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Posts Tagged ‘pain’

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 http://www.abandonment.net, 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.

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Riding High on the Rebound

November 22, 2010 1 comment

Being on the rebound can be healing.

Self help wisdom isn’t inline with this idea. Its consensus is that after having experienced a painful breakup, you should wait until you’re healed to start a new relationship.

It goes on to suggest that if you become an emotional wreck during the early trials of a new relationship – i.e. if you feel insecure and tend to overreact if s/he doesn’t call exactly on time – that your heightened vulnerability is proof that you’re not ready.

Wrong. If you waited 10 years or even 20 to start the next relationship, you might have to struggle with the same feelings. Why? Because time doesn’t heal the fear stored up inside of you from going through abandonment. Instead, according to scientific research, fear incubates over time. It’s the nature of trauma and the post traumatic reaction that most people get when they’ve suffered abandonment.

Fear incubates over time? Does that mean that by waiting to make a new connection, your apprehensiveness can get worse? Yes, that’s what it means.

So the key is to get back up on the horse as soon as you reasonably can. The longer you wait, the more barriers your incubating fears are likely to erect. These barriers can make it awkward to be with a new person. You can become avoidant. Closed-off.

If you’re going to get back out there sooner rather than later, the trick is to keep your wits about you. Yes, go ahead and seek new connections. Depending upon the length and intensity of your previous relationship, this can mean to start looking within 6 months to a year. But don’t clamp on. Don’t become attached to the first person who throws you a life raft.

Don’t clamp on? How do you avoid getting involved when you’re feeling so needy, lonely, and desperate?

Ah, that’s where the healing power is. You meet new people, all the while working on your maintaining your boundaries, adhering to your personal program of emotional self-reliance, performing the work (exquisite self-love) of abandonment recovery.

How else but in a new relationship can you work through all of the changes you’re undergoing as a result of the soul-searching shake-up of having gone through abandonment?

It’s called practicing. And sometimes, as you meet new people and work through your own issues with them, you meet a real one, and you just can ride high on the rebound. If you don’t meet your ultimate partner, at least you’re keeping your emotional wheels oiled.

INSECURE? TAKE BACK CONTROL!

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.

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. Esalen.org.

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.”

How to Tend Your Own Wound

The biggest turning point of my life came the day I realized that adults cannot be abandoned, they can only abandon themselves.

The love of my life, my best friend, my marital partner of almost 20 years had just abandoned me to be with another woman (out of the blue and without warning) and I was shattered.

I was in pain, terrified of the future, and drowning in self-doubt. But all of this torment was inflicted by self-abandonment. I was an adult, I realized, and I could not be abandoned because I could take care of myself.

Even emotionally? Yes, I had no other choice.

My task was to find a way to nurture this gaping wound that was tearing me apart. This meant that I had to stop my futile effort to “get rid of the pain,” because in doing so, I would be ignoring the wound rather than embracing it. I didn’t want to ignore the sobbing inner child who beheld all of the hurt, fear, and doubt and cried out for love. There was nobody there but me to love this injured child. “Physician, tend thy own wound.”

I learned that once you make the realization that as an adult, you can only abandon yourself, you embark on a whole new journey which begins with connecting to yourself. You finally take responsibility for your life.

You learn to tune into the primal pain of abandonment, rather than defending against it (which is what causes all of the problems). You commence a journey to the center of the self where you discover your connection to the universal core of what it means to be human. You discover your separate self. You adopt yourself. You commit to taking care of that self. As a whole person, you reach out for connection.

Why are we always abandoning one another? Because we are constantly defending against our own abandonment fears. We develop calluses around our wounds to make us numb. We become callused to our own and other people’s pain.

It is not the pain of abandonment, but the fact that we are constantly defending against it that causes us to be destructive to self and others. We constantly ward off abandonment by clinging to partners who aren’t good for us. Or we avoid relationships all together to avoid getting hurt. Or we pursue all the wrong partners and get abandoned over and over again. Or we over-merge with someone, become co-dependent, and lose ourselves. In our constant defense against abandonment, we deny, suppress, and repress our feelings, and what’s more, we displace it onto others.

This is what allows us to hurt one another and grow callused toward the world. This is how our abandonment wound is able to burrow deep within the self where it works insidiously to drain off our self esteem and erode our capacity for connection.

Abandonment brings us to the human condition. It is a humbling experience. Once we learn to have compassion toward ourselves, we stop shaming ourselves for not being able to snap out of the pain and we open up more compassionately to our loved ones and to the world. It is no longer possible to remain aloof, non-committal, numb to the suffering in the world.

When you tune in to administer to your deepest feelings and needs, know that you are moving in the direction, not of self-involvement, but of love and connection. This extends to love for the world and all of its abandoned people.

