We’ve made it to part five in the “Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid” series and the Clo Bare’s history of all her relationships extravaganza! In today’s post, we’re discussing fear of abandonment. If you’re just now getting to this series, I recommend heading back to “Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid: Part One” where I discuss dating anxiety. So far we’ve discussed dating anxiety, savior complex, choosing the wrong men, and relationship red flags. On the relationship history side we started with grade school, made our way through high school and college, and in our last post we got all the way through the China years. Now, it’s time to enter into post-China, and my mid-twenties where all the relationship patterns built up to my hunt for security, settling in relationships and fear of abandonment.
After Savan, I lost all interest in romantic relationships for a while. I didn’t so much as dip my toe in the dating pool for about two years. Which also means I didn’t have sex for almost two years. Well, except for once with an ex-boyfriend when I visited my hometown from China for Christmas. But we’ll get into that story later.
When I moved home from China in late 2015, I started on my path to healing, slowly rebuilding and settling into a new version of Chloé post-China.
Pretty soon, after moving to Chicago, I started dating again and did so with a desperate ferocity and determination.
You see, after Savan, I felt an aching need for security. I wanted someone– for lack of a better word– normal, who felt safe and provided me with comfort and stability.
Sure, I wanted those magical feelings again. But I also wanted to find someone who wouldn’t turn into someone else and even more importantly would make me feel secure and safe and stable.
Fear of Abandonment and the Misguided Hunt for Security
What I didn’t know then, which I know now, is comfort and security are feelings I must create for myself. My undiscovered fear of abandonment issues prevented me from acknowledging this important truth:
But, again, we’ll come back to that.
Instead, I blindly started dating like someone paid me to do it, all the while a track in the back of my mind played on repeat:
Safety. Safety. Love me. Love me. Safety. Safety. Love me. Love me.
Over and over again, thoughts of needing to settle down and find someone “good enough” plagued me as I dove into dating full force. Sometimes I’d go on three dates in a week, and the level of bullshit I willed myself to put up with during that time still astounds me.
At 23, I had yet to find the feminist in me. And instead of setting up boundaries, dealing with my own inner issues, identifying and then demanding the things I needed from a relationship— I sailed off into the sea of online dating without a life jacket and hoped I’d magically fall into something or someone that fixed me.
The “Make Me Feel Special” Fallacy Reemerges
Surprised nothing worked out?
I got really good at putting myself last during this period of my life. Guys who I felt no actual connection with became puzzles for me to figure out, and prizes to win. My “need to feel special” tendency flared up hard as I chose men who I thought were in some way better than me, thereby putting my value and self-worth in the hands of strangers.
These men who seemed better than me, whether it was because they knew what they wanted out of life or because they had some special characteristics that made me admire them– earning their love became the center of my attention while ignoring the blaring truth that I actually felt no intimacy towards them.
But I dove deep hoping I’d learn how to swim again.
Fear of Abandonment and Forcing Relationships
The achiever part of me worked overtime as I’d try to force relationships that had no business existing. I’d bend over backwards trying to fit men into my schedule when they wouldn’t give me the common decency of planning ahead. I’d make excuses for why they never wanted to text me or hardly reached out.
Over and over again I’d find myself bending and twisting into a mold that I thought they wanted me to be in order to be lovable. And eventually I’d wake up to realize the mess of our ridiculous and one-sided relationship was inauthentic at best and damaging at worst. I’d end it and move on, back on the dating apps the same night of a break up, if not sooner.
I dated a lot of people in my first year of being in Chicago.
No man was safe. I dated polar opposites. My best guy friend. Blazing misogynists. And anyone who seemed decent enough, healthy enough, and sane enough to not turn on me. I did this all while ignoring what happened to me in China. Like a good American, I instead focused on burying those feelings deep down into the hidden chambers of myself, and attempted to squash the growing paranoia I felt.
How the Destructive Dating Patterns Escalated
But, surprise, surprise–all the traumas of China and Savan snuck up on me eventually, and as they caught up to me, my destructive dating patterns escalated:
- Anxiety I’d get stuck with the wrong person.
- Ending relationships as soon as something went sour.
