Are you on the Abandonment Spectrum? Do you have Symptoms of Abandonment Trauma?

You Don’t Have to Have Post Trauma Stress Disorder of Abandonment to Benefit from Abandonment Recovery tools

© Susan Anderson November 27 2013

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 This article addresses people along the abandonment spectrum and reviews a program of therapy techniques and tools that promote growth and wellbeing and mitigate the impact of PTSD of Abandonment.  

What is an abandonment syndrome?

We all have primal abandonment fear

Everyone has abandonment issues to some degree or other.  The fear of abandonment is primal and universal to human experience, the crux of the human condition. It is what motivates us to seek and build secure relationships and drives us toward personal achievements that make us feel worthy of love and masterful of our fate.  It is what makes us quake when we feel a threat to our connections.

Our first anxiety was in response to separation when we were expelled from our mother’s womb and thrust into a cold and unfamiliar world.  The sensations of birth trauma stay with us as emotional memories which echo throughout life. (See Why are Some People more Prone to Developing PTSD of Abandonment than Others?)

Primal separation anxiety is implanted in the amygdala – site of emotional memory – the brain’s warning system. It primes us to react to events that bear any resemblance to the original birth trauma — namely unwanted or abrupt disconnections.  As infants, when we sensed our mother’s disappearance from the crib side, we cried to bring her back.  As adults, when we sense our love object pull away, we react as if our very lives depend on regaining the connection.

Primal abandonment creates an emotional a platform on which all subsequent separation experiences accumulate.  When we feel left behind or rejected as we go through life, it hearkens back to the emotional memories of our childhood disconnections, tapping into the cumulative wound of primal abandonment.  Our separation experiences have conditioned the amygdala to be on the lookout and automatically alarm us if it senses any further danger to our attachments or sense of self worth.  It alarms us with a fight freeze or flee response when, for instance, we might feel slightly vulnerable at the beginning of a new relationship – in spite of our efforts to remain emotionally laid back.  Instead, we suddenly become inhibited (freeze), agitated (fight) or feel like bolting (flee), which is not how we wanted to react on the third date.

With our amygdalea constantly scanning the environment for danger, we all exhibit some level of emotional response to abandonment triggers.  Seemingly minor events can arouse abandonment feelings in almost everybody.  The raw human nerve of abandonment can jangle if in the course of the day we feel slighted, criticized, excluded, misunderstood, dismissed, overlooked, unappreciated, condescended to, taken for granted, ignored, or belittled.   These responses are within the normal range and can lessen as we mature and can also be remediated through abandonment recovery. 

Abandonment syndrome 

People across the abandonment spectrum include those who are barely conscious of having ‘abandonment issues’ as well as those who contend with intrusive insecurities that can sabotage their relationships and goals, and keep them in cycles of abandonment.

Some have survived traumatic abandonments in childhood or adulthood, and some never experienced a specific abandonment per se (beyond birth trauma). But everyone has experienced the vicissitudes of finding a secure place for ourselves in our social universe. Whether the experiences could be considered “traumatizing” or not, the bumps in the road have conditioned everyone,  strengthening their defenses or weakening them, making them more hypervigilant or more at ease, increasing their self confidence or reducing it, improving their outlook or diminishing it, motivating them to seek lasting attachments or interfering in their ability to do so.

Some people develop greater sensitivity to abandonment triggers than others, depending on one’s childhood history of loss and disconnection, psychobiological endowments, and other factors.  For those least affected, fear of abandonment may not manifest overtly, that is, its intrusive anxiety does not tend to undermine their self confidence, or cause performance anxiety that holds them back from reaching their potential, or plague them with insecurity that wreaks havoc in their love life. But no matter how seemingly impervious to abandonment fear they’ve been in the past, the picture changes abruptly if they go through a major breakup in their primary relationship, especially when rejection plays a part.  If it was their loved one chose to break the bond (and perhaps acquired a new love replacement), it can unleash a torrent of primal emotion, flooding them with feelings they didn’t know they had and are entirely unprepared to cope with.   Thereafter, they may develop an abandonment syndrome in which they feel more vulnerable than before the next time they chance to be in a relationship.

Abandonment syndrome refers to a set of responses, of varying intensity, in reaction to a fear or perception of rejection, criticism, exclusion, or abandonment.  Although some of these responses can overlap with features of post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment, abandonment syndrome is not a diagnosis, but a description of typical human responses to abandonment triggers.

For many people, the abandonment syndrome can manifest as an undercurrent of insecurity and anxiety, an invisible wound that undermines self esteem and goal-achievement from within and leads to a host of self sabotaging patterns.  For some, it becomes an insidious virus invading body mind and soul – an undifferentiated grief often misdiagnosed as depression and medicated with antidepressants or self medicated with people places and things.

In spite of these symptoms, many abandonment survivors lead productive, even stellar, lives, while others find that the chronic anxiety prevents them from fully expressing their talents.  Regardless, the techniques of abandonment recovery promote growth, emotional wellbeing and positive change. The workbook is designed to guide people through this process step by step.

Abandonment recovery 

Abandonment recovery can help everyone. It is a positive program that resolves the underlying universal abandonment wound from our past or present losses and helps us reach our goals for greater life and love.  In overcoming abandonment, we overcome its aftermath of self defeating patterns.  The program is forward-looking consisting of research-based techniques and exercises that are practical and easy to use.

