I’ve been writing quite a bit about unresolved abandonment issues and which it is the core of the borderline personality disorder. What does abandonment feel like? This question was asked by my therapist. I answered, “Like someone has ripped my heart out. An aching all over. Like I want to throw a tantrum. Like no one is every going to respond to me.”
My therapist responded with “those are descriptions and not feelings.” He encouraged me to just be with the feeling…urg!!! With tearful eyes, I answered, “alone, painful and rageful.” Then, I started to sob and talk about when I felt abandoned. He told me to stay in the feeling and not defend by my cognition. What kind of therapist do I have to encourage me to feel!!! :-)
The key is attachment to the primary care-giver which is usually the mother. When an infant or toddler does not attach to the mother due to the mother’s actions inadequate attachment occurs. There are various types of attachment. They are ambivalent, avoidant, anxious and secure. Given what I have already written about my life, my attachment was ambivalent. Everyone experiences some attachment difficulties, but for some it does not interfere in one’s life. However, for some it significantly impacts their emotional, relational, cognitive and behavioral issues. The earlier the injury usually means that it has more impact on a person’s life.
This is related to the criteria for borderline personality disorder in the DSM-IV-TR:
“A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
2. a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
3. identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
4. impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5.
5. recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
6. affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
7. chronic feelings of emptiness
8. inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
9. transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms”
What does a child need to form a secure attachment? The following is a table from Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson:
Variations in Maternal Functioning
The Ideal Mother versus The Borderline Mother
1. Comforts her child versus Confuses her child.
2. Apologized for inappropriate behavior versus Does not apologize or remember inappropriate behavior.
3. Takes care of herself versus Expects to be taken care of.
4. Encourages independence in her children versus Punishes or discourages independence.
5. Is proud of her children's accomplishments versus Envies, ignores, or demeans her children's accomplishments.
6. Builds her children's self-esteem versus Destroys, denigrates, or undermines self-esteem.
7. Responds to her children's changing needs versus Expects children to respond to her needs.
8. Calms and comforts her children versus Frightens and upsets her children.
9. Disciplines with logical and natural consequences verses Disciplines inconsistently or punitively.
10. Expects that her children will be loved by others versus Feels left out, jealous or resentful if the child is loved by someone else.
11. Never threatens abandonment versus Uses threats of abandonment (or actual abandonment) to punish the child.
12. Believes in her children's basic goodness versus Does not believe in her children's basic goodness.
13. Trusts her children versus Does not trust her children.
Abandonment also includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect. One thing that people with borderline personality disorders do is try to find someone who will fulfill these needs which is why they become involved in the type of relations and avoid at any cost feeling abandonment and become involved in abuse relationships. This is an attempt to fulfill our infantile wishes which everyone has to some degree.
Without the important above needs, they will also split a relationship to all bad or all good. They will also try to have someone tell them what they feel and who they are as they have little sense of self. It also results in depression, hopelessness, worthlessness, feeling helpless, feeling needy, personality disorders and feelings of abandonment which included emotional and physical.
If one has experienced one of the most painful experience of all it can turn your life upside down and around and around. Each and every loss feels like abandonment and adds more layers of pain to repressed pain and unresolved grief. This can also result in rage, pain and terror.
What I am discovering in therapy is that my unresolved abandonment results are well defended by self-injury, eating disorders, over-functioning, relationship problems, and more. They are defenses against feeling the rage, terror and pain of my abandonment. This also keeps me from thinking that it was all my fault versus the other person is responsible for their decsions.
Most recently, I have felt abandonment in many areas that are made more difficult due to my unresolved feelings about my being abandoned. It adds to the intensity and I also am more effected by feeling that I am “abandoned” even if it isn’t true. My birthday is one example, my grandmothers death, my relationship with my aunt, my husband working extra hours, etc. One area that has always been quite difficult with me is whenever my therapist takes time off even if it for the weekend. Sometimes, I even think that he is purposely trying to hurt me which I know isn’t true, but it is not what it feels like.
Feelings of abandonment is partly a psychobiological process. The brain at a young age develops neuropath ways that are automatically followed. The good news is that you can train your brain to take a different path which is known as neuroplacisity. Also, it is becoming aware of your thoughts before you act and choose to act differently. However, both take hard work and it is worth it.
For me, therapy and medication have been the most helpful. Medication brings me to a point where it dials down my thoughts and feelings, so I can actually do the work necessary in therapy.
I can write much more on this topic, but I will stop here as this is becoming very long. I hope that it helps you to understand yourself and others.