- Trying to change myself in order to be more lovable.
- Going out with men I’d never be compatible with.
- Performing desirability.
- Being a caregiver even when I didn’t care.
- Feeling compelled to make someone love me.
- Trying to be sweeter, more flexible, less opinionated, more of a pleaser, more girly, less aggressive, less loud, less me.
- Believing I was the problem and therefore could be the solution.
- Feeling paranoid that every person I dated was secretly plotting to fuck shit up.
- Fear of abandonment issues trying to maintain even horrible relationships.
But I kept swimming as my traumas tried to drown me.
I know. I know what you’re thinking: But wait, Clo Bare! That’s not the Clo Bare we know and love! Why didn’t you face your issues head on? Why didn’t you dive right in and start self-healing?
Well, my friends, it took me a while to get to the place where I could even identify what I felt, let alone why I felt it.
So instead of diving into my feels and healing, I took a long painful side road before I could find my way to the Clo Bare you all know and love.
Fear of Abandonment Issues Driving Me Towards Security
That long road back to me started with a detour in dating my ex. The same one I slept with while on a visit back home. (Told you’d we’d come back to it.)
Remember Kyle from “Destructive Relationships to Avoid: Dating the Wrong Men“?
Same one. Spoiler alert: He didn’t magically become the “right man”.
To refresh you memory, Kyle and I dated on and off through my later years of high school and throughout my college experience. We slept together intermittently through the better half of a decade, and prior to Savan, he was the one relationship I compared all other relationships to.
And he also happened to be the absolute definition of safety, security and familiarity to me at the time.
You see, Kyle always felt like home, even when we were at each other’s throats. We had shared history, we loved each other’s families, we knew each other’s bad habits and good habits, and despite it making absolutely zero sense, somehow we loved each other even if we couldn’t understand each other. Even though we lived on completely different planets, it felt comfortable being with someone who knew me so well and vice versa.
Knowing him meant he wouldn’t turn into someone else. He couldn’t! I knew he didn’t have a god delusion. I knew him too well for him to hide something like that. That was enough.
Well, until it wasn’t anymore.
But at the time, being together felt like the solution.
It was so romantic, after all! Finding love again with my high school sweetheart! Surely this would supersede the romance with he who must not be named! Never mind that we were incompatible as teenagers and baby adults–Now?! We would make it work by sheer will alone because LOVE!
And it did work in a magical way for a few months.
Again we ignored the mounting evidence of our incompatibility.
Again I whizzed past the red flags.
Once again I tried desperately to change into someone who could love him, and be loved by him and make him happy and make me happy.
But again we took advantage of each other and tried to fix the symptoms instead of treating the disease that was our relationship.
There were fights, lies, make-ups, yelling arguments, angry words, frustrated things said that we couldn’t take back. Lack of communication, money problems, secrets and unresolved traumas. All the things– ALL THE THINGS– beat us down until the love could no longer survive.
Kyle and I were two of the most incompatible people who’d ever attempted to date, and eventually, after months of trying, we couldn’t escape it anymore. We had to face it, and after almost a year of trying to convince myself I could be happy if I just tried harder, I threw in the towel.
You can read more about that break up here: “We Broke Up, and It’s Okay.”
Spoiler alert #2: It was exactly okay.
Looking Inward as a Solution
Turns out, security is an illusion when we look for it in familiarity.
I ran into that relationship with Kyle hoping being with someone I knew would reduce my paranoia that every person I’d date would end up becoming someone else entirely.
But it didn’t ease any anxiety. Instead the relationship exacerbated all my insecure patterns, fear of abandonment and relationship anxiety until I started to realize I couldn’t exist this way anymore.
So as my relationship started to end, I did something I hadn’t done before. I stopped looking outward for healing, and instead I started to look inward.
So began the conception of this blog, the birth of Clo Bare and my first therapy appointment.
But we’ll save that for the next post.
Destructive Relationship Patterns to Avoid: Fear of Abandonment
Now you may be wondering what all of this has to do with fear of abandonment. If you haven’t looked much into it, you might think that fear of abandonment is the basic fear of being alone or being left.
Yes, and no. It’s a little bit more complex than that.
