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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.

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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.

Abandonment and Outer Child

January 19, 2011 1 comment

Abandonment has everything to do with Outer Child patterns – how they developed and how to overcome them.

If you want to overcome your most deeply entrenched self-defeating patterns, you must heal your abandonment wounds.

No, you don’t need 500 hours of psychoanalysis. You just need to learn how to use the program’s power tools – easy-to-perform exercises that you incorporate into your daily life. They are like physical therapy for the brain. As you practice them, you see change – and heal from the inside out.

I developed Outer Child (along with fellow psychotherapist Peter Yelton ACSW) when I was writing my first book on abandonment, looking for ways to help people overcome the aftermath of heartbreak and loss – those pesky patterns of behavior that interfere in our relationships.

Outer Child’s strong connection to abandonment is because most of Outer’s patterns were born during earlier times of loss, rejection, hurt, disappointment, self-doubt, disconnection – in short – abandonment. Outer’s primary role is defending (over-defensively) against the insecurity and fear seeping out of your old wounds. In fact, our most automatic, knee-jerk defense mechanisms, especially the maladaptive ones, are driven by abandonment fear.

This subliminal but ever-present fear not only triggers Outer to act out in our love relationships, but the residual insecurity causes Outer to take everything to the extreme – sleeping, watching TV, drinking, spending money, cluttering, procrastinating. For example, hoarders report that what motivates them to surround themselves with so much stuff is the subliminal fear that they’ll be left all alone with nothing and no one to care about them.

Learn more about abandoholism – the infamous Outer Child pattern of being attracted only to the available. Pre-order TAMING YOUR OUTER CHILD: A Revolutionary Program to Overcome Self-Defeating Patterns

When We Try To Move Relationships Forward, And It Goes Backwards

October 4, 2010 1 comment

I’ve gotten a lot of messages lately about relationships going out of whack. One minute you’re in sync and the next, one is pulling away, and the other is feeling abandoned.

It makes me appreciate the fact that the most important commodity in a relationship is mutuality. Mutuality is precious. Once someone “wants more” from the other person, it can tip the balance of power.

Sometimes it HELPS rather than HURTS a relationship when someone nudges the other to move forward. The “nudger” becomes the “emotional leader” who possesses the courage, vision, and sense of security to risk taking the first step toward. The other person takes your lead, falls in line.

But things can backfire: When one person “pressures” the other, it can cause push/pull dynamics to set in. The relationship goes on a tailspin. The one who holds back becomes the more powerful. The one who wants more is perceived as “needy” and loses power. It’s just the way it works. And it’s extremely common.

There are so many different scenarios, but here is one example. Let’s says “Sarah” is living with “Bob,” but doesn’t consider him “the one.” He’s good enough to be “exclusive” with, but not quite on par to marry. She thinks there still might be “Mr. Right” out there. So she’s happy for now because Bob is her security blanket and keeps the boogey man (fear of being alone) away, but she isn’t wholeheartedly committed. She’s still shopping.

This arrangement works out fine as long as Bob feels the same way about Sarah. The two can take each other for granted and fantasize abut meeting other people, and in the meantime enjoy the mutuality, safety, and security the relationships affords.

And of course this can go on indefinitely and even wind up with them staying together forever – because they can grow deeply attached and inured toward one another, due to the longevity of the relationship coupled with their own maturity.

But what if earlier on, Bob sees Sarah as “the one” and wants to get married? And what if Sarah feels pressured and guilty and “responsible for Bob’s feelings?” Now the mutuality is threatened. Sarah feels even less “challenged” than before, and Bob feels more insecure than before. The balance of power shifts, tension mounts, everyone’s respective emotional positions get exaggerated.

To restore equanimity in this relationship-gone-askew (assuming he wants to stay), Bob’s best maneuver is to try to turn the tables. This would involve his ability to make an enormous leap: It involves his ability to take complete responsibility for his own emotional wellbeing, and stop placing his needs at Sarah’s feet. We’re talking here about Radical Responsibility.

Radical Responsibility means that Bob must go to the extreme of expressing GRATITUDE toward Sarah for acting as a spur to get him to achieve a new level of emotional self-reliance and self-appreciation. He must thank her for prompting him to take stock of his own personal strengths and reaching his potential.

Radical Responsibility also means that he must empathize with her about how uncomfortable and guilty his “pressure” must have made her feel – how it must have made her feel cheated of the mutual relationship she thought she had. And what’s most radical of all, he must mean it.

