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The complex emotions of abandonment and loneliness: A deep dive.

Updated: Oct 13, 2023


Fear is a complex and often deeply ingrained emotion with various manifestations that can profoundly affect our lives.

In this article I explore these fears and their psychological underpinnings, shedding light on how they influence our behaviour and relationships.


Fear of abandonment:

The fear of abandonment is a primal fear that can manifest at any age of life. It stems from past experiences, especially those occurring early in one's life, that have left emotional scars. These scars make individuals extra cautious and sometimes even hesitant to form deep connections, as they fear being left behind or rejected.


Coping Mechanisms:

People employ various coping mechanisms to deal with the fear of abandonment. Some enjoy solitude, but detest loneliness. This fear can lead individuals to seek out constant companionship, join clubs, or even rushing to new relationships to avoid confronting the fear directly. Embarrassment often arise from a mixture of fear and shame. People may fear abandonment due to perceived imperfections, making it difficult for them to accept their true selves. They may feel that their imperfections could lead to abandonment by others.


The fear of non being: Loneliness:

The fear of non-being or the profound dread associated with loneliness, is a less explored but equally potent emotion. Loneliness can make individuals feel like they're drowning in emptiness, yearning for human connection to alleviate that error and that which arises from isolation.


To illustrate the fear of not being, imagine half an orange exposed to air (Bar-Le Vav, 1988) . It dries out quickly, just as a person experiencing loneliness can feel their vitality fading. The ideal remedy is to find another "half orange", someone with similar properties and characteristics - to provide mutual support and companionship.



The importance of companionship:

Loneliness can be so distressing that individuals often refer to their partners as their "better halves". This label doesn't imply superiority, but rather emphasises how significant these relationships are in combatting the anxiety associated with loneliness.


Fear of abandonment is a complex and often deeply ingrained emotion that can affect intelligent and otherwise competent adults. Accepting and dealing with this fear can be challenging, but it's important to realise that many people, regardless of their intelligence or competence, grapple with his anxiety to varying degrees. The fear of abandonment is a common human emotion that often remains hidden beneath the surface. It can manifest as a profound anxiety about being left alone or rejected by those close to us. It's crucial to recognise that this fear is not a sign of weakness, but rather a symptom of emotional struggles.


Denial of reality:

Many people conceal their fear of abandonment, often because it seems too distressing to acknowledge openly. This concealment can lead to a life of stress, busyness and emptiness, where individuals hide behind a façade of normalcy or secrets, secretly grappling with their anxiety. Some individuals resort to extreme measures, such as chronic people pleasing to avoid facing the fear of abandonment. They may sacrificed their own dignity and self-respect in a desperate bid to ensure they won't be abandoned. This pattern of behaviour can be exhausting and detrimental to their well-being.


Escalation of fears:

As people age, their fear of abandonment can intensify. This fear often stems from a sense of physical decline or perceived loss of desirability. Individuals may become overly accommodating, in an attempt to maintain the status quo, even at the cost of their own happiness.


The illusion of appeasement:

Continuous people-pleasing can lead to a cycle where individuals give up more and more of their own interests in an effort to please others. They may experience rare moments of clarity realising that these sacrifices have eroded their self esteem, further exacerbating their fear of abandonment.

Breaking free from the fear of abandonment can be a formidable challenge. It may involve recognising that emotional separation from others is a natural part of personal growth and discovery. This process, known as individuation, requires effort and time. Emotional separation from others in not achieved solely by physical detachment, but requires years of conscious effort. Many people never complete this process fully, leading to continued fears of abandonment. Overcoming the fear of abandonment entails embracing emotional independence and a sense of self that isn't solely dependent on others. It is a necessary step in the journey towards becoming emotionally whole Individuals - 'a whole orange'.


The freedom to choose, liberating oneself from the fear of abandonment:

The fear of abandonment is a powerful and often deeply rooted emotion that can hold individuals hostage in unhealthy relationships. However, there exist a path to freedom, where one can choose to nurture and cherish relationships based on choice rather than fear. Liberation comes with overcoming the fear of abandonment and embracing healthier connections.


Breaking free from the chains:

Those who have little or no fear of abandonment are no longer prisoners to their relationships. They possess the freedom to stay in genuinely good relationships of their own accord and, equally important, to leave behind those that are destructive, degrading or damaging.


The value of healthy relationships:

Healthy relationships are treasures that individuals with little fear of abandonment protect and nourish - like a psychological skin. They thrive as reasonably intact and individuating persons who do not define themselves solely through their relationships. People who have overcome the fear of abandonment can emotionally stand on their own two feet. They no longer feel compelled to rush into relationships just to avoid being alone. They can exist without panic, knowing that while companionship is enjoyable, it is not driven by fear.


