Her mother did not abandon her as an infant, despite the story she has told people for years. She was not left alone, ever, come to think of it. She hasn’t really been alone since she was born, having spent time in the company of her grandmother, aunts, truckloads of friends and acquaintances and eventually her husband (despite his occasional drifting) of five decades. Despite all of those people, she still feels utterly and completely alone and adrift. Never mind that her two younger siblings spoke extremely fondly of their relatives for decades and decades. She had very little to do with them over the course of their lives and little to no involvement with their immediate family members. She has nothing but disdain for their mother, and has spent a lifetime lionizing their pretty much absent father.
Little Girl Lost has what is known as “abandonment issues” and while her personal pain is palpable, she also manages to spray emotional Agent Orange wherever she goes because of it. Psychology Today says that, “living with repeated abandonment experiences creates toxic shame.” They also go on to describe how shame can lead a person to believe that their whole self is bad, flawed or subject to exclusion. It also explains how people who live with that level of shame often leads people to “blame, denigrate (criticize unfairly), or make attributions about others” – in order to regain some sort of positive self-view or hide their own negative self perceptions. Psychology Today goes so far as to say that shame can lead people to express contempt toward others.
Ahhh! This explains so much. I had the great misfortune to spend a number of my formative years in the company of a very formidable mentor who carried a rather large basket of abandonment issues around on a daily basis, which I did not begin to fully grasp until a considerable amount of damage had been done. I was not abandoned – in fact, I was surrounded by amazing people everywhere I went: school; my neighborhoods; places of worship… it’s a long Contact List in my heart, of the kindness that surrounded me all the days of my life. Still, Little Girl Lost was a towering figure who served as a maternal figure for me, too. Sticky wicket, that. Mother-Daughter relationships are convoluted enough. Add in some toxic elements and everyone has to duck and cover on a regular basis.
Well then, what to do – what to do? There is an awful lot of information out there for individuals suffering from abandonment issues, but not as much info. available to those involved with those suffering from abandonment issues. But, what’s that they say? Half the battle is: knowing/showing up/acknowledging the problem, right? Surely just understanding the emotions behind the problem will help:
Dr. John Grohol, PsychCentral.com founder, tells us that fear of abandonment leads adults to engage in “frantic attempts to avoid being alone.” Adults with abandonment issues may seem clingy and overreact to things that would not necessarily be scary or anxiety-provoking to others. They may panic and assume someone wants to end a relationship if they are simply late for a social engagement, instead of having compassion for their explanation of why they were delayed. They might issue a counter-strike, to avoid the abandonment. Such as Little Girl Lost did, when she ended a 72 year friendship with a once beloved friend who lost track of time and did not show up for a scheduled holiday dinner. At the time, it broke my heart when I realized what had transpired between these two women who had been pals since they were 12 years old – but I now understand the sheer terror that Little Girl Lost had experienced and how she saw what she did as completely rational and just a form of self-preservation. Weird, though it was.
Experts agree that clear communication and healthy boundaries are vital to any healthy relationship but that they are absolutely key to having any kind of relationship if someone you love fears abandonment. As a little girl who grew up in the shadow of Little Girl Lost, I have found myself desperately wanting to provide emotional GPS at every turn, so that we both might find common ground – but, I realize that as clear as my attempts to communicate were, she could not follow my lead… I might abandon her along the road.
What is left? Boundaries. I have had to set-up roadblocks to protect myself from jumping from my own posts and relationships. I try to encourage other relationships and activities that will not include my involvement, because I finally realize that nothing I ever do will be enough to fill the Basket of Need.
It has taken me a very long time to fully realize that I cannot follow the lead of Little Girl Lost, or we will both end up on the side of an emotionally broken road. What I can do, is continue to leave the door of communication open and if she ever finds her way there (maybe by accident), I will remind her that she always has a home here – and that she is always welcome. [All the while, keeping a firm grip on my own address, knowing that I also hold the key to this place I call home.]
xo – t.
“Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.” – Washington Irving
“Not all those who wander are lost.” – J.R. R. Tolkein
“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.” – Winston Churchill