The intense emotional crisis of abandonment can create a trauma severe enough to leave an emotional imprint on individuals’ psychobiological functioning, affecting their future choices and responses to rejection, loss, or disconnection. Following an abandonment experience in childhood or adulthood, some people develop a sequela of post traumatic symptoms which share sufficient features with post traumatic stress disorder to be considered a subtype of this diagnostic category.
As with other types of post trauma, the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment range from mild to severe. PTSD of abandonment is a psychobiological condition in which earlier separation traumas interfere with current life. An earmark of this interference is intrusive anxiety which often manifests as a pervasive feeling of insecurity – a primary source of self sabotage in our primary relationships and in achieving long range goals. Another earmark is a tendency to compulsively reenact our abandonment scenarios through repetitive patterns, i.e., abandoholism – being attracted to the unavailable.
Another factor of abandonment post trauma is for victims to be plagued with diminished self esteem and heightened vulnerability within social contexts (including the workplace) which intensifies their need to buttress their flagging ego strength with defense mechanisms which can be automatically discharged and whose intention is to protect the narcissistically injured self from further rejection, criticism, or abandonment. These habituated defenses are often maladaptive to their purpose in that they can create emotional tension and jeopardize our emotional connections.
Victims of abandonment trauma can have emotional flashbacks that flood us with feelings ranging from mild anxiety to intense panic in response to triggers that we may or may not be conscious of. Once our abandonment fear is triggered, it can lead to what Daniel Goleman calls emotional hijacking. During an emotional hijacking, the emotional brain has taken over, leaving its victims feeling a complete loss of control over their own lives, at least momentarily. If emotional hijacking occurs frequently enough, its chronic emotional excesses can lead to self-depreciation and isolation within relationships, as well as give rise to secondary conditions such as chronic depression, anxiety, obsessive thinking, negative narcissism, and addiction.
Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a so called “disease” of the amygdala – the emotional center of the brain responsible for initiating the Fight Flee Freeze response. In PTSD, the amygdala is set on overdrive to keep us in a perpetual state of hyper-vigilance — action-ready to declare a state of emergency should it perceive any threat even vaguely reminiscent of the original trauma. The amygdala, acting as the brain’s warning system, is constantly working to protect (overprotect) us from any possibility of further injury. In the post trauma sequelae related specifically to abandonment, the amygdala scans the environment for potential threats to our attachments or to our sense of self worth.
People with PTSD of abandonment can have heightened emotional responses to abandonment triggers that are often considered insignificant by others. For instance, depending on circumstances, when we feel slighted, criticized, or excluded, it can instigate an emotional hijacking and interfere in, and even jeopardize your personal or professional life.
Below, I’ll identify some of the other issues related to post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment:
36 Characteristics of post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment
This list is meant to be descriptive, rather than exhaustive of the many issues related to the abandonment syndrome.
- An intense fear of abandonment that interferes in forming primary relationships in adulthood.
- Intrusive insecurity that interferes in your social life and goal achievement.
- Anxiety with authority figures.
- Tendency toward self defeating behavior patterns that sabotage your love life, goals, or career.
- A tendency to repeatedly subject yourself to people or experiences that lead to another loss, another rejection, and another trauma.
- Intrusive reawakening of old losses; echoes of old feelings of vulnerability and fear which interfere in current experience.
- Heightened memories of traumatic separations and other events.
- Conversely, partial or complete memory blocks of childhood traumas.
- Low self-esteem, low sense of entitlement, performance anxiety.
- Feelings of emotional detachment, i.e. feeling numb to past losses.
- Conversely, difficulty letting go of the painful feelings of old rejections and losses.
- Difficulty letting go, even when we know the relationship cannot meet our basic needs
- Episodes of self-neglectful or self destructive behavior.
- Difficulty withstanding (and overreacting to) the customary emotional ups and downs of your adult relationships.
- Difficulty working through the ordinary levels of conflict and disappointment within your adult relationships.
- Extreme sensitivity to perceived rejections, exclusions or criticisms.
- Emotional pendulum swing between fear of engulfment and fear of abandonment; you can alternate between ‘feeling the walls close in’ if someone gets too close and feeling insecure, love starved – on a precipice of abandonment – if you are not sure of the person’s love.
- Difficulty feeling the affection and other physical comforts offered by a willing partner – “keeping them out” or “pushing them away; evidence of emotional anorexia or emotional bulimia.
- Tendency to ‘get turned off’ and ‘lose the connection’ by involuntarily shutting down romantically and/or sexually on a willing partner.
- Conversely, tendency to feel hopelessly hooked on a partner who is emotionally distancing.
- Tendency to have emotional hangovers ‘the morning after’ you have had contact with an ex or someone over whom you have felt pain.
- Difficulty naming your feelings or sorting through an emotional fog.
- Abandophobism – a tendency to avoid close relationships altogether to avoid risk of abandonment.
- Conversely, a tendency to rush into relationships and clamp on too quickly.
- Difficulty letting go because you have attached with emotional epoxy, even when you know your partner is no longer able to fulfill your needs, or even when you know your partner is not good for you.
- An excessive need for control, whether it’s about the need to control the other’s behavior and thoughts, or about being excessively self-controlled; a need to have everything perfect and done your way.
- Conversely, a tendency to create chaos by avoiding responsibility, procrastinating, giving up control to others, and feeling out of control.
- A heightened sense of responsibility to others, rescuing, attending to people’s needs, even when they have not voiced them.
- Tendency to have unrealistic expectations and heightened reactivity toward others such that it creates conflict and burns bridges to your social connections.
- People-pleasing – excessive need for acceptance or approval.
- Self-judgment; unrealistic expectations toward yourself.
- Fear response to people’s anger, which unwittingly sets you up to being “controlled” by them.
- Co-dependency issues in which you give too much of yourself to others and feel you don’t get enough back.
- Tendency to act impulsively without being able to put the brakes on, even when you are aware of the negative consequences.
- Tendency toward unpredictable outbursts of anger.
- Conversely, tendency to under-react to anger out of fear of breaking the connection and also out of your extreme aversion to ‘not being liked’.
The impact of abandonment trauma can be mitigated by abandonment recovery – a program of therapy techniques designed to help you overcome abandonment and its aftermath of self sabotaging patterns.
Please see additional articles that help you explore whether you are on the abandonment trauma spectrum, offer practical help, explain why some people are more prone to getting post traumatic stress disorder of abandonment than others, and the Five Phases of Abandonment and Recovery which provides hands-on help for people across the abandonment spectrum—those with post trauma and those without. The workbook is helpful in guiding you through the abandonment therapy techniques step by step, teaching you self help tools for each of the five phases specific to abandonment grief and trauma.
Are You on the Abandonment Spectrum? Do you have Symptoms of PTSD of Abandonment?
PTSD of Abandonment: Why some people are More Prone to Developing it than Others
Abandonment versus Borderline: 12 Tasks for Coping with Emotional Hijacking
Fear of Abandomnent: 10 Ways to Turn it Around
© Susan Anderson November 12 2013, updated and revised Sept 28 2016
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