As adults, we become afraid of intimacy. We either avoid closeness ourselves or become attached to someone who avoids intimacy, providing the distance that we need to feel safe. (See The Dance of Intimacy) It can work if there’s enough closeness to satisfy our need for connection, but often the distance is painful and may be created by constant fighting, addiction, infidelity, or abuse. Problematic relationships then confirm feelings of unlovability and hopelessness and negative perceptions about the opposite sex.
If the relationship ends, even more, fears of abandonment and intimacy can be created. Some people avoid relationships altogether, are more guarded, or enter another abandoning relationship. Fearing rejection, we may be on the lookout for negative signs, even misinterpret events, and believe it’s hopeless to talk about our needs and feelings. Instead, we may break-up or engage in distancing behavior, such as criticism or spending more time with others. When the relationship ends, we again feel more alone, rejected, and hopeless.
Abandonment in Childhood → Fear of Intimacy →Abandoning Relationships →Greater Fear of Intimacy →Loneliness and/or more Abandoning Relationships
Breaking the Cycle
Reversing this trend is possible. It requires either the good fortune to be in a loving relationship, or more often, therapy is required to heal the wounds of childhood. Much of this is done through the relationship with a trusted, empathic therapist over time. It also entails the examination of the past and both feeling and understanding the impact of the parenting we received. Goals include not only accepting the past, which doesn’t necessarily mean approving it but more importantly separating out our self-concept from the actions of our parents. See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.
Feeling worthy of love is essential to attracting and maintaining it. In the same way that we might shun a compliment we don’t feel we deserve, we will not be interested and able to sustain a relationship with someone who is generous in loving us. Feeling unworthy originated in our early relationship with our parents. Many people have no negative feelings toward their parents and may, in fact, have a close and loving adult relationship with them. However, it’s not enough that we forgive our parents. Healing includes rehabilitating the beliefs and inner voices of our parents that live in our minds and run our lives. 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and Conquering Shame provide steps to do this.
Finally, breaking the cycle means being a good parent to ourselves – loving ourselves in all ways. See my blogs about self-love and my Youtube self-love exercise. If this last step isn’t included, we will still be looking outside ourselves to someone else to make us happy. Although a good relationship can improve our sense of well-being, there are always times when partners need space or are needy and unavailable. Being able to care for ourselves allows us to hold the space for our partner and to take care of ourselves. Whether or not in a relationship, that’s the ultimate remedy against spiraling into an abandonment depression.
©Darlene Lancer 2015
Related Video: The 7 Physical Signs of Extreme Sadness
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Written by Darlene Lancer JD, MFT
Originally appeared on WhatIsCodependency.com
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