarding, they often feel too hopeless and overwhelmed to do anything about their stacks and piles, except add to them.

“It’s beyond me to get rid of stuff, so I just move things from pile to pile.” 

Moving things from pile to pile is so prevalent a behavior, that hoarding recovery gives it its own name: churning.


A Medical Mystery

Extreme cluttering remains a mysterious ailment, a behavioral disorder that therapists and researchers are still trying to fully understand.  It is expressed through acts of commission such as collecting and saving and acts of omission like failing to throwing things away. Some believe hoarding represents a glitch in the brain’s foraging component.  The behavior is found in birds and other animals – they hoard aluminum foil, beads, and other brightly colored things[i].

Some experts consider cluttering a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) yet it doesn’t respond to any of the medications that help the other OCD patients. Some people do respond to antidepressants (SSRI’s), but not all[ii].  Clutterers may suffer from other conditions too, ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to depression to borderline personality to dementia[iii].  The compulsion becomes established in some people as early as the age of five. There are some known genetic factors[iv].

When we look at the brain chemistry of cluttering, we see that, once again, dopamine, the neurochemical mediating reward and addiction we talked about in Chapter 14, is implicated[v].  Extreme clutterers produce interesting readings on brain scanning equipment like fMRIs which show low metabolism in brain regions associated with problem solving, decision making, and visual spatial relations[vi], but these readings do not explain why people compulsively hoard to the extent that the accumulation prohibits the use of the bathtub.

I’ve heard some very fancy terms applied to pathological collecting like ‘object-affect fusion’, but there is yet no medical consensus about the cause – or exactly what to do about it.

Researchers are testing medications for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as Ritalin and Adderall to see if they might help clutterers by stimulating those under-metabolizing areas of the brain. They are also exploring Alzheimer medications such as Aricept (which increases acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in cognitive functioning).  Results remain inconclusive to date.


Cleaning House

Whether you’re a compulsive clutterer or just a little behind in your ‘to do’ list, the three prongs of the Outer Child program help you restore order in your life and home.

The quality and scope of the images you implant in your brain are important.  Use your sense of future to create a positive vision of how you would like your living environment to look and how you would like to feel about it.  Imagine it is as if you’ve already brought it to that ideal condition.  Whenever you feel overwhelmed by the current condition of your home, conjure up a clear mental image of this future vision to give you aim, trajectory, and focus as you proceed through the program.

The second component of the program involves using the tools of separation therapy to attribute your cluttering behavior to your Outer Child. This allows you to form a tighter emotional connection between your Adult Self and your Inner Child around this issue.  Imagine how sad, lonely, and frustrated your inner self has been feeling about living in a disordered world.  He needs you to do something about it.  The empathy Big You builds toward Little You, creates dynamic internal change that allows you to change behavior.



“I was so ashamed of the squalor. My house certainly wasn’t visitor-friendly.  I told people I was a hoarder, but they had no idea I had to walk sideways just to get in the door. I lived in exile.  Then I looked at my life through the lens of the Outer Child framework and saw that Outer was imprisoning me in a house of shame.  Outer’s brain was wired weirdly – that’s how I thought of it – and I knew I had to take stringent measures to get on top of that.  I finally realized I couldn’t take the task on by myself.  Since my Outer Child was so strong, I got a strong therapist. I also held a vision of my apartment as a calm, shame-free place, somewhere I could feel proud to invite people to.  And then I started taking action steps.  Pile by pile, room by room, I was able to get my house to look more like my vision.”


“The dialogues helped me stop hating myself for my hoarding. I took my anger out on Outer instead of on myself.  Keeping Outer separate let me love myself for the first time.  Lately I’ve made Outer my buddy because I need her energy to help me untangle the mess. The action steps help me become orderly by making one small dent in it at a time.” 


“I’ve learned to care too much about Little Me to live in a messy house.  I know what she wants and I give it to her.  I keep Outer busy creating new social events for my friends.  If my house isn’t perfect, who cares? I love me and my friends love me for being me.”