This communication takes the pressure off, restores mutuality (each are getting what they need/want) but it involves Bob’s ability to take that leap.

There is nothing wrong with openly expressing your needs and wants within a relationship (i.e. getting married), telling your partner exactly how you feel, what you hope to get, what you would like, etc., but it’s when you lay these needs at the other person’s feet, that the relationship can spin out of control.

Very often one will have stronger feelings than the other, but these feelings can be openly discussed. Very often one is looking for commitment and your partner is commitment phobic, but you can openly discuss these issues, as long as you don’t hold your partner responsible for what you want – as long as you don’t expect him or her to feel differently, change, or gratify your needs.

When you’re in one of these unbalanced relationships, all of the responsibility is on your side of the equation. It’s how you handle your needs and feelings that will make the difference.

And if it tips out of control and you lose power (your partner becomes a source of anxiety and obsession), you can get your power back by taking Radical Responsibility – taking complete care of your own wellbeing and calmly discussing your desires with your partner without aiming your emotional suction cups at him or her. This will make you the emotional leader of the relationship and gain you many points. But “points” can’t be your motivation: Learning emotional self-reliance is its own reward.

The options are obvious. You can either continue the relationship. Or you can go out and find one that more closely resembles what you are looking for.

My Insecurity Drives Him Away

September 20, 2010 Leave a comment

When I give a workshop, the hottest issue people share about is the pattern of driving their lovers away due to their insecurity.

How many times have I heard: “They love me at first….until my intensity drives them away.”

As common a pattern as this is, the people struggling with in feel quite isolated. They feel they are in an abandonment box of their own making. They feel freakish for having this problem. They feel weak, unfit to be in a relationship. It’s such a painful pattern, and there are thousands of people out there suffering through it.

Insecurity creates such a disastrous dynamic in a relationship. It gives our power to our partners. It takes the mutuality out of the equation. It makes us overreact and over-need. Insecurity makes us want too much too fast. It gets us in over our heads. It causes us to aim our emotional suction cups at our partners. It makes us feel less about ourselves and our partners feel less about us. Feeling insecure and driving our partners away leads to self-loathing.

The first step is to stop beating ourselves up. Emotions are given. We can’t just switch them off, try as we might. We know our insecurity is turning the other person off, but we can’t just grab a magic dial and turn down the fear. We’d sure like to, at least in time to save the relationship, but we can’t just will our feelings away.

We need to DEAL with these feelings and there is a lot we can do to regain our balance. It begins when we end the protest.

Ending the protest means acceptance of the reality that we are responsible for our own emotional wellbeing. This is an enormous leap, and one I’ve written a great deal about in previous books, articles, blogs, etc.

If our neediness and insecurity are creating problems in our relationships, we have to realize that becoming emotionally self-assured is the only way to go – and what better time to learn this than right now, right in the midst of an insecurity crisis, where we are obsessed over our partner response toward us.

It’s important for people to understand that these emotional issues we’re struggling with are not due to any inherent weakness on our parts – they are most likely due to historic events that emotionally conditioned us to respond with fear. This emotionally conditioned response is quite involuntary – locked into our mammalian brains. The intense insecurity, neediness, fear, panic – these are not our faults, but since we’re plagued with them, we are responsible for “fixing” them.

I want to preach this from the rooftops, because people need to stop beating themselves up and instead take this leap to self-reliance. The alternatives are just too painful: Either to get caught up in patterns of constant re-abandonment (abandoholism) or avoid relationships altogether (abandophobism) in order to remove ourselves from the intense anxiety.

One thing about fear: rather than dissipate, it incubates over time. So if you just avoid the fear-causing situation (i.e. relationship), you are not healing the fear, you are allowing it to increase. This means that it will be right there, with an even stronger punch the next time you attempt to be with someone.

No, the only positive option is to use your insecurity as an opportunity to become emotionally self-reliant. This involves radical acceptance of your separateness as an individual. You must stop laying your need for security and reassurance at the feet of your partner and do all of that for yourself.

This is what motivated me to write my book BLACK SWAN as well as the others – because we feel so helpless and hopeless when we’re going through something like this, but it is the most amazingly beneficial opportunity we could ever have, if we know how to make this leap to emotional self-reliance. And very often we can do it in time to save the relationship.

When You’ve Loved and Lost – What to do with all the Love?

