Fear of abandonment might be the driving force behind your toxic relationships.

September 26, 2017

Intimacy can be difficult as an adult, it’s something we can easily become afraid of due to failed relationships and difficulties such as anger, jealousy and co-dependency. Without intimacy, it’s difficult to maintain a relationship, but when that relationship comes to an end, feelings of loss and abandonment are often triggered.

It’s these unconscious feelings of abandonment that can cause our problems with intimacy, low self-esteem and hopelessness – a vicious cycle that often stems back to our childhood.


healthy childhoodHealthy childhood development relies on adequate physical and emotional care. Without that continuing love and attention, a child may feel unsafe, even unwanted. Emotional neglect can be deliberate or simply caused by parents being unable to look after their children effectively. Sometimes, tragic events such as the loss of a parent through death, or even divorce, can have a negative impact on that child’s ability to relate to others.

It’s not unusual for non-traumatic events to have the same effect on us child, and the adult we become, but without any obvious signs or symptoms – making it even harder to understand why we might be the way we are. Whereas we can see how the loss of a parent could affect us emotionally as adults, or how childhood neglect or abuse can have an impact – what happens when we thought our childhood was ok?


Let’s take a fairly common scenario, we’ll name our hypothetical client Andrew. Andrew didn’t have any particular trauma as a child, his parents are still married and alive, living just a few miles down the road. Andrew recalls that growing up was hard though, both his parents worked long hours and were out of the house a lot. Andrew had to take care of his younger brother when they got neglect, abandonmenthome from school, make sure he wasn’t hungry and that their homework got done. Andrew’s father had high expectations that Andrew found difficult to live up to and there was very little praise or emotional support. Working such long hours left his parents feeling stressed and Andrew often felt that he wasn’t good enough as the eldest son.

When a child doesn’t get the emotional support and warmth they need from a parent, that child may not develop healthy self-esteem as they grow older.

Andrew’s experiences were common for many children growing up in the last few decades. Andrew doesn’t recognise it as neglectful – he says his parents were simply doing their best under difficult circumstances. But they were absent from his childhood, Andrew can’t recall many intimate moments or shared memories, and he has a difficult relationship with them today.

Andrew suffers significantly with his self-esteem as an adult and admits that he pushes people away before they can find out he’s not ‘good enough’ for them and leave. He’s aware that his behaviour alienates his friends and potential partners, and that he’s not going to get the intimacy he craves until he can deal with his mood swings and anger.

Andrew’s situation is not uncommon, and I’ve had many clients like him seek help from me as a counsellor. Sadly, many have found themselves in abusive relationships because they are desperately trying to avoid the feelings of abandonment once again. An abusive relationship doesn’t necessarily mean domestic violence. Partners might be controlling, demanding more than we can give, manipulative and always making you feel second best – sometimes, without an awareness they are doing it.


The need to feel loved and the fear of the being abandoned can lead to these toxic relationships lasting far longer than they should.

It can be difficult to trust people when you’ve been let down in the past, even when that let down was accidental or non-intentional, the feelings that result are the same. A level of co-dependence can develop with a partner, or even a close friend that provides the emotional support sought for. Though this can quickly turn to jealousy when they try to foster new friendships and relationships of their own.

So, let’s consider how counselling can help people like Andrew, who are struggling on a day to day basis with feelings of low confidence and self-esteem as a result of childhood abandonment or neglect.

When you are able to recognise that your fears are rooted in your past you can begin to develop coping mechanisms that restrict the way fear controls your emotional responses now. This, in turn, enables healing from those experiences in the past, and be able to enjoy the experiences of today without those negative thoughts constantly playing in the background.


Counselling can help a person distinguish and separate the fears of the past from the reality of today.

Counselling or psychotherapy where abandonment features involves the client learning how to be self-compassionate, especially to the inner-child that still dwells within us. We were all children once and metaphorically the child is at the core of our unconscious thinking, driving our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. By holding on to or suppressing negative feelings and memories from childhood, that inner-child can effect our emotional balance and cause relationship difficulties in the present.

One of the key tools that therapy can give the client, is the ability to communicate their needs successfully within an intimate relationship. As we saw with Andrew, he had to learn to put his needs aside as a child to look after his younger brother whilst his parents were at work. Despite forsaking his own needs to meet those of his brother, he still didn’t feel that he could live up to his father’s exacting standards. Subsequently, every relationship as an adult, he’s put his own needs aside for his partner’s, believing that would prevent them from leaving him. Clearly, without his needs being addressed there was an imbalance of power in the relationship and that led to continued feelings of low self-worth, esteem and anger. Exploring and identifying the unresolved feelings are the first step to understanding the impact they have had and making changes in current relationships.

It can be difficult learning to trust again when we’ve been let down in the past, and continued difficult relationships can lead to a lack of resilience, depression and anger. Counselling can help you discover the root cause of your fear of abandonment and relationship difficulties, enabling you to care for that inner child and move on to enjoy intimacy, trust, and respect as an adult.

Claire ScottIf any of this resonates with you and you would like to arrange counselling, get in contact by email at claire@insightcounsellingbrighton.co.uk or use the contact form on this website.

“Sorry for your loss”… Coping with grief and bereavement

January 30, 2017

bereavement
Losing someone in your life can lead to huge changes and make you feel differently about much that you used to take for granted. Grief and bereavement can take you by surprise and mess with your head.