The Neatnick

The Outer Child program also helps people at the opposite end of obsessive compulsive disorder’s continuum, namely people suffering from a compulsion to be neat.


“My OCD caused me to create major messes when I was younger, but then it swung to the other extreme and turned me into a neat freak.  If there was anything out of place before I went to bed, I’d be too anxious to fall asleep. When I learned to separate behavior from feelings, I was able to work with my fears for the first time and nurture Little Portia.  It took many dialogues and lots of practice until I could get Big Me strong enough to calm her down.  Today my OCD is much better, although I still like things pristine.  But I can let a few dishes collect in the sink overnight because I can reassure Little Me that we’ll be okay.  I also hold this future vision of my house having lots of calming natural beauty in it, so lately I’ve been bringing branches and wildflowers indoors (nature walks are Outer’s favorite action steps) and I don’t freak out when the leaves fall on the counter – the litter reminds me that life is okay.” 

Being obsessive compulsive about being neat can create a kind of tyranny that affects other people.


“I grew up in squalor – my parents had food, beer cans, filth everywhere you looked.   I couldn’t invite kids over, even though I kept my own room perfect. When I bought my own house, my Outer Child became a bully – insisted that every square inch of the house be kept perfect. I was imposing this compulsiveness on my wife and kids!  I had to deal with my neatness Nazi before he destroyed my marriage. So I went to a workshop and leaned to create a mental image of my home being a place of freedom, fun, and comfort.  Holding this image and staying connected with my inner shame and fear helped me gain a balance and enjoy my family life.  So, when the kids all have their friends over, I’m able to enjoy the moment, amidst the spilled popcorn.”


What about people who stuff their schedules rather than their closets?  Some are so busy rushing from one activity to the next that they find they’ve squeezed out quality time to relax at home, hang out with friends, or develop other interests.  Outer turned them into human doings instead of human beings.


“I was a time clutterer, running all day, too busy to enjoy the moment, until I realized that Outer Child was destroying my life.  Little Me?  I didn’t know she was in there.  It took weeks to find her voice.  Now I have time for everything – work, play, friends, relaxation, sleep, Me.  My Outer Child is still busy – busy helping me create a new life.” 

In separating feelings from behavior – Inner from Outer – you untangle once enmeshed parts that perpetuated the cluttering behavior.  Guided by your goals, your stronger Adult Self emerges to nurture your Inner Child as a separate entity, freeing up your Outer Child’s energy.  With your internal parts in order, you are prepared for the third component of the program – taking action to put your world in order. You are ready to take advantage of the behavioral remedies for taming Outer’s cluttering behavior.  They take you step by step.  To increase your incentive to follow through, you can build these remedies into your dialogues as action steps.

I’m going to share some techniques I have collected from hoarding experts, but I’ll begin with two tips of my own that can help you overcome one of the biggest obstacles to getting started:  all-or-nothing thinking, as in “My to do list is too long, I can’t do it all, so what’s the point of even trying?”  

Overcoming All-or-Nothing Thinking

The thought of having mountains of clutter can be paralyzing if you start by thinking it’s all got to happen in one fell swoop.  Perhaps you’ve been stuck there for a long time, just letting things collect.  Let’s put that kind of thinking aside.  The first tip comes from my mother who taught me a policy she called ‘first things first.’  It means that if you’re all set to enjoy something – getting a snack from the refrigerator, running to the mall, or calling a friend – use it as an incentive to first get one small thing done on your to do list.  Use the snack as a reward.  With first things first, you call to schedule your mammogram, then call your friend as a reward.  First empty the garbage, then go to the mall.  First pay the water bill, then leaf through your favorite catalogue.  As first things first becomes a habit, your life gets ordered and you have more time to enjoy its little rewards guilt free and with greater consciousness.

