This week we conclude our 3-part series with Rachel Grant as she provides insight on the topic of abandonment. Whether you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or not, this is a subject that many folks experience at some point in their lives. If you have or know someone who has, you will benefit from her wisdom. Thank you so much Rachel for blessing us with your words and your spirit.
Abandon: to leave completely and finally, forsake utterly, desert, to give up, discontinue, withdraw from, withdraw protection or support
When it comes to abandonment, we are very much driven by a fear of the unknown. We do not know if the people we are connecting to may one day withdraw their protection or support. They may “forsake” us, and not just a little, but utterly. The greater the connection, the greater the risk, because we have more at stake should the person choose to walk away.
In an effort to alleviate this terrible sense of “not knowing,” we will often do a variety of things. We will over-control, seek constant reassurance, or be on high alert for anything that looks like withdrawal. Worst-case scenario, as soon as we start to feel close, we will push away and sabotage the relationship.
The fear of abandonment is extremely common in those of us who have been abused. We have experienced very real and tangible abandonment, the loss of protection by those who were supposed to care for us. Unfortunately, we then begin living as if this is going to be the case with everyone we come across.
For quite a long time, I had the false belief that “people always leave.” As a result, guess what, people around me often didn’t stick around for long, because I would pretty much act in a way that ensured they would not want to! It is hard to acknowledge, but we have to be straight about the role we play that leads us to re-create the experience of being abandoned over and over again.
Earlier, I gave you just the first part of the definition of abandonment. Here is the rest:
To give up the control of, to yield (oneself) without restraint or moderation
When I read this, I thought, “Hmm, maybe I need to abandon myself to abandonment!” Our relationships can thrive if we are willing to shift our focus and energy away from trying to prevent the withdrawal of others and enter into an open, free space, where we are present to the fact that they are here with us right now, in this moment. Instead of maneuvering to try to get some guarantee that they will always be here no matter what, we can appreciate the person for being here right now.
The point is, that fear of abandonment keeps us so focused on the future “what ifs” that we miss out on what is happening right now. Another, and more tragic, outcome is that we behave so poorly as a result of our fear, that we pretty much guarantee that things will fall apart.
There is no getting away from taking risks in relationships. We can, however, learn to take calculated risks. This means we have to get out of the nasty habit of connecting to others who are so high risk that we are pretty much setting ourselves up for failure.
One client, intent on maneuvering to get some guarantee that his girlfriend would never leave, would text her every couple of hours to keep tabs on her. If he did not get an immediate response, his meaning making machine would immediately kick into gear, leading him to thoughts such as “She must be with someone else.” As we worked together to challenge his false beliefs, he first had to acknowledge that, while it was possible that she was with someone else, it was unlikely given all of the experiences they had shared. Furthermore, her actions time and again indicated she was committed. The risk he was taking in trusting her therefore seemed well calculated. We then decided that he must hit the pause button (no meaning making) for four hours after sending a text and would limit his texting to three times a day. Over time, his fear and anxiety gradually abated and he was able to form a deeper bond based on trust and respect rather than fear and anxiety.
We need to practice giving up trying to control the future and remain in the present moment. We also need to give some thought to the types of risks we are taking—are they measured (even if still daring) or just playing with fire?
1. Who abandoned you and how did they abandon you?
2. What have you come to believe about people and relationships as a result?
3. What do you do to protect yourself from being abandoned?
4. How can you shift your focus from trying to control future outcomes to what is happening right now?
5. How do you know if you are taking a calculated risk or not?
Rachel Grant is the owner and founder of Rachel Grant Coaching and is a Trauma Recovery & Relationship Coach. She is also the author of BeyondSurviving: The Final Stage in Recovery from Sexual Abuse. With her support, clients learn to identify and break patterns of thought and behavior that keep them from recovering from past sexual abuse or making changes in their relationships.
Rachel holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. With this training in human behavior and cognitive development, she provides a compassionate and challenging approach for her clients while using coaching as opposed to therapeutic models. Rachel is a member of the International Coach Federation & San Francisco Coaches.
Learn more at http://www.rachelgrantcoaching.com