© Susan Anderson December 15 2016
I’ve been developing a profile of an abandoner for almost twenty years, collecting stories and insights from abandonment survivors from all over the world – from people writing to my website and attending my workshops, as well as friends, colleagues, and from my own experiences.
Is there a profile of an abandoner? People ask what is known about lovers who tend to walk away from relationships, break sacred bonds, or betray those who love them. What’s the deal with those who become suddenly detached and emotionally unavailable? Do abandoners share identifying characteristics in common? This is a juicy thing to speculate about, especially if you are going through the torment of abandonment or trying to trust a new person. Just what is the profile of an abandoner? So I’m repurposing this page from my website. Thank you to the many open-hearted people who contributed to it.
Profile: Abandoners come in every possible size, shape, shade, age, social form, and disposition. Parents, friends, employers, and lovers can become abandoners, usually without realizing the pain they cause. Abandonment recovery is dedicated to raising public awareness about the pain and trauma of being abandoned and to foster deeper commitment, sensitivity, and responsibility within relationships.
In searching for a new love connection, it is often difficult to tell who is safe to attach to and who is not capable of being emotionally responsible – who is worthy of trust, and who is an potential abandoner.
What complicates the picture even more is that one person’s abandoner might become another’s permanent partner. It is a uly painful dilemma when you find out that your ex is marrying someone else, especially if they had dangled you on a string for a long time, claiming their inability to commit (to “need more space”) had not been about you, but about personal issues they’ve been struggling with. When they up and marry someone else, you feel re-abandoned – as if it had been a personal rejection all along.
Another complication is that many abandonment victims go on to become abandoners themselves, or may have abandoned someone else in a previous relationship. The circumstances surrounding relationships are so complex and variable, that it is neither wise nor fair to make moral judgments, point fingers, or draw generalizations. It turns out that most of us can be both abandonees and abandoners – it just depends on the context.
However, there are serial abandoners – abandoners who get secondary gain – egotistical pleasure – from inflicting emotional pain on someone who loves them. For them, creating devastation is their way of demonstrating power.
But even abandoners who are not motivated by power (or anger), might experience a heightened sense of self-importance as an unintentional by-product. As regretful as they may feel about hurting you, they can’t help but go on an ego trip as they witness the intensity of your agonized desire for them.
Although your exes’ heads might be slightly swelled, most of them will not openly admit to these feelings of triumph because they don’t want to appear like cads. Instead they prefer to lead with their kinder, more humble feelings, like their regret over having caused you “disappointment” or “inconvenience” (note the understatements). They are usually easily distracted from their guilt and remorse however, because they get caught up in their new lives (and new loves) with greater sense of freedom, newness, and an enlarged ego.
Many abandoners, however, are able to bypass guilt by remaining oblivious to the emotional crisis they have caused. This obliviousness seems callous and self-centered to the one who has been left behind – the one they’d thrust into the intense emotional crisis of abandonment.
Ironically, this puts abandoners in a one-up position to you. By being the one to end it, they have in effect bested you, and this causes you to place them on pedestal, making it that much harder to let go, even when they have treated you badly. There is a neuro-chemical reason for this which I’ve written about extensively. Abandonment survivors have expressed bewilderment about why their abandoners hold so much emotional power over them.
Many abandoners attempt to BLAME you for the break up. They say that it’s because you were too “needy” or “dependent” or “emotional” or “angry.” Meanwhile, if you had become “needy” or “dependent” or “angry” toward them, is not necessarily because you ARE these things, but because you were REACTING to their emotional unavailability.
The reason your abandoners blame you is to justify their actions and avoid feeling guilty. Their agenda is to sustain their positive self-image at all costs – even if at your expense. So they take as little responsibility as possible for hurting you. Their denial and blame add insult to injury. As the abandonee, you must grapple alone with the pieces of a broken relationship, feeling re-wounded by the onslaught of self-serving blame, criticism, betrayal, and rejection.
You turn the rage over being rejected against yourself, and you blame yourself, causing your self-esteem to plummet and your spirit to sink into a state resembling major depression. By beating yourself up in this way, you abandon yourself.
Soul searching is an inevitable and necessary part of surviving abandonment – a time to take responsibility for anything you did that may have contributed to the demise of the relationship, whether you’d “caused” it or not – a painful and humbling process that can none-the-less lead to deep personal growth. But taking personal inventory can also heighten your vulnerability (and gullibility) to your abandoner’s blame. At a time when honest, accurate, constructive feedback might be helpful in guiding your forward direction, what you often get is your ex’s scathing character assassination of you, wrapped up in their “blaming excuses” for their own commitment deficiencies. Your goal is to learn from the breakup, not have your self-esteem destroyed.
Some people become unintentional serial abandoners because they have become what I call love-challenged, which means that they feel “love” for you only when they are pursuing you, but as soon as you become attached to them, they are no longer in “pursuit mode” and their love feelings subside accordingly. People in this category usually don’t realize they’re “love-challenged.” It’s too easy to convince themselves and everyone else (including friends and therapists) that they “just haven’t met the right person.” Sound familiar?
Equally prevalent is the flip side – the tendency to be attracted only to the unavailable – attracted only to the “love-challenged” If you’re an abandoholic, you’ve most likely been drawn to (and hurt by) someone who is emotionally unavailable– and/or you may have this tendency yourself without realizing it. This is one of the hottest topics in my abandonment recovery workshops and I’ve written a lot about it because the pattern is so prevalent. Millions of people have difficulty forming love relationships because of abandoholic patterns like these.
Let it be said that most abandoners do not set out to abandon. They don’t hurt-by-intention. Many are just human beings feeling their way through life, struggling to find the answers to its difficult challenges along with everyone else. None-the-less, to the extent that abandoners are able to blame, remains oblivious, or stay in denial of the other person’s pain, abandonment recovery reaches out to them to increase their awareness as well. The program is devoted to the growth and development of all of those who struggle to sustain relationships – abandoners and abandonees alike. The Abandonment Recovery Workbook; Journey from Abandonment to Healing; Taming your Outer Child; and Black Swan are designed to enhance this awareness.