Choosing versus clinging:

Choosing to be with someone is fundamentally different from clinging to them out of fear. The former is a conscious decision, a reflection of free will. The latter is an attempt to reduce panic and ensure emotional closeness, often leading to an emotional distance in a relationship. The fear of being alone often acts as a strong adhesive, keeping people tethered to relationships that may not serve their best interests. However, these relationships can be akin to riding in a car without enjoying the scenery; individuals are too busy hiding their feelings of powerlessness and pain to truly savour the experience.


The Hidden Truth:

Many individuals, including husbands, wives, lovers, children and parents, carry a secret with them. They yearn for moments when they can leave everything and everybody behind and simply escape. While they may hide this desire from the world, it lingers as a testament to the fact that fear still influences some of their choices.


The distance that can emerge between partners in a relationship is often underestimated, and it is primarily influenced by the varying degrees of fear of abandonment and the need for relief from such fears. Rarely do two people experience the same level of discomfort; one might feel crowded while the other may sense neglect. It is common to witness conflicts, divorces, and even instances of violence in romantic relationships when one partner's need for closeness exceeds the other's capacity to provide it. While the partner with a strong fear of abandonment often conceals these feelings, the freedom to express them is rarely present when the fear is overpowering, leading to bitterness and frustration.


This phenomenon is most evident before the honeymoon phase of a relationship where both partners are closest to each other and the presence of the other alleviates their anxiety. However, they also often expect the other to make their anxiety disappear entirely. The inevitable disappointment that follows the honeymoon phase stems from the realisation that their partner can't maintain perpetual happiness, and sometimes hope persists even when reality suggests otherwise.


The importance of distance is frequently overlooked by those who fear abandonment, and even lifelong commitments like marriage do not guarantee an absence of abandonment fears. In romantic love, there's an inherent assumption that love will always perfectly align with hidden desires for closeness, which are often unspoken. These hopes often mirror the experience in the womb using the same measure - the willingness and ability to satisfy each of those needs before ones own.


The fear of abandonment can be so intense that it leads individuals to demonstrate self sacrifice as proof of their love, albeit temporarily, as the partners presence is never guaranteed indefinitely. Many people anticipate happiness coming from external sources, not realising that true happiness arises from within. We can only evoke feelings that already exist, and when the capacity to experience emotions like happiness, anger or pity is blocked, very little can awaken them.


The process of individuation:

The process of separation and individuation is seldom completed without external influence, as the fear of abandonment continues to hold sway until it is healed. This creates a complex coexistence of a desire for psychological attachment and a parallel wish for self-sufficiency.


Single people often encounter situations they cannot master, which amplifies the wish for maternal figures. However, letting go of such intense attachments can be daunting, even though they may be unattainable. Fear often dominates when abandonment is a concern.


As Humans we all share a profound attachment to our mothers before and after birth. It is natural and unlikely for anyone to willingly sever such vital connections. We may not always need to be physically close to our mothers, but the emotional bond remains strong. This attachment manifests in various ways and doesn't necessarily require an individual or a female presence, as males can fulfil the mothering function just as effectively. We often desire support and care, despite not always being in control of the situation. While we may wish to relinquish these dependencies, achieving self-reliance demands considerable effort and perseverance against our natural inclinations.


A grieving process:

Individuation represents an active process involving the mourning of dreams that cannot be realised passively. In this journey one moves away from a state of resignation and futility towards becoming a more individuated individual. This process not only grants greater personal power but also results in increased energy and a more interesting and fulfilling life - but this takes time.


The process of becoming 'whole' evolves making choices, and it becomes evident why this process cannot naturally reach completion. Unlike some species where individuals can fend for themselves shortly after birth, humans are unique. We are born prematurely, expelled from the womb when our bodies become too large for it to contain. Unlike other creatures, we cannot immediately breathe and require many months to learn to stand and even more time to comprehend and speak.


Babies are heavily dependent on their caretakers for a much longer period compared to most species. This dependence is crucial for survival and is significantly more complex. As a result, it is challenging for humans to let go of emotional attachments. Many people hold on to mother substitutes indefinitely, viewing these attachments as emotional insurance policies that provide protection from the fear of abandonment.


Some adults remain stuck in destructive relationships because they offer minimal shelter from the of fear of abandonment. Others refuse to leave their parents' homes to establish lives of their own, living with them as adults until one or both parents pass away. In such cases, when the inevitable separation finally occurs, often in middle age or later, individuals may react as if they have been abandoned. This can trigger overwhelming panic, marking the loss of the battle to keep the fear of abandonment at Bay.


Conclusion:

Overcoming the fear of abandonment liberates individuals to choose their relationships based on genuine connection and compatibility, which allows them to cherish and protect the health relationships they have while giving them freedom to walk away from those that no longer serve them. This journey towards emotional independence can be transformative, leading to more fulfilling and authentic connections with others and ultimately with oneself.


References

Bar-Levav, R., (1988). Thinking in the Shadow of Feelings. Touchstone. NY


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