Abandonment is one of the hardest experiences to heal from. It is a form of betrayal that leaves a person feeling bereft with grief. The grief process also takes a very long time to complete with abandonment; more so, oftentimes than in other grief experiences. This is because of the lack of closure, lack of validation, confusion, and sense of eternal hope on the part of the person being left.
If you have been abandoned, you may wonder how you can heal? What steps are needed to overcome the feelings of low self worth, guilt, rejection, and constant waiting for your loved one to change his or her mind?
There must be something you can do to help heal from abandonment; but, what?
According to Susan Anderson, therapist and author of the book, The Abandonment Recovery Workbook, there are different stages to abandonment – each part of the recovery process. The stages of abandonment are not linear, but spiral. You can experience all of the stages sequentially, concurrently, and sporadically. Recovery is occurring, however, at every stage.
What are the stages of abandonment?
Initial Abandonment – this is the first stage of being abandoned. This occurs when the relationship gets torn apart and you feel the initial stab of being rejected by your loved one. You feel a sense of panic and overwhelm as you try to deny the reality of the situation.
Withdrawal Stage – Just like a drug addict giving up his drug of choice, the first stages of losing a loved one causes withdrawal symptoms. This is because the brain chemistry affected includes dopamine, oxytocin, cortisol, endorphins, and other “emotional” chemicals. Some of the “feel good” chemicals, like dopamine, are depleted with a loss, and the stress hormone, cortisol is increased, which causes feelings of desperation to get your supply source back. The withdrawal stage will eventually pass as your brain chemistry equalizes without its “drug,” but it will take awhile. Expect triggers and cravings to occur.
Idealizing the Lost Love – This stage occurs as your brain chemistry takes over, telling you how great your lost love was and how faulty you are. A lot of self-blame occurs at this stage as your brain tries to make sense of what happened. In fact, your brain’s narrative goes something like this, “What could I have done differently to keep this person from leaving me? After all, he is so important and so great, while I am so flawed and messed up.” Your brain’s inner dialogue is caused by an overactive imagination, kicking in to gear to help eliminate the stress hormones and increase the bonding and pleasure hormones which are currently out of whack.
Self Blame – As you remember how awesome and amazing your lost love is, you start feeling deep seated insecure feelings of incompetency to hold on to love. You start re-writing history, blaming yourself for why your loved one left. You criticize and blame yourself, which damages your ability to recover. Your Inner Critic grows bigger and stronger, condemning you for being so unlovable and defective that this very important person had to leave.
Anger/Resentment/Rage – This stage of abandonment occurs when you start facing the reality of the betrayal you experienced. You start realizing the truth of the situation – that someone you loved, trusted, and relied upon, chose to walk away from and hurt you. You are now all alone, licking the wounds caused by someone who wasn’t supposed to leave. The injury caused to you is apparent, and you feel enormous rage. This is actually a vital part of your recovery, because in your anger you will find your power and your value. At this stage you realize that you deserved better and that your value has been diminished by your loved one.
Acceptance – At this stage in the recovery process you start to feel normal again. You have learned how to survive a serious emotional injury. You have gained wisdom and a positive sense of self-acceptance.
Moving On – At this stage you are willing to love again. You have grown and learned about yourself, love, loss, and how to love yourself well and love others well, without thinking in the back of your mind, “What if he/she leaves me too?”
What to do to help yourself heal:
- Remind yourself that each stage of the process is necessary for healing and that as you experience each stage you are healing.
- Encourage yourself by telling yourself you will feel normal again. You will not grieve forever.
- Do not idealize the abandoner. Rather, put him in a proper place – normalcy – with weaknesses and strengths, no more, no less.
- Sit with your emotions and let them process through. Don’t try to run from them, deny them, or avoid them. Allow yourself to experience the full range of your emotions without stopping the process. Remember, you must go through emotions to heal, not around them.
- Write. Journal. Writing will help you put your feelings somewhere. You need to grieve the loss and writing will help you process your feelings of grief. Also write the positive. Write what you need to say to yourself.
- Challenge any false beliefs. Focus on reality. Don’t blame yourself for another person’s actions, no matter how much the other person tries to blame you for his choices.
- Love yourself. Take care of your needs. Be kind and gentle with yourself, without judgment.
- Let go. Make a conscious decision to let go of the person who left. You do this mentally as well as physically. Practice every day to say good-bye to the person who already left. Say good-bye to his position in your mind and heart.
- Love others. Rather than focusing on the person who left, focus on the people who haven’t left. This will remind you that you still have importance in others’ lives and that your need to love someone can still be met.
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Anderson, S. (2016). The Abandonment Recovery Workbook. Novato, CA: New World Library