But don’t worry. That’s what I thought too.
After doing a bit of research on fear of abandonment, I realized many of the habits that I’ve developed in my relationships both romantically and platonic, are rooted in a basic fear of abandonment and most of what I describe in this post is in relation to my fear of abandonment issues.
But first, let’s talk about fear of abandonment and what it is.
What is fear of abandonment?
According to Very Well Mind, fear of abandonment is a complex fear in psychology that is believed to stem from childhood loss or trauma. “Theories behind why fear of abandonment occurs include interruptions in the normal development of young children’s social and mental capacities, past relationship and life experiences, and exposure to specific norms and ideas.”
It’s extremely common as humans have the basic need to belong, in fact some theories claim we all have it, but not addressing the fear can sometimes be damaging in our relationships and well being.
People who struggle with unresolved fear of abandonment, often:
- aim to please,
- quickly move on to ensure they don’t get too attached,
- experience intense feelings of separation anxiety,
- are reluctant to fully commit,
- have difficulty achieving emotional intimacy,
- stay in a relationship long after it becomes unhealthy,
- overthink and self-blame,
- feel insecure and unworthy of love,
- are hypersensitive to criticism,
- and are quick to attach, even to unavailable partners.
According to Choosing Therapy, “Fears of abandonment can usually be traced back to specific painful experiences of being betrayed, hurt, or abandoned by someone. Often, abandonment issues stem from early childhood traumas involving a parent or caregiver. Early interactions between a child and their parent or caregiver impact all aspects of a child’s physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development, and abandonment issues stemming from childhood often persist into adulthood.“
PsychAlive describes fear of abandonment as something that develops in early childhood, and forms based on early attachment patterns. For example, if a child has an ambivalent attachment or preoccupied attachment style, they may have a parent or caretaker who is unpredictable in their availability, is not sensitive to the child’s emotional needs, and discourages autonomy. This can then leak over into adulthood, where the person experiencing fear of abandonment anticipates rejection or abandonment, and looks for signs that their partner is losing interest.
Relating my Patterns Back to Fear of Abandonment
I won’t dive into all the different theories surrounding fear of abandonment because there’s a lot of good information out on the interwebs already.
But, let’s talk about how some of my patterns are rooted in fear of abandonment.
1. Aim to please.
Do I even need to dive into this? If you haven’t already, go back and read the rest of this series where I explain my need to please in the Savior Complex post as well as in the Enneagram post. That’ll explain everything. But in summary, yes. I aim to please and I do it at the cost of my own well being sometimes.
2. Quick to Move On
In this post, I mention how I’d bounce from one relationship to the next in the first couple of years of living in Chicago. I don’t do it as much anymore, but often in order to deal with the ending of a relationship I’d immediately start dating again. Now, I’ve gotten pretty well over this, but it was a pattern for years.
3. Seeking Security Outside of Myself
Seeking security from a partner or asking a partner to make you feel secure is often a large sign of unresolved fear of abandonment issues, and this is the one I struggle with the most. I know my love language is words of affirmation, but there’s a line between affirmation and leaning on someone to tell you how you feel.
Which is something I do a lot. In my last relationship, I’d often feel immense amounts of relationship anxiety, and instead of validating my own feelings, I’d reach out to my partner and release all my anxieties onto him in hopes that he’d make me feel better.
It kind of worked, but him doing that only put a bandaid on the issue. The real issue was that I felt anxiety about the relationship because the relationship wasn’t right, not because my trauma brain was making me feel all sorts of crazy. Instead of listening to my anxiety and finding security within myself while also acting on what my anxiety was trying to tell me– I let him tell me how I felt. With a simple “What are you talking about? Everything is fine!” I let him invalidate my feelings and pushed the anxiety deep down until the next time I’d ask him to make me feel more secure.
The reason this is off is (1.) Only I can make myself feel more secure by listening to how I feel and addressing what needs to change, and (2.) It is not my partner’s responsibility to make me feel secure about our relationship.
It’s my job. Other people are more than welcome to expand on my feelings of love and self-worth and being loved and feeling seen and understood– but all of those things start with me.