Bereavement can cause confusing emotions

How long you take coping and adjusting to the loss is not dependent on anyone else’s timetable and there is no right way to grieve. People feel intense emotions or sometimes don’t feel the strong emotions they might have expected. We don’t always react in the way we might have imagined or we can be hijacked by powerful distressing emotions that are confusing even though they might have been expected. Sometimes grief can take you by surprise after a period of time – a kick in the stomach triggered by a word, a feeling or thought, a piece of music or the smell of a familiar scent.

grief aloneIt can feel desperately lonely dealing with loss and grief. Friends don’t always understand what to say and often say nothing at all – perhaps feeling scared they will say the wrong thing or can’t cope with their own fear of death. Others say what they think should help “move you on”. Perhaps you won’t be ready to move on and their well-meaning comments will feel inappropriate or ill timed.

Family members might be going through a similar or totally different set of feelings from the same loss of family member. How do you address it within the family? Can you cope with the differences? Or are they ignored? Are there unresolved conflicts? Or is there anger that the deceased is no longer there for the ones that remain? Many of these things can lead to you to feeling lost and alone.


I don’t have anyone to talk to about my loss

Sometimes you may want someone to listen to you talk about your loss, other times you don’t want to talk at all. Friends and family can often be an amazing help, listening empathetically when they share understanding, being there on the end of the phone when you most need it – keep these people close. Sadly, some of your friends may not be able to support in the way you would like. They may be emotionally unavailable to cope with your loss on top of their own difficulties in life. At times it can feel like people call or text less often and you can feel neglected and disappointed in friends you had felt were close to you. Death and grief scares some people and often their tactic is to avoid an awkward situation, rather than considering your feelings above their own.

talking to the dogRather than talking to the dog (or perhaps in addition to), you might wish to consider contacting a counsellor to help you through your bereavement. Talking about loss and letting your feelings out can help you begin to adjust to life and to consider what the relationship with the person meant to you. Bottling up or repressing difficult feelings can maintain the grief and make
coping with bereavement much harder.


When does bereavement end?

You may have read about the stages of bereavement. While it is common for grief to move through stages, for example denial and anger initially, we don’t always stick to textbook approaches in life and you might find that your personal experience of grief differs from what you read about on the Internet – and this is normal. We might not grieve in ways we have seen others grieve, or might spend far longer in certain stages than we might expect. If you are coping alone or feeling alone with your grief, you can find yourself feeling overwhelmed with difficult feelings or perhaps feel numb and lacking in feeling. When feelings are unprocessed in this way, it can sometimes lead to complicated grief or even depression.


Acceptance

Accepting a loss is complicated. There is often shock initially, even when the person has been quite unwell and death is expected. It is common to go through a period of disbelief and confusion. The range of emotions experienced when grieving can also be confusing. Despair and sorrow are expected and are common, but guilt and anger can overwhelm if you are not expecting to feel that way. You may feel nothing at all, numbness or emptiness taking over instead. You can be left with questions as well as emotions – why am I feeling this way? You might find yourself reacting to people in your life in challenging ways as a response to the grief you are experiencing.

bereavement memoriesGrief can also allow your mind to focus on the person and your relationship at a much deeper level than perhaps you were used to when they are alive. Unanswered questions may arise, never to be answered. Unresolved issues that you had successfully buried, may be unearthed and leave you with new emotions or thoughts.


Coping with grief

Sometimes grief feels so bad, it can completely stop you in your tracks. It feels almost impossible to carry on with normal life. Relationships may suffer and it could be difficult to cope with work assignments or even to get out of bed. These are normal reactions and part of the bereavement process, but if you feel it is going on for longer than you would expect, you may need extra support. If you are coping by self-medicating, drinking more alcohol or drugs, eating erratically, behaving recklessly or becoming violent or are having suicidal thoughts, talking to both your GP and/or a counsellor would be a important step forward. If grief has moved into a general feeling of worthlessness, it could be helpful to speak to someone to prevent it developing into depression.


Moving on

moving onA few months after my mother’s death I mentioned my feelings of sadness to a friend. His response, by text said, “time to move on”. It was an ill-timed, and perhaps thoughtless reaction of someone unable to empathise with my situation. Fortunately I had others around me who were more understanding.

I did adjust and over time I found I wasn’t thinking about my mum quite as much as when I was first bereaved. I would still have my moments where I felt the loss deeply, seemingly at random moments, but often triggered by something. Fifteen years later, her life and personality have more meaning to me than her death.

Other losses may be more difficult to deal with and take longer or be a bigger part of our life after. The loss of a baby or child can be incomparable and difficult for others to relate to, leaving the sufferer more alone with their confusing feelings.

therapy roomSpeaking to a counsellor about grief and feelings may help you adjust and begin to accept the loss and help you to live your life again. You are always likely to miss and think about the person and some feelings of grief may stay with you. It changes who you are, but you can go on.

If you would like to speak to Claire about bereavement or issues surrounding grief, you can email claire@insightcounsellingbrighton.co.uk or call 07967 611736 or use the Contact form.


Helpful information

Cruse Bereavement Care National helpline – http://www.cruse.org.uk/

Child Bereavement UK – http://childbereavementuk.org/

Bereavement Advice Centre – https://bereavementadvice.org

Samaritans 116 123 (UK)http://www.samaritans.org/