Some people have a difficult time maintaining a relationship because of their fears of abandonment. The fear itself often times destroys the relationship before the relationship even has the chance to blossom and fully develop. To help understand where relationship abandonment fears stem from and what someone can do to overcome relationship abandonment fears, I have interviewed clinical psychologist Dr. Nadine Winocur.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a clinical psychologist practicing in West Los Angeles, CA. I have Master and Doctor of Psychology degrees from Pepperdine University, and a Bachelor of Psychology degree from the University of Pennsylvania. My dissertation focused on the measurement of trauma associated with abusive group experiences. I specialize in working with individual adults who have endured trauma, including childhood trauma and attachment wounds.”
Where do relationship abandonment fears stem from?
“Most people don’t think of relational issues as “trauma”. When they hear the word trauma they think of extraordinary situations, like gun-shot wounds, or war, or near-fatal car accidents. But to a child who’s dependent on its caregiver for survival, abandonment may in fact be life-threatening. Not only is the young child unable to fend for itself, but the perpetrator of this life threat is the one who’s supposed to nurture and protect it, and so this betrays a child’s core sense of safety in the world. Abandonment fears are a form of post-traumatic stress reaction in relation to this trauma.”
“So then, abandonment fears stem from a real experience of abandonment in childhood, usually by one or more primary caregivers–that is, parents or surrogate parents (e.g. nannies or relatives that figured centrally in the caregiving). Erik Erikson said that the first conflict we have to negotiate in life is that of developing a secure attachment to our primary caregiver, usually the mother. A successful outcome permits us to develop a sense of trust in others. When our primary caregiver(s) are unable to meet our needs for a secure attachment, whether due to a lack of skill, an overwhelmed and burdened caregiver, family or work stress, mental illness, physical illness or some other reason, it leaves us with the impression that we are all alone, and that others can’t be relied on to meet our needs. We try to adapt to the abandonment by developing beliefs about it that help make sense of it and help us stay as connected as possible to our survival source, our caregivers. This means that we develop a sense of personal fault and defectiveness, and it leads us to form an expectation that we should and will be abandoned again.”
What type of impact can relationship abandonment fears have on a person’s overall well being?
“The impact can be quite profound. It can lead to deep insecurities about our lovability and worthiness, and about others’ willingness to support us and be there for us. Fear of abandonment can cause instability in social, work and intimate relationships…depending on how pervasive and severe the original abandonment was. A terror of being abandoned may induce someone to adapt in various ways to move away from the intolerable feeling and physiological sensations, for example by becoming controlling of others, or being perfectionistic, or overly giving, or clingy, or by staying in abusive relationships, or being abusive toward others in an effort to hold onto them. It can be associated with substance abuse, avoidance of intimate relationships, an inability to commit to a partner or to a monogamous relationship, compulsive abandonment of others, compulsive sex and dating, excessive attention-seeking, and a host of other maladaptive behaviors. Abandonment fears don’t always manifest as such. A person might enter psychotherapy thinking that they have ADHD, depression, anxiety, or some other issue, when the root is actually abandonment trauma.”
How can someone overcome relationship abandonment fears?
“Trauma-oriented, mind-body psychotherapy is the most helpful way to overcome relationship abandonment fears. Especially what is effective is therapy that focuses on healing attachment wounds. Some of the therapies that can successfully heal abandonment fears include the DNMS ( www.DNMSInstitute.com), attachment focused EMDR (www.EMDR.com), Somatic Experiencing ( www.traumahealing.com) and AEDP ( www.aedpinstitute.com/). These approaches tend to permit a deep emotional and physical release of the original traumatic reactions which have become stuck in the nervous system. Re-parenting, or inner bonding with imaginal, skillful caregivers, is often used to heal the original wound by imaginally providing a secure attachment now, in order to replace what was missing. This provides a corrective healing experience that, like computer programming, writes over the old, unwanted programs of the mind. The result is that unwanted points of view, negative beliefs about self and others, negative expectations for relationships, and old unhealthy coping patterns drop away, and irrational, excessive fears are replaced by more neutral, healthy emotional reactions.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who is having a difficult time overcoming relationship abandonment fears on their own?
“The classical psychotherapy paradigm involving a cure through the therapist-client relationship has failed to achieve much gains in the area of assisting people to develop trust. It is only within the last 15 years that psychotherapy has begun to excel in healing attachment wounds. Abandonment fears generally cannot be healed through traditional talk therapy, which is why I have recommended some of the more mind-body oriented approaches. These approaches engage the right brain where trauma and the emotions are stored, rather than developing a life narrative or cognitive self-awareness. By reprocessing the original wounding experiences in a wholistic way, a connection is made with the original self from before the trauma, a self that is okay with who it is and where it is, and that feels free to explore and experience each moment in space and time, just as it is.”
Thank you Dr. Winocur for doing the interview on how someone can overcome relationship abandonment fears. For more information on Dr. Winocur or her work you can check out her website on www.DrNadineWinocur.com.
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