If we have key experiences from childhood in which we were abandoned physically or emotionally by others, these trauma experiences stay lodged inside of us. We are vulnerable in a place of need that was never fully met. One of the ways we may cope is to turn away from needing anyone, or constantly distrust others and test them over and over. I wrote about the turning away from need reaction in an earlier blog on disordered attachment.
Our true needs live on and they become quite large, however we may become dissociated from them as the pain of needing was too difficult and our abandonment trauma can be retriggered by experiences where others leave us if only for a short time.
In my last relationship my abandonment trauma would be retriggered every time my ex partner was gone for long periods. He would leave very early in the morning to go surfing and sometimes not come back for over 3 hours. This was just too much for me in the state I was at that critical time in my life. I had had a major accident trauma 2 years before which compounded multiple other traumas of abandonment. I would get overly traumatised by these long absences and at times erupt. We could not work it through as I was only blamed and re-traumatised over and over again.
When I entered my first attempt at therapy at the age of 30 I left at the first whiff of perceived abandonment. My therapist who was a man had to go into hospital for surgery. I bailed and did not realise until some years later that this was flashback/trigger situation for what happened when my father was admitted to hospital and died shortly afterwards.
At my second serious attempt I aborted after a year and a half when my therapist went away for one month, I pulled the plug not only on therapy but on a new start in the United Kingdom, in time my relationship broke down. I now know (after having found therapists who don’t leave me for as long) that these kind of breaks were just too long for me at that stage and limited awareness of recovery.
One of the central issues of my childhood is a lack of adequate “holding”. A child needs a mother who can hold his or her painful and intense feelings in an adequate way for the child to integrate and process these feelings. When this doesn’t happen we develop a character structure that is impaired in its ability to hold and express. We may go overboard when angry or we hold our feelings deep inside and say nothing for fear of being abandoned yet again. I have a feeling such a background is a breeding ground for personality disorders such as Borderline and Narcissistic Personality.
When we enter therapy all of our past issues with our early caregivers will play out. We also replay them in other relationships. Getting too close to someone is a trigger which can awaken all our painful abandonment issues. We need a therapist who understands this and we need to understand, too, how we react when our abandonment trauma is retriggered.
Once we can connect within with the little one or Inner Child of the Past that was abandoned and listen to and soothe his or her feelings of distress with words of empathy, compassion and love we can learn to hold ourselves and begin to express to others how we felt when our abandonment trauma was retriggered. We may not even have to express to others, once we ourselves understand.
A large part of healing from Complex PTSD and BPD lies in understanding the role triggers and flashbacks play in our lives. It also involves not allowing our Inner Critic to launch an attack against our Inner Child inwardly or project the pain outwards through the powerful Outer Critic as a defence.
That said, if we have a pattern of attracting others who consistently emotionally abandon us, we can learn to listen to and take our needs seriously and take steps not to rely on these kind of relationships in a way which makes us vulnerable.
3 thoughts on “How Abandonment trauma can be retriggered”
Thank you for this! I mean, I guess I *knew* this somehow already, but I really needed to hear it this morning. It made a few things fall into place.
I’m glad it helped. It takes some time to understand this and often a lot of pain.
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Thanks for posting this! I can really relate to this.