Posts Tagged ‘self-esteem’

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.

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


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.

Where Did My Self-Doubt Come From?

Abandonment vs. the Self
Some people want to understand why: Why do they doubt themselves? Why is their self-esteem eroded? Why does it hurt so much to be abandoned? To not be accepted? To feel slighted by a friend? How did this vulnerability set in? What caused it? What keeps it going?

The simple answer is “unresolved abandonment,” but to really understand the whys and wherefores, we have to go back – all the way back to the primal fear of abandonment.

When we were babies, we cried in terror when Mommy walked away from the crib, afraid she was never coming back. Our survival instinct was at the heart the scream. She was our survival lifeline. Babies, after all, can’t survive on their own.

Then as we developed from babies to children, we began to ask how we could COMPEL our caretakers to continue loving us, nurturing us, and taking care of us. The issue for us became “control.” We needed to feel that we weren’t just helpless recipients our parents’ aid, but that rather, there were things we could DO to enhance our chances (and to prevent them from leaving us and never coming back).

We played peek-a-boo to prove that we could make them re-appear at our own whim. As we developed a little more, we practiced gaining their attention, getting them to pick us up, getting them to laugh, smile, hold us, administer to our needs and wants.

During childhood we felt the ebb and flow of our relationship with our parents. They might be busy at times. There might be other siblings. There might be illnesses, alcoholism, divorces, neglect, abuse, etc. Rather than leave it up to the whims and proclivities of our parents who had lives of their own, we developed all kinds of behaviors to try to COMPEL them to continue taking care of us and loving us.

So some of us became people-pleasers; others learned to stand up for ourselves; some learned how to “get attention” even if it is negative attention; others learned the art of invisibility; some learned how to intimidate and demand; others learned how to grow numb, not care, self-sooth. These behaviors took us out of the passive role and gave us an active role in mediating the connection with our parents.

So, our sense of self-worth (our ability to compel the love and attention from others) is at the root of the survival instinct, a survival that continued to be dependent upon our caretakers until we were old enough to take care of ourselves.

At the age of independence, we transferred the need to compel others onto our peers (and especially onto our love-connections).

When, as adults, we feel someone’s love or acceptance slipping away, our most primitive self-doubts erupt. Our deepest fear explodes in our faces – that someone could leave us and never come back. And this fear is complicated by the fact that it’s tied to our sense of self-worth. As the person breaks away from us, we feel at loss of our ability to compel him or her to want to be with us.

We fell as if we are living our worst nightmare – that of being left because we are unworthy. Hence, these episodes of being slighted by a friend, ignored by a teacher, overlooked by a boss, and especially rejected by a lover – have the capacity to erode self esteem and implant self-doubt.

Repairing the damaged sense of self-worth from cumulative abandonment wounds which have been festering since childhood, begins with understanding the dynamics of what has happened. But that is only the beginning and there are tools (which are the subject of my books) to rebuild a sense of self which is invincible and which can never again be taken away from you by someone else.

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.

Rejection Hurts: What to Do?

August 27, 2010 1 comment

When someone rejects you they acquire power in your mind. They acquire power due to their ability to inflict pain. The more they hurt you the harder it is to let go. This is the painful paradox of abandonment.

“Why does it take so long to get over it?” people ask. Those suffering from rejection judge themselves harshly for not being able to feel better sooner. They beat themselves up for feeling so weak and needy. They feel this so called “weakness” is proving their abandoner right for rejecting them.

People going through abandonment lose self-esteem this way. They beat themselves up for losing the person. They conclude that they must be reject able, valueless, unworthy. They shame themselves for pining and yearning and wanting someone who has hurt them so badly.

They turn the rage over being rejected against themselves, beating themselves up, causing themselves to plummet into a painful depression, damaging their self-esteem further. Having disqualified themselves as worthy of love, they are panicked over fearing that they will wind up dieing alone. The anxiety seems unbearable and bottomless.

That’s why abandonment grief feels like a terminal illness. People are afraid they will die of their wounds – that is, die anxious, worthless, and alone. Whew, a painful depression! And it lags on.

What to do:

First and foremost, stop berating yourself for feeling so miserable – and for the length of time it is taking you to get over it. It’s only in the movies that people recover so quickly. It’s only in the movies that people just get mad, burn their ex’s clothes, and walk away triumphant. In real life, people pine away for long periods of time, but they are too ashamed to admit to most people. So when it happens to you, you think you’re taking too long, but this ongoing pain is how men and women alike react to rejection.

Second: Rejection is a painful laceration that takes time and effort to heal. You must replace your ex with a love of your wounded inner child. Treat your hurt feelings not with self-criticism, but as a cherished child that it is your new job to take exquisite care of. Physician, tend thy own wound.

Third: Getting over someone is all about time management. Recognize that this is your full time job. Time management is pain management. Discover what things help you the most and do them more. What parts of the day are the most painful? Plan them differently. Your new priority is time management and it involves creativity and taking initiative.

Fourth: Get into therapy or support groups or both. Abandonment opens you up to the core. It’s like exploratory surgery – but now that your chest cavity has been splayed wide open, why not go in and clean up the wound. Question some of your false assumptions about yourself and your life. Do your emotional spring cleaning.

Fifth: Use your friends. Yes, I know, the heartbreak has dragged on so long, they are sick of listening to you. You can tell because they’re beginning to say things like “You need to let go and move forward,” not taking into account the fact that you are already doing everything in your power to let go and move forward, but you just can’t. You’re miserably stuck, which is the whole POINT they’re missing.