For some of us, primal abandonment is stowed away in the unconscious; for others, we can feel it actively bubbling at the core, but whether we are victims of post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment or simply have garden variety abandonment issues, abandonment recovery provides the ultimate healing – healing from the inside out – it guides us from the primal wound to ultimate growth and change.  Abandonment recovery offers professional and self help methods to abandonment survivors from around the world.  Anyone can benefit from this process.

Abandonment therapy 

Abandonment therapy, integral to the abandonment recovery techniques is a protocol specific to treating abandonment trauma.  It incorporates the psychoanalytic principles of separation therapy and the findings of ongoing studies of mindfulness/compassion training and its impact on the brain, as well as research on the psychobiology of separation, attachment, helplessness, trauma, addiction, social rejection, exclusion, grief; the mechanics of conditioning, habit formation, change, and brain plasticity; and the efficacies of 12 step recovery programs, mindfulness techniques, trauma reduction techniques including EMDR, and cognitive and dialectic behavior therapies.  The research is drawn from the pioneering works of John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Robert Sapolsky, Myron Hofer, Jaak Panskepp, Joseph LeDeux, Bessel Van der Kolk, Bill Wilson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard Davidson, and others.

Primal abandonment fear is not something we get rid of like the flu; it is universal and essential, a vital ingredient in the concoction that motivates us to sustain our human connections and build secure foundations within the self and within our lives.  The techniques of abandonment recovery show us how to embrace this primal force as an essential part of what makes us human and channel it productively.  The program is action-oriented, forward looking and is targeted to incremental emotional and behavioral change.

The Five Phases of Abandonment and recovery 

The techniques of abandonment therapy correspond to the five phases of the abandonment grief and trauma cycle:

  • Shattering is when we experience the painful tear in the dense tissues of our attachment– when we feel our emotional support threatened or torn away. It is primal fear erupting.  The healing protocol for shattering incorporates the findings on mindfulness and LovingKindess meditation studies into an easy to apply method that restores our emotional balance, enhances wellbeing, self-reliance, and self regulation, and whose effects, if practiced regularly and over time, are known to be permanent.
  • Withdrawal is yearning and craving for the lost object, akin to heroin withdrawal.  The protocol for withdrawal is grounded in a separation therapy technique. We build and nurture a significant new relationship with our emotional core, allowing us to directly administer to our oldest, deepest needs and feelings, thereby reversing self-abandonment. The workbook and abandonment recovery workshops held around the country, guide us step by step
  • through this life changing process.

  • Internalizing is when we internalize the rejection – take it personally and interpret it as proof that we are unworthy, a self injurious process that leaves residual damages in self esteem.  The protocol for internalizing involves a mental program that works like physical therapy for the brain which empowers us to increase self confidence, expand our scope, set new goals, and change life direction.
  • Rage is the beleaguered self’s attempt to fight back and reclaim our ego strength.  The protocol for rage involves an awareness tool (Outer Child) and a step by step action plan that effectively overcomes our most deeply entrenched patterns of self sabotage and promotes incremental behavior change.
  • Lifting is when we experience increasing intervals of relief from abandonment’s emotional deluge.  The protocol for lifting involves using love as a substrate to integrate the exercises into a goal promoting program that helps increase our capacity for life and love and reach our goals.

The stages create the acronym SWIRL which describes the cyclonic nature of the grief and trauma cycle.  The phases are overlapping and cyclical, cycles within cycles, representing a fluid process rather than distinct stages.   The exercises work with the attachment energy (which abandonment may have thwarted) at each phase of the cycle, redirecting it for positive growth.  The program threads powerful primal emotions from the past immediately into present activity in a way that promotes incremental emotional and behavioral change.

How to get help with the program

People can get support and how-to guidance in implementing the program through the abandonment recovery books and author-led abandonment recovery workshops and training, as well as through peer-led abandonment support groups, professionals trained in abandonment recovery techniques, Meet-up and Skype groups, online social discussion forums, and and other media.

Abandonment recovery workshops and groups

Abandonment recovery workshops provide a safe, supportive setting of experiential training. Members get to address their individual issues and share their experiences and concerns openly within a supportive group process.  People gain a great deal from one another as well as from didactic materials.  

PTDS of abandonment: 30 characteristics

Why Some People are More Prone to Developing PTSD of abandonment (causes)

Abandonment and Borderline: 12 Helping Tasks for Coping with Emotional Hijacking

How is Abandonment Different from Borderline? Addressing the BPD Stigma and Treatment Choices

Do You Sabotage Your Relationships? Does your Outer Child Ever Act Like a Borderline? 10 Ways to Overcome

Fear of Abandonment: The Dilemma of Insecurity and 10 Ways to Turn it Around

The Five Stages of Abandonment Grief and Recovery

What is unresolved abandonment?

Physical therapy for the brain

How abandonment trauma differs from borderline personality disorder 

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1 comment

  1. Krista says:

    Just wanted you to know the hyperlink for has an error (an extra n) so it does not work.

    Thank you so much for this series of articles, reading with tears in my eyes.

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