Fear of abandonment

Fear of abandonment

For many people a stable and predictable love relationship is something that is hard to enjoy because of an enduring sense of the threat of abandonment.

Why do people develop a fear of abandonment?

Sometimes it is unclear why the feeling of abandonment has been provoked.  But if it has, then it can be helpful to develop a better understanding of who we are.

  • How have we become the people we are today?
  • How have the events of our lives shaped us, and in some cases left us vulnerable to a fear of abandonment.

For example, people who have gone through the experience of abandonment in their early years may become prone to detecting signs that their partner might be losing interest in them now.

One of the confusing things is that we may not have the sense that we are vulnerable to such fears.  We may grow up feeling the divorce is long in the past and of no consequence, only to find that as adolescents and adults we are more vulnerable than we realised.

Often it is only as we mature and develop, and when we start to get into love relationships that we become aware of our psychologies changing.

In such cases, in adolescence, when we start to have romantic relationships, we may discover that we are vulnerable to particular anxieties that come with developing significant emotional connections with others.

Though we might have had little idea that we were vulnerable to fears of abandonment previously, now everything changes. This is one of the things that can make adolescence so perplexing.

When the fear of abandonment takes hold

As we commit to our love relationships we may suddenly find ourselves alarmed and worried that our partner is becoming more interested in someone else.

We think they are purposely ignoring our calls – they must be talking to somebody more interesting.

Often there will be nothing duplicitous or threatening happening in the relationship, but quickly we will become convinced that there is.  Once these kind of ideas take hold they can be very destructive and difficult to shake off.

It may be that we are becoming caught up in an anxiety about abandonment and betrayal that actually does not belong to our current relationship.  We will not be aware of it, but we may be becoming caught up in feelings that stem from the early experience of abandonment that we went through in our early years when our parents’ marriage came apart.  Though it might seem counter intuitive, we are caught up in something that happened in the past but which we haven’t found a way to address yet.

Can we find a way to step back and see that we are becoming caught up in a fear of abandonment that doesn’t belong to the present and our current relationship?

If we don’t we are likely to find that our current relationship fails under the strain of doubt, suspicion and anxiety.  And not only this, but it is likely we will feel this kind of fear and anxiety in our next relationship.  If we don’t deal with this now we will meet it again.

James Joyce’s Ulysses and surviving the fear of abandonment

In Ulysses, the main character of the book, Leopold Bloom has to find a way to manage knowing that at 4pm in the afternoon his wife Molly will be sleeping with another man, Blazes Boylan.

Joyce took inspiration for Ulysses from Homer’s Odyssey.  In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus has to continually come up with strategies to defeat dangerous one-eyed monsters and witches that continually threaten his progress home to Ithaca.  In Joyce’s Ulysses, the dangers are less Cyclops and witches, and more based upon ordinary human challenges.  Notably the challenge of trying to survive the fear of abandonment and betrayal.

Ultimately Leopold Bloom survives the trials of the day (Ulysses is set on one day, 16 June 1904) through his philosophy of love, acceptance and compassion.  He is not some machismo man who can simply beat his rival up, he does not resort to force.  He lives by his wits.

Transforming the fear of abandonment

We don’t live fictional lives but we might be inspired by Joyce and Leopold Bloom to find ways to survive these anxious feelings of abandonment.

One route that is available to us is working in a confidential psychotherapy relationship and of developing a way of speaking about our fears there.

By doing this we give ourselves the chance to see more clearly where our fears stem from.  We become able to see that the relationship we are in now is not like the one we experienced in our early childhood’s.  Psychotherapy enables us to think through our fears and doubts.  It creates a space to reflect on the whole of our experience and to see the difference between our past and what is happening to us now.

If we can find a safe space to think and reflect upon our fear of abandonment we may find like Joyce’s Bloom, that we can defeat these old fears and start to find ways to enjoy our relationships.