Journeying to the center of the self is not an end, but a beginning of an increasing compassion and energy output toward the world. If we can slow down global warming, and yet do not come together to take action to prevent it, then we are abandoning ourselves and each other.

We have public examples. Celebrities (i.e. Oprah, Jolie) who reach out to embrace the world are the ones who have journeyed to the center of the self and back. They have stopped defending against their own wounds, and instead have embraced their humanness with humility and self-compassion, and have journeyed back to embrace the world.

They are not Barbie dolls whose feelings and needs were always protected and tended to by doting parents, or who never suffered deprivation, humiliation, shame, betrayal, isolation – abandonment. On the contrary, they had to learn how to rise from the ashes of their own wounds.

The self, if it is to be healthy and thriving, serves as a bridge connecting outward to the world. That is why this process leads to love and a better world.

Trying to Get Over Someone?

August 14, 2010 2 comments

If you are, you might feel like John who wrote into my forum: “Cold, Wet, Miserable, gray day outside and that’s just how I feel on the inside too. Guess we got another visit from the Withdrawal Fairy. Hurts like a Mutha, but I know it’ll pass.”

The “Withdrawal” he is referring to is the second stage of abandonment (Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting), when your body/mind anxiously “searches for the lost object. ” During this stage (which overlaps with the others and can be quite protracted), you feel heartsick. You’re as strung out as a junky, except that instead of craving Heroin, you’re craving a love-fix.
You’re constantly obsessing about your lost love, and it’s so painful and persistent, that you’d do anything to make it stop, only you can’t – the obsession is involuntary and creates real torment.

The good news though, as the writer above mentions, is that this phase passes.

In the meantime though it feels like you’re in permanent hell. People feel ashamed of how awful they feel and how persistent the obsession is – how powerful their abandoner has become in their lives. This shame only makes the withdrawal phase more agonizing, causing us to blame ourselves for being weak. We even wonder if “maybe this is why he left me in the first place!”

When we’re in withdrawal, especially at the beginning, we tend to fall into a game of “lost and found”. We anxiously wait for and “stalk” our lost love maybe we don’t actually follow him or her around (unless we’ve really lost it), but we may drive by his house at night to see if he’s home, check our voice mail 50 times a day, break down and call him, or otherwise try to track his activities. We wonder about his every thought, feeling, and intention. We feel powerless and helpless.

Eventually we stop tracking him or her, but we still don’t feel at peace. We’ve entered a morose period of just feeling lousy. We’re still not free.

So how do we get over someone?

1) We need to validate the fact that abandonment creates an emotional crisis. Just as someone who has received a powerful blow to the stomach, we need to treat ourselves as having incurred a painful wound that requires all of our best self-care. We have broken our emotional ribs. Physician heal thyself. We need to take exquisite care of ourselves.

2) This begins when we stop shaming ourselves – stop questioning our own strength. This love-sickness befalls the most independent people out there. It is not an indication of any shortcomings within ourselves, but just lets us know that we are human – and that we are reacting to a very painful situation. If the tables were turned, our lover would be going through the very same thing.

3) Use this as an opportunity to gain emotional self-reliance. Nobody is going to care about us the way we can care about ourselves (and by now we’ve worn most of our friends out with our obsession, so we’re pretty much on our own). See this painful wound as an opportunity to become self-loving and self-caring. Yes, we learn how to love ourselves from this. The exercises in my book help you actually accomplish this thing called self-love during a time of emotional crisis.

4) Take your abandoner off of the pedestal. Ironically, the more they hurt us, the more we idolize them. The very fact that they caused us so much pain makes us want them more. This paradox is universal, and it taxes the empathy of our friends who say “How could you pine away for someone who treated you so badly?” Yes, it’s a paradox, but they would be doing the same thing if it happened to them. Now is the time to systematically de-elevate your abandoner. You can do this by writing about him or her in your journal with an eye for seeing him as ordinary, human, mortal, flawed (like the rest of us), “not the only one,” not right for you, etc.

5) Re-invest the energy inside of the pain (all of that withdrawal “searching for the lost object” energy) into new activities. Yes, now. You don’t feel like it, but you must do it. You must add new things into your life, make new connections with people, take a self-improvement course, sign up at the gym, ask for a raise, undertake a new daily regimen like daily journaling, or move to a better apartment, etc.

6) Don’t confuse self-love with self-indulgence. The emotional hunger you feel is real, but you must keep it from turning you into an alcoholic, love-aholic, or drama-aholic. You must keep it from ruining your diet, your credit rating, and your future relationships. In caring for yourself, do things that have substantial reward.

7) Start looking for new connections – but vow not to clamp on to any one person (yet). You’re looking for distractions – people to think about and to test your alter egos on, not someone to make a permanent connection to. That will come later.

8) The most important thing to keep in mind is that these efforts involve resolve – hard work and determination will win the race.