The second technique I call the ‘Just 10 Things Rule.’ This technique helps you break down what might seem like a superhuman task.  When you’re faced with monstrous clutter, rather than let it overwhelm you, take a reasonable number of baby steps toward your goal a few minutes at a time. Say you had a party and your house is a disaster area. Just pick up ten dishes.  If you create a little momentum along the way and wind up doing more, fine.  And when you run out of steam, stop.  Next time you approach the mess, pick up ten wine glasses.  Rest easy knowing the task will eventually get done, ten things at a time.

Of course ten isn’t a magic number.  Think of a task and decide on the number of baby steps you want to take at a time.  If you have clothes piled up all over your bedroom, just put away three things.  Clean jeans go in the drawer, dirty shirt in the hamper, shoes on the rack.  Next time put away three more things, or ratchet it up to five if you feel like it.

These two tools are effective in using small action steps to create momentum – whether your house is a just a little messy or you have stacks and piles that take over your entire living space.

Categories: Outer Child

The Pied Piper of Abandonment

July 20, 2011 4 comments

Most of the time I feel like the Pied Piper of abandonment. Thousands of people have written their painful and agonizing abandonment scenarios to me through, Facebook and now through this blog.

You’d think that over the years I would grow immune to feeling empathy for the pain they describe, but I read these things with amazement about our human capacity to feel life so very painfully.

There were three writers who knocked my socks off, and they represent three types of abandonment.

The first was Terisa who is fully attached and to a guy who wants to see her frequently but doesn’t want to consider her a girlfriend (he’s waiting for someone to fall madly in love with instead). She doesn’t understand why she stays so stuck on someone who only offers her heartache.

The answer is that she has entered into a “traumatic bond” with him. As paradoxical as it sounds, the more pain someone causes you, the more attached you feel. College fraternities understand this as does the military: The harsher the training and “pledging” the stronger the loyalty and bond.

This guy’s constantly pulling away from Terisa only sinks his hook in deeper. The same is true when you’re married to someone who keeps falling off the wagon, or keeps shutting you out, or keeps putting you down. The intermittent reinforcement causes you to cling more rather than let go.

What to do when you are traumatically bonded to someone? The first step is to recognize it and the second step is to treat it as an addiction, which means to get help. Don’t underestimate the power of the situation, and meet it with full force, which often involves full abstinence – and lots of support from others.

Then we come to Boomie whose husband has decided he doesn’t want to stay married any longer – but, and here is the clincher – he wants his family to remain intact – as well as to remain really great friends with his now heartbroken wife – and to get together for family outings to dinner and the movies.

This means that he wants all of the benefits of the marriage, but not the commitment part. Nothing is more deleterious for a woman’s self-image than to see her love as the only thing scraped from the program. Furthermore, it means that he doesn’t have to experience any loss at all, since he can still use his wife and family as his “background object” which will only make him more secure and more empowered to go on about his single business, no longer encumbered by the bonds of marriage.

Imagine the traumatic bond this sets up for Boomie to get snarled in. And imagine her chronic abandonment pain as this scenario plays out.

One can’t give advice in these situations, but I bet a lot of readers wish that she’d tell him that he can’t have his cake and eat it to – it’s either stay married, or accept a period of complete emotional separation from her.

If she’s like a lot of heartbroken spouses, she will most likely become so emotionally starved, that she will be willing to accept any crumbs, albeit friendship crumbs, he is willing to throw her way.

As for Jane Doe, her abandonment pain is excruciating because she tossed someone aside and then later changed her mind, only to find out that the tables had turned and that he was now knee deep in a new romance. She can’t let go of the need to fix what she broke and hound this guy for a second chance.

What makes her situation more desperate is that her beloved father died in the midst of all of this, and I’ve come to understand how bereavement interfaces with abandonment. The finality of someone’s death makes the need to restore a connection that is broken even greater. This guy isn’t dead, he’s just withholding himself. Someone recently bereaved will have a hard time giving up – because it means going back to that awful feeling of “never coming back.”

Reading these people’s situations brings me to a full stop. It reminds me what has motivated me to do all of the book-writing and letter-answering that I have done over the years.