You can’t change what happened to you, but you can choose how you allow yourself to grow from it.
After a rough two months of post break-up blues, I was recently diagnosed with separation anxiety. (And yes, it was as fun as it sounds). As if that wasn't difficult enough, I then discovered this was brought on by my fear of abandonment.
Some of you who know me well may be saying "duh", but for me this was a total revelation. After all, I never had this reaction after my divorce —and thatwas one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. But this breakup was different; the hurt felt different. Then the panic attacks started, and I knew I needed help.
What I have learned since is, my reaction was largely due to the fact that I had an unhealthy attachment style. Attachment styles refer to the particular way in which an individual relates to other people. The style of attachment is formed early in life, and once established, stays with you and plays out in how you relate in intimate relationships, including how you parent your children.
I learned from Dr. Morgan Anderson in episode 96 of her “Let’s Get Vulnerable!” podcast that the reason my divorce and breakup experiences were so different is because every relationship is as unique as the people in them. Different experiences will create a variety of responses and/or triggers.
The good news is, if you currently have an unhealthy attachment style, there is hope! We are all capable of creating lasting change towards a secure attachment style, but ONLY if we are intentional about it.
The first step towards healing is acknowledgment and acceptance.
Experiencing codependency and unhealthy attachment styles doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with you. It just means you are a human who has experienced trauma: in all its many shapes and forms.
The truth is (or at least, this is what I have been told by my therapist), most people carry some kind of abandonment wound. Our personal stories might be different, but the wound is the same.
It doesn’t always take a catastrophic event to form an abandonment wound. In the book “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing”, author Susan Anderson explains how a seemingly minor event such as being dropped off at summer camp can cause a small child to feel their security is under threat.
To add to that, our culture hasn’t always taken trauma as seriously as it should, which has resulted in multi-generational wounding. Low to high-grade trauma is passed down from parents to their children, and the cycle repeats itself.
Little hurts and stresses, all the way to low-grade trauma is generally brushed off as “not a big deal”, but that doesn’t mean these experiences don’t leave a mark.
So, that’s step one: acknowledge and accept. Step two is to reclaim your power!
Doing self-reflection and getting to know yourself better by developing hobbies and doing things independently, is a great start. But the primary treatment for abandonment issues is therapy.
During therapy, a person can explore their experiences of abandonment, including the root cause of their fears. A therapist can also help an individual with abandonment issues learn how to establish healthy boundaries in relationships. Healthy boundaries allow individuals to avoid codependency, “people-pleasing” behaviors, and other actions that hinder the formation of healthy relationships.
That’s what I am currently working on: clearly defining my boundaries. Until now, I can honestly say I didn’t even know what they were!
This is one my favorite things about life. We never truly stop growing. I accepted long ago that the “work” is never really done. Because, for me, my healing journey is not linear. It is a lifelong, never-ending process of my wounds showing up, owning my own shit, releasing what is not mine, and giving myself grace along the way. It is my hope that you will do that same.
To learn more about your personal attachment style, we recommend you take this test. Dr. Morgan Anderson is a clinical psychologist, relationship coach, attachment theory expert, and creator of the E.S.L. Relationship Method. Her mission is to help women get off the dating rollercoaster, raise their self-worth, and attract the healthy relationship they’ve always wanted. Her podcast “Let’s Get Vulnerable!” is officially on the top of our favorites playlist and provides real talk on all things dating, relationships, and sex.