The Legacy of Father Loss - Abandonment Issues
Written By: Mark Smith
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If you are over thirty years old, then you grew up in an age when quality fathering was almost a lost art form. How many of us can truly say that we got more than enough attention, nurturing, time, acceptance, encouragement, touch, discipline, tenderness, leadership, stability, safety, security, guidance, and wisdom from our fathers or other father figures during our childhood years? If you got plenty of the above from your dad, then you were truly blessed in a very unique manner. The very few of you who were so blessed should take your dads out to dinner this week and try to express a great deal of appreciation; you owe that man a lot! The rest of us weren't quite as blessed. A whole generation of men were taught that it was the woman's job to keep the home fires burning while men were to busy themselves with the manly task of dragging home whatever sustenance that they could capture.
Little boys and little girls desperately need the consistent love and intense focus of both their mothers and their fathers. Without enough effective parenting from both parents, children grow up with huge holes in their hearts. I don't want to lay all the responsibility for damaged childhoods on fathers; mothers play an equally significant role in dysfunctional families. However, in the 50's and 60's American family, mothers who abandoned their children were much more out of the norm than the millions of fathers who did so.
Wounded and abandoned little boys grew up to become daddies themselves and they then had no idea whatsoever how to selflessly pour their lives into their little ones. Even today it is very difficult to be a successful, balanced, effective, and productive husband, father and provider, although today's fathers are much better at it (with the help of their wives' financial contributions to the family). Unless a man is exceptionally healthy, he tends to fall into a ditch on one side of the road or the other. Abandoning dads cut off either to work too much or to play too much (involving themselves in self-centered, oblivious or addictive behavior). Unfortunately, your dad's not being there for you during your childhood not only hurt you then, it actually continues to hurt you to this day. However well our parents loved us as we grew up-that is the only type and quality of love that we are unconsciously attracted to in our selection of a significant other. If your father abandoned you, eventually your beloved spouse or significant other will abandon you as well. It is not a matter of if; it is a matter of when and how. That is what marriage is all about; it is God's way of breaking down our walls so that we at last have an opportunity to heal our deepest childhood wounds. In this article I will discuss perhaps one of the most powerfully painful, one of the most emotionally reactive, one of the deepest wounds and one of the most potentially destructive issues that has its foundation in father hunger-abandonment issues.
Abandonment issues are very difficult to successfully heal and resolve; they are just so deeply seated and intense. If psychological issues could be portrayed in Jurassic Park terms, then abandonment issues would be raptors-extremely destructive, quick on the attack and tremendously powerful. You have abandonment issues if your reaction to people (especially your significant other) stepping back from you for whatever reason is highly exaggerated. Examples would be becoming enraged if your boyfriend arrives a few minutes late for a date, becoming possessive or jealous of your significant other's time, obsessing about the possibility that your beloved will cheat on you, becoming reactive if your spouse doesn't answer the phone when you call, becoming extremely depressed for long periods of time after a relationship is terminated or throwing a tantrum if your spouse turns down your invitation to make love. If you show me a couple where one member has abandonment issues, I'll show you a couple that fights frequently, loudly, reactively, and perhaps even violently. The classic story for someone, male or female, who is abandoned by their parent during their childhood, is that they deliberately but completely unconsciously select a spouse whose very nature is to cut off, betray and abandon by having an affair. You see, God wants to heal our unresolved childhood wounds, so He put it in our very natures to unconsciously reenact our childhood issues with our selected partners just filling in for our parents. The saddest cases are when they recover from that most horrible of rejections and then select a new spouse who eventually turns around and cheats on them as well. I tell my clients that it is bad enough that we had to endure the pain of our childhoods, but the kicker is that if we get involved in a relationship as an adult, we will inevitably have to experience that very same pain all over again.
