The fear of being left all alone to cope in a hard and scary world is universal; everyone feels it sometimes. But there are people whose lives are far too controlled by this fear. These insecure ones don’t trust their abilities to cope by themselves. While it is fine to be interdependent with others in life, it is important to be one’s own person and know where one is going, whether or not there are always people to support you.
If threatened with having to be alone, those whose lives are controlled by fear of abandonment tend to compulsively reach out to find someone, anyone, to have around them. They may panic if someone doesn’t call back right on time or is late for a meeting. Sometimes these efforts not to be alone can become quite desperate and extreme. The fearful one can become angry, threatening, pleading, blackmailing, all in an effort to lock the other to them. “You can’t leave me.” Emotional blackmailing may get to the point of including threats such as “I’ll hurt or kill myself if you leave.”
A person who fears abandonment may also have an attitude that “I must never do anything to bother or upset important people in my life— I must keep them happy to keep myself safe.” He or she may offer to do the unpleasant jobs just to bribe the other into staying around—the dishes, taking out the garbage. Sometimes it may involve being the loud, nutty entertainer.
There are those who may always be departing from relationships to avoid rejection. But they immediately start reaching out for someone/anyone new to hold on to. In new friendships, there will be this pattern of exaggerating how much the two have in common, and how they will now always feel and do the same in all things. While that’s normal in the honeymoon phase of any relationship, these folks want to stay in that psychologically merged, “perfect” state of union all the time. In this way such people can really play the chameleon, pretending they’ve always belonged, and always did belong, to some new group or scene. The underlying desperation is usually apparent to others sooner or later.
In relationships this person may always be asking, “Do you love me? Do you really, really, really love me? Promise you’ll never leave? Can we do every single thing together?…” which naturally pushes others away.
Usually such people have lived for a long time with the feeling that they are inwardly emotionally alone, with no one to rely on. They truly have experienced having important people abandoning them at a time when they were still too young and vulnerable; or parents were physically present, but emotionally elsewhere. When the child needed them they weren’t around; the caregivers were unable to be strong trees to lean on, usually due to their own emotional inabilities.
People with major abandonment fear generally have a weakened sense of self; they feel more happy, confident and real when someone else is there to prop them up and protect them from the boogeyman. The boogeyman represents their own inner fears and urges: if I’m alone, I won’t be able to cope with the emotions that come up, or with outer world challenges. It is too hard to be me and I don’t have the supports and resources to make it in this hard world.
Therapy is based on the idea that inside that anxious scared person there is a competent, self-supporting person who wants to come out. The goal is not to be coldly self-sufficient, never needing people. The aim is to be your own person and move from needing relationships to wanting relationships. In this way the therapist is always saying, “I think you can do it. You can make that decision on your own. You can cope with your life. You can solve problems using your logical mind and your feelings. You can soothe yourself when you are anxious and alone. You can develop pride and self-respect as someone who contributes to the world.” Deep down all of us want to be grown up, balanced and mature; we just don’t know how and are sometimes scared. The therapist stands by the pool and encourages, and will catch you if you start to drown, but you have to do your own swimming.