Stupid fear wants to sabotage me. Experiences of life-long abandonment taunt me. Once I had an argument with myself, from start to finish–literally full circle via text. My BF, at the time, now my fiancé, was unresponsive when I texted him initially–I had forgotten he was teaching a First Aid class—and I thought he was ghosting me (before ghosting was a thing). My replies went from playful and conversational to sharper in tone. I remember staring at the screen, populated with only my words, my stomach knotting. It’s happened again, I thought. He finally left, just like I knew he would. Like everyone else. So I went on and on, as he led his session, completely unaware of my unraveling. I slung arrow after arrow of nasty missives at him, receiving no response, amid perceptions of OMG! He DOESN’T care!
At some point, I put my phone down and gave in to a lusty cry. I will never forget when he came home and I reviewed the messages on his phone… As I held his cell and read my tantrum, I felt as if I were the one receiving it.
The watershed: This is what it’s like to have a relationship with me? I couldn’t apologize enough.
I wish I could say there has never been another incidence where I lost it, where I doubted love, where I caved into the demons of my past, forever tugging at my hand. But I can’t.
If you have been left before, I’m sure you’ve stirred up drama as if possessed. That you’ve tested love.
When you learn from a young age, key people in your life will leave you, it can be a lifelong struggle to change your mind that you are worth anything. When the people who are supposed to stay and teach you the meaning of unconditional acceptance let you know they can get on without you, you will be pretty messed up, my friend.
You can also recover.
Maybe not 100 percent. But if you work at it, you can find love; you can repair relationships; you can relearn positive and healthy behaviors that at some point, you felt as instincts, before it all hit the fan. You can even relearn trusting your gut again. Eight key points will help you to reshape the relationship you are in, or the one for which you are striving:
1. Try to detect your gut again. Underneath the fear of not wanting to be alone, lies your gut. Yes, the one you suspect has betrayed you all these years. Your terror of reliving abandonment has governed your life for so long, and it is so visceral, it’s nearly impossible to reach into the more conscious part of what you need—the thinking part allowing you to reason without fear. You can face this fear. How? Repeat to yourself that your life has meaning without the company of other people. Exercise your brain with this thought daily.
There’s no reason to push your love away, however (if you are in a caring, reciprocal relationship). Position yourself in your mind as capable, talented, giving and worthy.
2. Stop testing people. When I don’t feel as though my emotions have been validated, I panic and think how can I stay here when I don’t feel understood? Abandonment PTSD triggers an instinctual flight urge. If I am not validated, then I am not truly cared for and so I have to pull the rug out before someone beats me to it. A tiny kernel in the back of my mind echoes…and then you can see if they will actually leave. If they stay, you will know this chapter can close and you’ll never have to revisit such insecurity again. When you are stuck in the cycle of Abandonment PTSD, you constantly seek the solution. But you will always have to live with the pain. It is better to get comfortable with this new section of your heart’s DNA.
3. Realize your words have power. When you lose people and mourn their deaths even as they are still alive, it is staggeringly painful. When you have been close to someone and suddenly they are gone, a message resounds: a fraction of people get to have families, or lovers, or husbands.. A fraction don’t. You must be in the second group of people. With this mentality in play, you will wait to be left again and again and again. You will not realize you have value as a person. Sure, people will tell you, but since you have an unresolved history it is slippery to grasp, and harder to believe. But you DO have value. You can hurt people who love you. Sometimes people in our situation are left again and again, or endure multiple breakups for this very reason; we think we have some sort of super power imbuing our words to fly straight into the core of the very one we are alienating, absent of barbs… How the heck do you believe you can make an impact when you think you are so worthless? Stop protesting when the person you love tells you your worth and simply say, “Thank you.” Do it until you believe it. This is the event you want most…to be loved without strings, to have longevity, security, unbound devotion. It is happening and it is okay to reach for it.
4. Break your habits. Learn how to fight and shove your mind into consciousness when you are overcome with emotion. Stop talking. Force yourself to listen. Yes, you will be afraid. Do it anyway. Yes, your heart will be gripped in icy terror this will be the day you discover it is over. Get through an argument once. Then twice. Stop yourself from saying your catchphrase—the one you use to boot people out of your life, When you go for the jugular, eventually, you will be left alone. People will get fed up. So, stop it right now. Instruct yourself in this manner. Wade deeper into your thoughts. What do you say in each argument to signal your fear? Your phrase is not the truth of your relationship. Your phrase is your emotional slogan uttered to indicate your mate is encroaching too closely. Try these methods: 1) identify your warning message and ask yourself how else you can respond, 2) hold onto your goal of listening to the other person even as fear bubbles up. Focus on your physical being. You are sitting on the couch. You are not running, not leaping up. Change your reactions as consciously as possible. You are physically present and trying and listening. Your time to talk when you are calmer will come. It is not optimal when you are so keyed up because this argument might go sideways, 3) heed when you have hit your limit, then tell your partner you need a break. Use these words only: “I need a break.” Do not indicate your inability to cope with tirades borne from fury, fear, panic, or devastation. Use whatever safe phrase works. Share it with your partner prior to arguing so they will know when you can’t continue without danger of backsliding.
5. Defend your right to healthy treatment. Be persistent in your pursuit of validation. Ask for clarification as many times as you need. Whether you come from the most supportive environment or one riddled with emotional landmines, you deserve positive, supportive, non-verbally and non-physically abusive treatment. Period. You haven’t asked for anything else. You don’t deserve anything less. Your history of being treated poorly doesn’t mean your future should be or will be identical. You deserve to be heard. To have your needs met, or at least to have a partner who valiantly tries.
6. Forgive yourself when you screw up. This is a tough road. Maybe the toughest one of your life. You might think you will be condemned to repeat this wretched existence like some demented form of Groundhog Day. When you want to get better, start with baby steps. No one ever gets it right in successive fashion with zero gaffes. No one. Getting it wrong and being human doesn’t have a damn thing to do with your incorrect assessment you can’t do anything right. You can get a lot right, but you will never perform 100 percent. Stop expecting to and remove the pressure. You are going to mess up magnificently. I promise. Even as you want more, as you dream of more, you will still royally f*ck up. When it happens, accept it. Do not chastise yourself. Apologize for your part, pledge to do better and move on.
7. Share your history. Your partner has a right to know your past. A compassionate partner will try to empathize. Tell your partner you are prone to panic, that your emotions are hijacked in certain moments, you feel out of control when triggered, that you fight the desire to self-sabotage in order to remain safe because reaching the goal of a loving relationship means so much, it can seem like a pipe dream. In manic moments, your partner can help to bring you back down to reality and let you know what they see in your behavior, that you are not acting as you usually do. When the storm has passed, they can also reassure they are not going anywhere. You may have to ask for this reassurance throughout your life. Living with your feelings may be similar to living with a chronic disease. You may not be able to realize a cure, but you will improve your management.
8. Realize you are going to make mistakes. You are going to doubt yourself. You will feel overwhelmed, discouraged and as if you can’t do it. And you will have a tremendous time learning to trust yourself. Start with the logistics and absorb everything you can about the healthy relationship model…remove the emotion as you memorize the components objectively. Then apply those ideals to your life as you permit yourself to experience positive emotion.
I did it. I may not be perfect and I may still stumble, but every day I am doing it.
You can do it, too.