Sunday, 28 April 2024 11:59

The Correlation Between Abandonment and Anxious Attachment

The first time I noticed it was in second grade. I was laying in my childhood bed, staring at the shapes that looked like faces on the wooden wall next to me, sobbing. I missed my best friend and couldn’t wait to see her again at school on Monday.

It was Saturday morning and she had just left minutes ago from a Friday night sleepover at my house. The night before we ate pizza and watched Disney movies in the basement, then we played with my collection of My Little Ponies, which I had meticulously spaced out in rows and columns by color on the basement floor. If we slept at all, it was in sleeping bags in front of the fireplace. Mostly we stayed up, giggling and laughing, me not wanting the night to end because of the emotions that would come for me when she left. 

As a child, I couldn’t begin to understand why I felt immense sadness after my friend left on Saturday. I just knew that I missed her and missed what I thought was the best night of my life. 

It wasn’t the only time I had attachment issues when people left me, even if I knew I’d see them again. On Saturday nights and all day Sunday, we spent time at our nanny and pappy’s house so they could take us to church and give our dad a break. When they dropped us off at Dad’s Sunday night, I would cry and linger in Nanny’s arms, begging her not to go. She always told me that I would see her again later that week. Still I lay awake in bed, crying over how much I missed her. 

It was many years and a divorce later that led me to a reason as to why I had felt so devastated after people left me: I had abandonment issues and anxious attachment stemming from when my mother died, or “left me,” when I was a child. Something took root, nothing obvious to me or anyone at the time, but it was the beginning. Since my mother left, I have had fear of abandonment and anxiety over people leaving. 

Anxious attachment style is one of the four attachment styles psychologists have categorized their clients to better help them understand their own cyclical behavior, especially in relationships. 

Another type is avoidant attachment, where running away and avoiding conflicts and difficult conversations are the ways in which these people have sought safety and control. 

The third kind of attachment style is disorganized attachment where the person often toggles between pushing people away or clinging desperately to them. 

The final type, and the goal for all of us, is secure attachment style, when the person is not triggered or emotionally reactive to events that take place within relationships.

If you have read any history about us as a species, you will recognize that for thousands of years our main goal in life was to survive. In order to survive, we needed to have a tribe of people to help increase our chances of living. Without this support system, we would have most likely been killed by an animal or starved to death in the elements. 

After my husband did leave me, or in my mind abandon me, the fear of “dying” came at me like a wrecking ball. Even though I knew I wasn’t physically dying, on a primitive level, I thought I was. It was around that time that I knew I had to confront my past and acknowledge where this fear came from.

It started with some books on the attachment styles I mentioned and a few podcasts on the subject. I grew to understand my own anxious attachment qualities, but also recognized other types in the people I have met, including my former husband (he had avoidant attachment if you’re curious). 

It was one thing to know what attachment style you were and recognize where it came from, but it was quite another to work on overcoming it. That was the hard part. Though the books and videos and podcasts gave some advice and strategies, I knew everyone was different and everyone had different circumstances to get them in the situation they are in. What works for someone may not work for another. 

Nevertheless, I feel that experimenting, varying a strategy to make it fit your lifestyle better, or coming up with your own ways of coping are your best bets. And I would never know what worked for me until I took the first step. 

I began with having a conversation with my inner child, the one who lost her mother and was devastated by the thought of her best friend and Nanny leaving her. I found an old photo of my eight year old self and I told her everything I wish someone had told me. “It’s okay. You will be okay. It wasn’t your fault Mom died. She loved you and wanted to be in your life.” 

I can’t explain how, but I felt something immediately release. It was as though thirty odd years of waiting for a conversation I needed finally happened and I could confidently say that I wasn’t to blame for her death. 

Next, I wrote out my constant feelings and fears about why I felt stuck. I wasn’t good enough. I could never be good enough for anyone to love. I didn’t deserve love. Then I approached it like I would a good friend who was also struggling and asked myself what I would tell her or him. Of course I would be supportive. I would tell her that she is loved and deserving of love because she’s a lovable person. I remember this next time I told myself something negative.

The next advice came from my aunt. She told me to give myself hugs and pretend it was her arms around me. I wrapped my arms around myself and just held my own tear-wracked body, imagining it was my aunt. I repeated, “You are okay. “You will be okay. “You have nothing to be ashamed of or nothing to feel bad about.” This goes back to the need for a social support system. Since I didn’t have family around at the time, I was my own support system. Self hugs helped ease my anxiety and relax my mind. 

All of the above strategies and actions helped me refocus on moving forward to what I want in my life instead of ruminating in the past and feeling sorry for myself. 

Am I suddenly cured of my anxious attachment and abandonment issues? Absolutely not. I am a work in progress and I know that it will take many years for something as deeply ingrained inside of me to heal and loosen its grip on my thoughts. 

But I’m taking steps. Some days are better than others. Some days I am okay with who I am and everything that happened to me, while other days I feel useless and as though I’ve failed at life.

Humans have the benefit of making choices every single day. We can choose to stay down in the depths of despair, or we can choose to stand and take a single baby step forward. That’s all it takes. Just one small step.   

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