Never mind, just ask them for patience and forbearance. Explain that you need their companionship, you need to talk, you need more support. Explain that you’ll be there for them when they need you. If you’ve been a good friend to them over the years, they owe you one already.

Sixth: Add new things into your life. Enlarge your circle of friends and activities. Explore your alter ego states. Again this involves creativity and taking initiative. You have to join new things, especially activities where you will be around other people.

Seventh: Re-acquaint yourself with old friends and family. This is reunion time. You can tell them all about the breakup and the transitional period this has thrust you into. Tell them you are reconnecting your past with your present and want to meet up with them to reconnect. This has a wonderfully healing impact

Eighth: Go on a self-improvement plan. Some people go to pot. They let themselves go. Do the opposite of that. Become your best self. Join a gym, take up jogging, yoga, philanthropy, journaling, go back to school, move, change jobs, etc.

Ninth: Be determined to turn this painful period into a positive experience. As a result of your efforts you become your higher self.

Tenth: As our higher self emerges, consider making new love connections again. This time, however, look for partners who are more emotionally safe to attach to. And don’t clamp on to anyone at first. Take your time, play the field, lead from your newly acquired wisdom rather than your old patterns.

Do You Prefer Immediate Gratification to Accomplishment?

You mean I have to make a choice? Yes, usually.

So many of us have dreams, hopes, and goals but we keep going in circles instead of taking productive steps toward achieving them. As time goes on, they seem to slip further and further into the distance. At some point they seem all but lost – lost dreams, lost hopes, lost goals.

This doesn’t have to be. Deconstruct it. You will find Immediate Gratification as the nemesis.

Immediate Gratification is a self esteem issue. People who hold their hopes and dreams as important (self-important) and themselves as capable (self-confident) are the ones who find the strength to overcome their need for Immediate Gratification and take the necessary steps to tackle their goals.

What caused your self-importance and self-confidence to erode and your goals to slip further into dreamland in the first place?

The underlying source is unresolved abandonment. Abandonment is a cumulative wound that contains all of the losses, slights, rejections, and disappointments from childhood and beyond. This primal wound is located deep within the self (where our most tender feelings reside) where it festers from within to interfere in our relationships and our lives.

The abandonment wound silently emits a dense emotional gas that stupefies our sensibilities about our own human potential and the direction in which we are taking our lives.

This is why I’m always advocating abandonment recovery. In adulthood, the only real abandonment is self-abandonment. A huge component of healing the primal abandonment wound is recognizing the ways in which Immediate Gratification has caused us to abandon our hopes and dreams. Recovery involves overcoming the self-sabotage. I’m always saying it – there are no magic bullets with this primal wound. Abandonment recovery involves action.

You mean I have to give up my beloved buttered toast every morning to stay in shape? That one’s a no brainer, Usually Immediate Gratification is a more subtle saboteur.

Take a personal example from my own life. I’d like to practice learning French (it would be good brain training) (it would make travel more enjoyable). I already know a few (very few) preliminaries of French, but my vocabulary is weak. I know something simple I could do to learn French, but I don’t seem to get to it: What would really work (with my insane schedule) would be to create a daily regimen (first thing in the morning) in which I write one sentence in French every day, incorporating new vocabulary words (never mind the grammar). Think of how much more proficient I’d be in a year – 365 sentences later.


First thing in the morning, I’ve gotten into the habit of walking to a local coffee shop and reading the newspaper – far removed from my French dictionary and Journal.

I keep postponing the French sentence in favor of experiencing the passive pleasure of leafing through the paper. This thing has become such a habit, it’s functioning more like a ritual or an addiction than a chosen pastime.

At any rate, I’m very aware that I could write the French sentence first and then take the walk. So why haven’t I done it? Because I haven’t been able to postpone my need for Immediate Gratification. So you see, I’ve been preferring Immediate Gratification to accomplishment.

Spelling it out like this makes my own example sound extremely obvious and insignificant – but these little things add up, and before we know it, we are awash in unrealized hopes and dreams.

Believe me, this stuff is so easy to rationalize, that I rarely think about my plan to write a daily French sentence when I’m rushing out the door first thing to take my walk.

In fact, it only occurred to me this morning (at the coffee shop, having finished the paper) – that this is an example of preferring Immediate Gratification to Accomplishment. It is only this minute that I realize how little (beyond pleasure) I gain from the paper, and how much I would gain from becoming more proficient in French – and that one is interfering with the other.

So, having come out of denial, I can finally see the issues at play. Now I have a plan to fix this.

Identifying our abandoned goals in a group is a high energy activity in my workshops. They members feed off each other—and everyone’s resolve gets stronger and stronger. The excitement hits the roof as they begin creating their own individual plans. You can just see the newfound hope and the bright futures– all of these little forsaken dreams and goals getting taken care of.

Yes, working toward your goals reverses self-abandonment and helps to heal the primal wound.

To achieve a goal, you probably have to borrow the time and energy from something you’re currently doing – some passive pleasure to which you’ve become habituated (addicted). What might that be? What do you need to postpone for a few minutes or an hour longer every day in order to work systematically toward a goal? Your habit of watching television? Napping? Sleeping late? Eating? Talking on the phone?

You can still have your pleasures. Just don’t be a slave to Immediate Gratification to the extent that you are self-indulgent instead of self-nurturing. Make a choice.