Millions of people are caught up in cycles of abandonment. Why do they keep repeating the same patterns over and over and what can they do to break free?

One common pattern I call “abandoholism.” You’re alone and unfulfilled because you keep pursuing unavailable partners. When someone comes along who is genuinely interested, you suddenly feel turned off and push him or her away. See

If you’re abandoholic, you’re only attracted to the “hard to get.” You’ve become addicted to the high stakes drama of unrequited love. If he or she isn’t an emotional challenge, you lose interest. During relationships, you are never completely sure of the person. Sometimes you remain on the precipice of abandonment, strung out on insecurity and fear, feeling like a junky in need of a fix – a love fix.

As painful as this rollercoaster is, you avoid relationships with “nice guys.” The bottom line is that unless the person arouses emotional hunger and kicks up your fear of abandonment, you don’t feel any chemistry. Insecurity has become your favorite aphrodisiac.

Another common pattern is something I call “love-challenged,” a close cousin to abandoholism. If you’ve ever been with a person who is love-challenged, you will recognize this pattern right away. He or she treats you wonderfully when the relationship is new and the connection is tentative. But as soon as you become attached to him or her and desire to move forward, your partner suddenly pulls back.

If you are the one who is love-challenged, it means that you have difficulty participating in a caring, sharing commitment, but you don’t realize you have this deficiency because you blame your lack of interest on your partner’s deficits. You only feel turned on when you are in pursuit of hot new love. You can only tolerate a relationship when you feel infatuated. Infatuation medicates you from an empty, love-starved part – a love part that is shut down.

Being love-challenged is very difficult to self-diagnose, because it is easy to disguise the problem by telling yourself that you just haven’t met the right person. When your feelings shut down, you assume it has to do with inadequacies or other factors involving the other person. It’s hard to see that the inadequacy lies within yourself.

How did you become abandoholic? Why are you love-challenged?

Unresolved abandonment issues stemming from childhood loses, your relationships to your parents, and teenage heartbreaks may have conditioned you to equate insecurity with love. You only recognize love when your old emotional circuits of neediness and deprivation light up.

You’re love wires have become crossed. When you’re attracted to someone your fear of abandonment sets in. When someone likes you, your circuits don’t light up, and your fear of engulfment kicks in. Anything in-between fails to register on your emotional scale.

How do we break out of these patterns?

Step 1: Recognize that you have this problem, an enormous step. It takes rigorous honesty to admit to yourself that even if the right person came alone, unless he or she made you feel that old emotional hunger, you wouldn’t feel attracted.

Step 2: Face how futile it is to go through life being attracted only to unavailable people and feeling “engulfed” by people who are genuinely available. Owning up to the pattern will create a turning point in your life.

Step 3: Recognize that you are not alone in being alone. Millions of people like you are caught up in patterns that bar them from love. In our culture, the problem is epidemic.

Step 4: Be determined to break your pattern. Determination is absolutely necessary because breaking a vicious cycle like this one involves making significant internal changes. There is a way out, but insight alone won’t change it. You have to actively work on change.

Step 5: To keep you on track, consider seeking help from an abandonment workshop or ongoing support group (see or find a a fellow abandonmate. Friends and sponsors can help. If your struggle seems like an uphill battle, seek help from professional counseling. Writing in a journal helps also. Be rigorously honest with yourself and others.

Step 6: The changes you need to make begin with reevaluating your old belief system. Many of your values about who is a “good catch” are left over from high school. These outdated romantic ideals fail to recognize what mutual love is all about and what kind of mate is capable of it.

Step 7: Redefine what love is all about. Mature love involves, not constantly pursuing hard-to-get lovers, but reciprocal caring, trust, respect, sharing, and commitment. Seek not romance, but relationship. Your task is to find a good, caring, realistic person.

Step 8: Once you identify your faulty values, you must work diligently to discard them. They have become deeply ingrained emotional habits, so you must challenge them actively in your journal, discussions with others, and in your everyday life.

Step 9: Be realistic. Change won’t happen overnight. You’re body is conditioned to feel turned on only when you feel insecure; otherwise you sexually and romantically shut down. Remember that your body’s love wires are crossed. You have temporarily lost your capacity to appreciate mutual attachment. It takes time to retrain yourself to respond to new cues and to coax your body into cooperation.

Step 10: What to do when you slip back into the pattern? Recognize that growth is always slow, steady, and sporadic. Understand what causes you to be attracted to the unavailable, recognize the futility of this cycle, and summon the will to change it. Be willing to stay the course. Your first commitment is to yourself.

Remain open to your own truth. Being rigorously honest with yourself and significant others helps your higher self to emerge – a higher self who is no longer willing to remain stuck in this pattern.

Only you can uncross those wires. Reexamine your values, challenge your old beliefs and relearn how to love. More on abandoholism:

Susan Anderson © November 5, 2013

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  1. Penelope Glass says:

    This is great. My partner is available and I wanted to push him away because I have been in relationships with ex husband for 24 years who was unavailable and I was comfortable with him because that fed my illness. Thank you

  2. Lisa says:

    Wait. What about the opposite end of this spectrum – the person who is dumped because they no longer seem very interesting – over and over and over

  3. Kim says:

    Also – I have dated emotionally unavailable men but at the time didnt realize they were. My ex husband had a drinking problem (cant be available when you have that problem) and a guy I dated in college came back around and was newly seperated and going through a divorce. My problem is I dont date at all or let anyone in now and havent for years. Does that make me unavailable too?

  4. Rebecca Ynfante says:

    I alone hope to help my wife out before it to late

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