Abandonment creates an emotional crisis of such intensity and duration that it mimics a full blown borderline episode. This has caused many a therapist to diagnose borderline personality disorder (BPD) in many a client in the throes of a painful separation. When a client presents with an emotional volcano of abandonment, it is easy to misinterpret it as evidence of serious psychiatric disorder.
Being left by someone you love has the power to bring the strongest and most independent among us to our knees. No matter how stable, self reliant, and mature we are, we can collapse into symbiotic regression where we believe we can’t live without the person. We feel overwhelmed by separation anxiety and demoralized by a complete loss of emotional control. We succumb to primal rage and fear. The panic, severe depression, and other excessive emotions cause us to doubt our own strength. Depending on circumstances, losing a job, a friend, a goal, the love of a child or mate can have similar impact.
Abandonment is a cumulative wound. It contains all of the disappointment, disconnection, rejection, heartache, self-doubt, self-frustration, and shame that our emotional brain has been accumulating since childhood. Feeling rejected and cast off can thrust us into an emotional time warp, unleashing a torrent of primal emotion that seems all out of proportion to the actual event. These primal feelings form the basis of the molten lava that spews from the rock bottom of our emotional core to the freshly opened wound, volcanically consuming us in their power to entirely interrupt our lives, at least during the initial stages of the abandonment grief cycle.
In borderline personality disorder (BPD), it takes a lesser event to trigger an equally painful emotional response, through no fault of the person suffering from this syndrome of emotional dysregulation. This hyper-reactivity is also a cornerstone of PTSD of Abandonment (a category which offers overlapping, alternative etiology and terminology). Neither borderline nor post truamtic reactions are voluntary, yet the sufferer wears guilt and shame for their emotional excesses. Those who’ve been through a painful breakup can truly appreciate the pain both a borderline and trauma victim must deal with on a chronic basis.
Both borderline and trauma are considered, at least in part, a so called “disease” of the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain, the part of the brain responsible for the Fight Flee Freeze response. The amygdala is set on overdrive, primed for a state of emergency, creating chronic hyper-vigilance and emotional hijacking. In spite of overlapping areas, The two conditions, in spite of overlapping features, are not identical. People can have heightened emotional reactivity to abandonment triggers (as part of the post traumatic symptoms) without evincing some of the significant features of borderline such as cutting, reality distortion around emotional events.
But whether your emotional crisis is precipitated by the ending of a relationship, or triggered by the perception (possibly distorted) of being slighted or excluded, or whether it is evidence of an aftershock of post traumatic stress disorder stemming from past or recent losses, the steps to take, beyond seeking outside help (psychiatric, therapeutic, and/or recovery) and support, remains the same:
1) Recognize the emotional hijacking.
2) Know that your emotionally heightened state may warp your perceptions and adversely affect your relationships.
3) Contain your volcanic lava. Cease and desist all destructive actions toward self and others; instead take stock of SELF.
4) Address your inner core. Identify your emotions as you feel them in your body. Know they are but feelings, they are temporary – fleeting as all life is fleeting – and they belong to you in this moment.
5) Actively apply your self-healing tools, i.e. practice mindfulness meditation techniques that help to lower your respiration rate, create calm, and allow your spinning emotional compass to reset.
6) To short-circuit future hijacks, mindfulness needs to become habit-of-mind. Daily practice strengthens the muscle of this health-supporting part of your brain.
7) Use the Big-Little tool to connect with your abandoned inner child. The Abandonment Recovery Workbook can help you facilitate this process step by step. Learn how to administer directly to your inner child’s primal needs so you won’t act them out toward other people, won’t displace your primal rage and fear on them. Commit to practice the Big-Little (one of the five abandonment recovery tools) regularly to make it a habit of mind.
8) Keep tabs on your Outer Child – your self saboteur. During an amygdala hijack, the brain can’t learn new things, so it relies on over-learned (Outer Child) patterns. Now is the time to stay on top of your Outer Child with the aim of curbing its cyclical behavior.
10) Avoid alcohol since it lowers our inhibitions and makes it more difficult to contain the overflow of emotional lava. Alcohol instigates your Outer Child to act out.
9) Chose constructive behaviors. Commit to practice positive daily steps regularly. This helps to create healthy habit formation. The books and workbook are there to guide you. Eventually you replace Outer Child’s self defeating patterns with healthy new ones. Make them habit-of-mind and well as embedding them in your muscle memory.
11) Practice LovingKindness meditation. Scientific evidence shows that when practiced regularly, this type of mediation tool can create permanent beneficial changes in the brain (i.e. changing the right/left ratio in frontal lobe activation) to elevate mood, promote positive thoughts, and increase initiative, and improve stability.
12) Imagine feeling grateful to your emotional crisis for giving you ideal conditions in which to best practice the abandonment recovery tools that help you strengthen your emotional self reliance and increase your capacity for love and connection. Cultivate gratitude. incorporate it into your LovingKindness meditation techniques.
© Susan Anderson June 4 2013
Click here to return to Recent Articles.