If you grew up with a parent or parents who neglected you or even outright abandoned you when you were a child, you will no doubt have huge fear of abandonment issues as an adult. When I was a baby I was abandoned in the garden of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea. The doctor who examined me later estimated that I was about six months. This singular event changed the course of my life and colored everything that came after it. I point to this episode as the event which primed the pump for my Borderline Personality Disorder.
I was never able to trust people, especially women
I grew up not ever being able to relax or trust people. I was always waiting impatiently for them to abandon me and, because of that, I orchestrated things so as to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. I particularly did not trust women. I always found that to be rather strange though because I had a good relationship with my adoptive mother. But I was always uneasy around other women and could never form any bonds of intimacy with them.
I was subsequently abandoned by a group of girlfriends with whom I had been friends from grade school and then the typical number of boyfriends. But my reactions to these abandonments were always way off the charts. After my group of girlfriends abandoned me, I attempted suicide for the first time, at the tender age of sixteen. My parents had no idea what was going on. And, truth be told, neither did I. All I knew was that life no longer seemed worth living.
My fear of abandonment made me spiral out of control to the point that when I intuited that it was going to happen yet again, I would lash out and become so irrationally angry that I scared everyone away. This became my trademark behavior, what I became known for in every community in which I lived. Fast forward to the age of 50 when I found I had no friends, no social circle, no support system because everyone had abandoned me in self-defense.
Childhood trauma leaves terrible scars
Trauma does this to people. It puts us in a constant state of fight or flight, a constant defensive mode which we believe protects us but which only serves to isolate us even further from what we really want — emotional intimacy.
Only my husband understood this behavior in me. He waited patiently as all the emotional storms ran their course, a process which sometimes too days or weeks to pass completely. When I had finally raged myself into submission and was able to come up for air, he would always be there. He never rewarded this bad behavior in me but he understood it, he never judged it and he never distanced himself from me because of it.
If you find yourself living this scenario out time and time again, I will challenge you by saying, it might be time for a change.
What changed the pattern for me?
Years and years of talk therapy but I was finally able to turn a corner because of my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I am not shy about telling people that DBT saved my life. It made all the difference for me because I learned how to ride out those tremendous emotional storms without compounding the damage and chasing everyone away. It started with learning distress tolerance skills such as meditation and different breathing techniques. I learned how to put some soothing music on to calm my inner rages instead of feeding the demons that lived inside me. I learned how to look at the feelings objectively without making a judgement on them or on me for feeling them and giving myself enough calm respite time for them to pass. And they always did and still do.
I remember sitting in my DBT group session and listening to the facilitator say, “Feelings are transient. They come and go.” That was a huge lightbulb moment for me. I remember thinking, “Really? I’ve never thought of that before!” And it’s true. No one, in all my years of talk therapy had ever said that to me. But it made so much sense to me.For me, whenever I would be in the midst of an emotional typhoon, I always felt like I was standing on the beach watching a tidal wave coming in. I was helpless to escape it and it would just crash onto the shore, knock me down and wash me away. DBT helped me learn how to swim through the tidal wave to safety.
I still struggle with fear of abandonment. I think I probably will for the rest of my life but I have learned that even if someone I care about does abandon me that I am a strong person and I now have the tools I need to survive their leaving. I never had those before. DBT taught me those tools.