One of the worst triggers of Childhood PTSD symptoms for many of us is the feeling of abandonment. This trigger is primal because we’re all wired to be loved and included in the tribe as if our lives depended on it. Because in any situation before the last 100 years or so, our lives did depend on it! We need our parents when we’re born and we need dependable people connected to us throughout our lives. So just about everyone (and I know this because I’ve taught so many people to write their fears each day and I’ve heard the things that come up for virtually everyone), being left by the tribe is a core fear.
It comes out as a fear of ending up alone and homeless and dying alone. And the fear isn’t irrational; it’s a standard feature of being a human being. But for those of us with Childhood PTSD, it can go way out of proportion to the situation, to the point of being crippling, and make us seem really unreasonable.
During my childhood, my mother would leave the family for a month at a time, starting when I was a newborn. She’d run off on some unplanned adventure and not tell anyone where she was, or if she was coming back. She did come back, but the family was often in anguish and uncertainty all around me until she did.
When I was a little kid she’d sometimes take me with her and leave me for “a moment” in a hotel lobby, or in the movie theater for a couple of hours — and then not come back for 10 or 11 hours, or the middle of the night. The cops picked me up once outside a casino. I was six, and I hadn’t eaten all day, and I had a fever. Nowadays you’d lose your kids over something like that, but not back then. And I mean, I was scrambling to cover for her because of course I didn’t want them to take me away from her.
But you can see where I got kind of weird around abandonment, which carried into adulthood. It certainly kicked up when I started having groups of friends, and then boyfriends, and then working and trying to fit in — all situations where sometimes there is rejection. And before I learned to stay regulated, any rejection — I’ll tell you what it felt like: It was as if I’d been injected with a toxic chemical! I’m assuming it was a release of some stress hormone. I could feel that bad feeling flow down through my bloodstream — and think “oh no, here it goes again.” And I’d fall into a very dark kind of dysregulation, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it. That’s a trigger.
I teach an online course on healing brain dysregulation that’s caused by triggers like this. My students are often tempted to put most of their attention on why they have certain triggers. And that’s possibly helpful. Maybe exporing the cause and effect will help you better understand that your reactions to abandonment are not your fault, and you didn’t just make it up.
But I suggest to you what I tell my students: I suggest you direct most of your attention to what it feels like when you’re triggered by abandonment. What in your adult life has set it off, and what was it about those situations that seem to get to you so badly? This is the first thing to better understand, but the most important thing is to get better at coming back from that feeling.
One thing that helps tremendously with dislodging those deep-rooted triggers that have an early and understandable origin, is My Daily Practice (there’s a link below to my free course where I teach this practice, which involves twin techniques of writing, followed by meditation, each in special, simple format).
When you write your fears and resentments, you can pour out whatever is coming up on a hard day when your fear of abandonment is triggered: Some examples might be Fear no one likes me, fear I don’t know what just happened, fear I’ll end up alone when I’m old. And then I’m resentful at… my girlfriend because I have fear she didn’t text me back last night, and so on.
Deep triggers aren’t going to change because you merely decide to change — that’s not likely anyway. They change when you can access that pre-language part of your brain where the abandonment hurt was installed, and release through writing — not speaking — writing what that feeling is that’s happening — the terror, the self-hatred, whatever it is for you. You write it, you meditate, and you’ll find that the emotions are calmer, they’re lying low for the time being. And your thinking is clearer. Like maybe you don’t have to freak out and act jealous this time — maybe you can forget it. Or maybe you’re sick of all the fear involved in a relationship and you want to end it.
There’s no right answer here — the point is that all options are open to you and you’re no longer enslaved by a fear of that physiological hell associated with abandonment that limits so many of us with Childhood PTSD.
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