Fear of abandonment causes us to lower our standards. We’re afraid that if we don’t be and do all the ‘right’ things, that we’re going to be deserted and unable to survive. To protect us against this fate, we try to work out the conditions for us to be ‘pleasing’ so that we can limit or outright avoid abandonment. As a backup, we also become adept at aligning ourselves with situations where we can limit risk by limiting vulnerability and intimacy.
Not fully realising what we’re doing, this becomes our role (the function we play within relationships). We build our habits of thinking and behaviour on this role, aligning with people/situations we ‘fit’, even if it hurts.
Fearing re-experiencing the hurt and loss from the past, we either go ahead and try and have relationships but lower our standards to lessen the likelihood of abandonment or, we avoid relationships altogether.
Why do we lower our standards?
When we feel unworthy of the type of relationship where our needs and desires could be met, we lower our standards. We accept less than mutual love, care, trust and respect. We reason that it will hurt less to be abandoned by someone who reflects our fear of abandonment. There’s a fear that if a genuinely loving person got to know us, they’d reject us due to unworthiness.
Deeming this too painful, we consciously and unconsciously gravitate to people who represent the past. We believe that they’re less risky partners because their behaviour (or how we feel around them) is familiar. They represent part of a pattern that we know how to play our part in. It allows us to attempt to right the wrongs of the past so that we can correct the old abandonment.
Lowering our standards to protect us from hurt and loss inevitably creates more. It keeps re-opening the old wound.
Our comfort zone is painful but we figure that at least we know what to expect and that it can’t get much worse. It does. Self-abandonment is horrific.
The truth is, we lower our standards and yes, accept the unacceptable at times because we assume that it removes any reason for that person to leave. We think that if we’re a ‘good little girl/boy’ and sacrifice ourselves, that they won’t go away.
We’re basically trying to get our needs met by putting us in dire situations. Suffering is seen as a means to pay off old guilt about being an inadequate child who was able to control the uncontrollable. We mistakenly believe that if we’re suffering, someone has to step up and come to our rescue.
When we experience hurt and loss, we determine that we’ve failed.
Wait, I’m not even ‘good enough’ to prevent being abandoned by someone I’ve lowered our standards for? Man, I really must be worthless.
So, what happens next? Well, we either lower our standards further (and experience diminishing returns), or we give up on relationships.
Why do we opt to avoid relationships?
We either opt out from the outset or it happens after feeling abandoned again due to the breakdown of a relationship. We lower our standards for the type of life we want to have.
It could be that we made a conscious decision to avoid dating, or we busied ourselves in study or work. We might busy ourselves in someone else’s problems to distract us from having time for a relationship.
We’ll say that we’re looking for a relationship but our life is perfectly designed to avoid this. E.g. being insanely busy at work, using shyness as a cast-iron alibi, insisting that there’s no good men/women to date, or claiming that no one wants us. Maybe we always have crushes on people where we know deep down that it’s never gonna happen.
We decide that it’s better to be alone, to be fiercely independent, because at least we’re in control; we can’t be abandoned.
Whether it’s excessive work, exercise, a cause, other people’s drama, or being self-critical, they’re anaesthetising painful feelings about abandonment. They silence and suppress the feelings and thoughts that we’re afraid will escape if we stand still for too long.
Avoiding relationships to deal with fear of abandonment is emotional purgatory. It’s punishment for having got a previous relationship ‘wrong’, for a misstep, for not having something like the the right kind background, or for being an inadequate child that caused their inadequate childhood or painful experiences.
We might look at our family and decide, No way am I ever going to end up like my mother or trapped/overwhelmed by a man like my father.
There might be a desire to, for instance, have a family. Forecasting the many ways in which will be abandoned or feeling unworthy of being a parent, blocks this out.
We might reason that it’s better to be alone than ever run the risk of having to give up our career. Relationships become associated with losing one’s self and basically having to sacrifice too much.
We abandon our hidden hopes and dreams. We base our limitations on the past because that matches our feelings of low self-worth.
In some respects, we’d love to have a relationship but we don’t think we can take the hurt [of being abandoned]. We reason that at least we can put a certain amount into work and get something back, that the exercise pays off, our friends appreciate us etc. Next thing, we’re experiencing diminishing returns. Frustrations arise in these areas because our unresolved past is calling on us to confront and heal it.
Despite our attempts to avoid abandonment by avoiding relationships, those painful feelings resurface. Exacerbated because we inadvertently use whatever we escape to as a form of structure, consistency and validation, we invariably have boundary issues that lead to exhaustion, overwhelm, perfectionism and feeling underappreciated. We then feel inferior and self-critical. We wonder why we can’t catch a break.
To avoid these feelings, we might begin a new relationship and due to having starved ourselves of affection, attention etc., we choose an unhealthy partner (because we’re abandoning ourselves again). Cue more hurt and loss.
Fear of abandonment is a vicious cycle that ends when we break the habit of self-abandonment. We stop blaming and shaming us for the pain we went through earlier in our life. We stop blocking receiving love, care, trust and respect.
Each time we abandon ourselves by making someone our oxygen supply, by sacrificing us for someone else’s agenda, or by blocking loving relationships, we reinforce the untruth that we deserved the original abandonment. We decide that we don’t deserve better.
When we lower our standards to protect us from being ‘back there’ in the past keeps us small. We punish those younger versions of us and we don’t allow them to grow into truth. We’re denied a life.
We can never be in that place again. We’re not that kid anymore or still in that old relationship.
We have more power than we believe. We can begin healing ourselves through the powerful recognition that no child deserves abandonment. The cycle can and will end when we stop looking for romantic partners to be our parent and fix our past.
A change in the way in which we respond to our past, heals our past, because we stop supporting the lies that we’ve been telling us.
It’s not our job to play the part of the abandoned. What we’ve been doing is a role and it’s not our job to be the ‘best of the worst’ and to suffer. We don’t need to seek compensation for the past nor do we need to pay off the guilt we feel for our abandonment by accepting unfulfilling relationships.
We no longer need to use people pleasing to protect ourselves from our fear of abandonment. Whether it’s about performing, accepting sub-par behaviour and situations, or dimming our light, they all recreate abandonment. We perpetually set ourselves up for disappointment by living in the past and yes, living a lie.
Believing that we have to do these things is a misunderstanding that our lack of ‘enoughness’ caused our original abandonment. It’s a naive assumption that our pleasing solutions were a fix.
We are trying to fix an original problem that we didn’t cause and that we had no responsibility in fixing. How we continue to respond to the original problem in spite of our growth and the opportunity to view our past with more self-compassion, is our responsibility. It’s persecution of the self. We’re pursuing meeting an unmet need via a fantasy that represents an unrealistic situation.
What if the way in which we see our abandonment isn’t accurate?
It doesn’t mean that we didn’t experience abandonment but it’s acknowledging whether the reasons we tell ourselves are the truth. That doesn’t change what happened but it changes the meaning that we attribute about that event to our self-concept.
For example, a parent who abandoned their child, whether it’s through emotional distance, lack of support and nurturing, or abuse, has also abandoned themselves. They gave up or were a no-show because of their own issues and backstory.
We do not need to prove that we are loveable and worthy by denying the truth, hoping it will make that person give us what we need.
There’s no need to suffer to earn forgiveness for our trauma. We don’t need to suffer to make up for what others couldn’t be or do.
Ultimately, we do not need to fear abandonment anymore if we stop using shame and blame to abandon ourselves. Through our path of self-forgiveness, we no longer align ourselves with people/situations that match the way we used to feel. We set ourselves free to heal, grow and learn.