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Someone writing into my website asked a penetrating, thoughtful question:

“Dear Susan, In your chapter on Transcending, we learn about the `Higher Purpose of Love.’ “Is the Higher Purpose of Love, in general, that which is more than just wanting to be loved by someone special?”

The answer, of course, is Yes, but what is implicit in the question is: How on earth do you DO that? How do you take love so intense that it burns a hole in your heart – love for a person who wants no part of you – and convert this yearning, burning love into the “higher purpose” kind?

Surviving a Mortal Wound
The answer to the question may be “Yes” but giving that answer automatically breaks empathy with the person going through heartbreak because it becomes one of those easier said than done aphorisms. When you’re aching for someone who’s abandoned you, hearing a simplistic prescription makes you feel even more helpless and isolated. You’re struggling to survive what feels like a mortal wound, certainly not feeling emotionally prepared to snap your fingers and become an enlightened swami.

Back up. Wait a minute. Simplistic, extreme, radical, outlandish, yes. But when you take a moment to stop protesting the awful reality of being left, you get in touch with a strength you didn’t know you had – a strength that allows you, at least for a moment, to ‘face life on life’s terms.’

Protesting is a Universal Stage of Grief
Protesting is a universal stage of grief. It’s something we all go through and some of us are feistier and more stubborn about it than others. The truth is that protesting a loss doesn’t change its reality and only perpetuates the pain.

Trying to Change the Unchangeable?
When you catch yourself railing against the reality of your situation – digging in your heels to ward off having to accept what’s happened – and realize how futile your efforts are, you get in touch with your ability to calmly face facts and ask yourself what choice you really have. You can either continue gnashing your teeth and wringing your hands or you can use the same energy to Rise To The Occasion. What occasion? The occasion of taking the love that is bursting out of your heart for someone you have lost– love that has no place else to go – and convert it into the kind of love you can give to yourself and the world around you. This love is a transforming kind of love – a generalized, self-empowering kind of love that isn’t for one special person, that just IS.

This is love that you will first give to yourself as you would an oxygen mask on an airplane, and then bestow its life-saving sustenance on your loved ones.

How to Begin the Process
Converting love for an ex into love for oneself becomes possible only when you begin facing (and stop protesting) the simple, but painful reality that you no longer have that person to focus your love on. Who else but yourself to make the object of your love? This self-love thing is probably long overdue for you, anyway. You’re handy, that’s for sure – and most likely have nothing better to do emotionally. When you get the self-love thing going, it gives you a new beginning. As your self-love gains momentum, it automatically spreads to others.

To Be Continued…tune in tomorrow.

The Push/Pull in Relationships

August 3, 2010 1 comment

I’ve had several people write to me about the push/pull dynamics in their love relationships.

I’ve experienced this dynamic myself. I can remember in an early relationship, I wanted more from my boyfriend. We were in college and other women were interested in him, and he had not made me feel as if “he only had eyes for me.” I wasn’t sure that he was the committed type who could ignore other possibilities. So the stronger I felt about him, the less I trusted him. It wasn’t him, it was me.

I knew that if I acted too needy, that would be the kiss of death – so I acted the opposite. The more madly in love with him I felt, the more I tried to play “hard-to-get.”

To this day, I think he read right through it. But we certainly never could get the relationship to the “safety zone.” I was too busy playing games and feeling needy and desperate for a love-fix from him.

When someone withholds what we want from them – love, sex, affection (or if we perceive a possible threat to their love for us), it increases our neediness for them.

When we feel secure and all or most of our needs are reasonably met, we are generally able to function quite independently – as long as we know that our loved one is feeling pretty much the same way about us as we feel about them. That there is a mutual pull toward each other.

Under these secure conditions, we don’t have to be reassured every five minutes. We can go about our independent business – get together with other friends, take care of personal business – confidently knowing that they are there for us somewhere in the background. We feel empowered by this sense of security.

When we feel secure like this, our loved one becomes our “background object.” It is at this point that it is easy for us to take them for granted. But if we know anything about the creative process of love, we will not let this happen, and we will nourish this relationship with loving deeds and intimate moments – to keep the relationship alive and thriving.

But when the person we love doesn’t seem to (or we perceive it that way) want us as much as we want them, we lose that sense of security and our needs for reassurance for them intensify. This is when push/pull dynamics set in.

What to do? Recognize that push/pull never works, it only intensifies unequal positions on both ends. Instead pursue mutuality. Remain symmetrical with the other person. Or if we are truly being neglected, we need to get out so that we can find someone else to have a mutual relationship with.