4. Stay in a relationship long after it’s unhealthy.
Please refer to the Kyle situation above and Calvin situation in part one.
5. Feel insecure or unworthy of love.
Good lord, how many times do I need to refer back to the Enneagram post. In that post, I dive DEEP into my feelings of being unworthy of love. It is my base fear and it’s something I am constantly working on. Even in this post, my fear of being unworthy of love drove me into all sorts of odd relationships, compelling me to fight for the love of people I’m incompatible with.
6. Quick to Attach
This was me. With age, this is not me as much anymore, but for the longest time, I’d dive into a relationship, balls deep, and live in the fiery romance until it fizzled out from flying too close to the sun.
Engaged after two months ring a bell?
Diving straight into a relationship with Kyle the first and second time without considering the truth of the matters? That me.
Dating all the unavailable men? Also me.
Luckily I’ve moved beyond acting on my feels to do this, but the feels are still there.
7. Choosing Unavailable Men Because It is Familiar
In addition to the post above, see Why I don’t Date Nice Guys, Trust Issues and Tinder, and Sex & Secrets: I am Part of the Problem. For lots of people with fear of abandonment, not only do we do this because it’s familiar but we also have an unconscious fantasy that no matter how poorly we behave and try to push our partner away, he or she does not leave us.
How Recognizing My Fear of Abandonment Issues Has Impacted Me
So what do I do with all this information? How is recognizing that most of my patterns are rooted in this fear of abandonment helpful?
Well, for one, it’s made me recognize all the ways I seek security out from other people. It’s made me realize that my journey through therapy over these last two years has been searching for exactly that– finding validation and security from within. Now that I know some of what I do is because of this fear, I’ve been questioning my intentions and being my own source of security.
Because I now recognize these fears and tendencies within myself, it feels less like I have all these different patterns and issues I need to solve, and more like I have one thing to focus my energy on. I think dealing with and healing from my fear of abandonment, by association I’ll be able to heal from all the remaining patterns I do have and struggle with, like dating anxiety, choosing the wrong men. Having one big thing to tackle feels a lot more do-able than having a million little things to tackle.
How to Handle Fear of Abandonment
If you’re struggling with fear of abandonment, here’s a few tips on how to handle it:
- Recognize you’re human and most people to some level have a fear of abandonment. It’s natural and doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.
- Accept this is a part of you and something that needs to be monitored.
- Start paying attention to when you’re trying to get security from outside resources, like your partner, your friends, your family, etc.
- When you recognize these feelings, ask yourself– what do I need in order to feel secure right now?
- Know that no one else can make you feel secure.
- Take responsibility for how you feel, and investigate the validity of your feelings as well as what your feelings are telling you.
- Work on self-love, self-security, and recognize that this healing doesn’t take place overnight.
- Re-direct when you look outwards for security. The power to feel secure resides within yourself.
And a few bonus tips from my friends in the blog-o-sphere and Instagram story crowdsourcing:
1. Rebekah Joan
“The best place to start is honesty. Let the other person know that you’re scared. You can explain your fears without being clingy, and the other person might actually have the same fears.
After that, something that might help is collecting happy memories with your significant other/friend. When you get into a fight, or when you’re afraid they’ll leave you, remind yourself of all the good memories you have. Don’t follow the stream of anxious thoughts. Stop it in its tracks by reminding yourself that they love you.”
2. Sharon Green
“Perhaps as a child or early in life you lost someone close to you through death or maybe your parents divorced. Even a bad break-up with a long term relationship early in life can cause a fear of abandonment. You may not realize it but in future relationships, you may always fear that person will abandon you too. So you always leave first so it’s your decision and on your terms rather than you getting abandoned again.
Like all habits that you want to break, you must first identify the action you want to stop repeating. Once you have identified the action then you need to understand what triggers you to take that action.”
3. Alyx Rose
“I have to remember that I can only control my actions and behaviors, not anyone else.”
I haven’t totally figured it out yet, but since discovering this part of me a few months ago, I have newfound sense of self-reliance and I think I trust myself more than I ever have before.
You and Fear of Abandonment
Do you struggle with any of the components of fear of abandonment? If so, how are you handling it? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!