I want you to think back to your relationship with your father; what did you need most from him, but did not receive? What were the specific ways that he wasn't there for you? I have worked with many women through the years who suffer from a particularly nasty and hurtful condition called "borderline personality disorder." Their symptoms include major abandonment issues, a tendency to ultimately devalue their mate, a poorly defined sense of self, rage, self-destructive behavior, suicidal gestures, manipulation, paranoia and the ability to disassociate themselves from their emotions. Their neediness is as scary as it is voracious. In my experience, at the root of these tortured women's issues there is almost always a history of abandonment and neglect in their relationship with their fathers. In their hearts they are little girls literally starving for male attention and affection. They have massive father-shaped holes in their souls.
Is any of this sounding familiar to anyone? Does your relationship have the ability to go up in flames instantly when one member feels abandoned (even if in reality they weren't)? Do ugly "no holds barred" conflicts erupt out of the blue for no apparent reasons? Are you utterly exhausted with trying to reason with someone "under the influence" of abandonment issues? That is like trying to reason with a drunk. There is a somewhat crazed look in the eyes of someone under the influence of abandonment issues. Does about 49% of you want out of such a crazy reactive relationship while the remaining 51% just can't let go due to the magic intensity of how good it is when it is good? Having abandonment issues is torturous. Living with someone who has abandonment issues can be quite miserable. Recently a client of mine came up with a great analogy in describing abandonment issues: they are like a beehive filled with angry bees. If the hive gets stirred up, then it is difficult for the distancing partner to not turn tail and run for fear of being stung early and often. As I have worked with women with abandonment issues, I have tried to teach them to use a little honey in their communications rather than majoring in flashing their stingers. This fellow's wife (the one suffering with the abandonment issues) pointed out that even when the hive is silent, the bees of insecurity, paranoia and rage are still buzzing around pretty intensely on the inside.
So, now that we have identified the beast, what can be done to provide some relief? I will not promise you progress that is not achievable. This is an extremely difficult set of issues and the therapy for abandonment issues takes a long, long time with what seems at times to be mixed success. However, we do have many couples that have made significant progress. There are keys to the success of their recovery processes including:
(1) Gaining clear and unequivocal insight into the connection between their childhood abandonment experiences and their current relationship;
(2) Shifting paradigms away from a victim stance towards a proactive position where the client with the abandonment issues "owns" their choices and responsibilities in their life;
(3) Participating in major individual, couple and group therapy work focused on resolving the underlying childhood wounds which are the driving forces in the abandonment-issue-related relational warfare;
(4) Recognizing objectively when the abandonment issues are coming up and being able to then process them in a non-judgmental and non-reactive environment before the battle becomes heated; and
(5) Developing additional sources of nurturing and connection so that the significant-other relationship doesn't have to carry the burden of filling that huge "father hole" in your heart.
When these pieces are in place, a relationship with someone who has abandonment issues doesn't have to feel like a roller coaster ride.
When the spouse of a client with abandonment issues gets into their own recovery, we teach them to react in the following different and more healthy ways:
(1) Do not get reactive back; that is like throwing gasoline on a fire;
(2) Calmly name the issue as abandonment rather than dignifying irrational reactions as if they were reality based;
(3) Consider stepping back from the relationship if your partner is in denial and is not "owning" the true nature of their issues;
(4) Begin intensive couple, individual and group therapy to resolve your own childhood issues. Remember, you are no healthier emotionally than your partner; you are just put together differently; and
(5) Shift out of a victim paradigm, which will help you to understand that everything in the relationship is fair as you reflect on and "own" your 50% of the responsibility for the relational problems.
When we have couples that roll up their sleeves and do this type of work, ultimately the results are satisfying. While they still suffer from occasional large bumps in the road, they heal enough to develop a mutually safe and fulfilling intimate relationship.
If this article reached out and touched you where you live, be assured that your abandonment issues will not heal themselves; you will need a lot of effective help to wrestle with this raptor. Call us - 844-2442. We can help you individually and we can help your relationship a great deal. Don't let the beast that is within you, through no fault of your own, destroy a relationship that is vitally important to you. Through insight, hard work, accountability and the healing of deep primitive places within you, the beast can be tamed.
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