Abandonment trauma causes us to drown while we attempt to save others because we forget our own needs and importance and focus on everyone else, getting lost in drama and distraction. Trauma is stored in the body because our body has a cellular memory and records every experience we’ve ever had.
In this blog, we will focus on the effect that feeling abandoned has on our nervous system, and hence, on our life. If we’ve had a childhood trauma of feeling abandoned, this gets imprinted upon our energy and stored in our body’s cellular memory.
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What Is Abandonment Trauma?
Trauma is anything that causes an experience of overwhelm in the body’s nervous system, not an event, according to Dr. Aimie Apigian, trauma specialist. Trauma = Overwhelm.
The categories of experiences that cause trauma are: Too much too fast (feels like a whirlwind of activity that is hard to process), or too little for too long (support, connection, touch, something I really needed).
Abandonment trauma is where we feel we’ve experienced too much, too fast, OR too little for too long, and felt overwhelmed as a result, in regards to a felt sense of abandonment to our core. It’s like we are on hyper-alert that some part of us is defective and that when someone really gets to know us, they will leave us.
How Do You Know If You’re In Abandonment Trauma From Your Past?
With trauma, you’ll feel the following body sensations and thoughts, according to Dr. Aimie, and have certain health challenges. All trauma shows up in these ways, and so abandonment trauma would be no different. The thoughts would simply be aimed specifically around relationships.
1. Body Sensations (emotional, internal heaviness, exhaustion, depression)
2. Thoughts (language that comes with trauma response).
Hopelessness thoughts. “It’s too much. What’s the point?” With abandonment, we might think, “Why should I open my heart to someone? They will just end up leaving in the end anyway. Why bother?”
Keep in mind that thoughts inform us that our body is in a trauma response. We can then help shift our body out of that response, and the thoughts will follow suit.
3. Active Physical Health
Inflammation-based diseases are all associated with trauma response (not a stress response).
- Brain fog/inflammation
- Going through the motions (on autopilot)
- Gut inflammation–more sensitive to foods
- Intestinal permeability
- Chronic pain, chronic fatigue, chronic health conditions
- Auto-immune, skin conditions.
Effect Of Your Attachment Style On Abandonment Trauma
Your abandonment trauma may not be conscious right now. You may even think you had a decent childhood. A lot of our trauma was set up by what is called our attachment style. There is the secure attachment style and three insecure attachment styles: Anxious, Avoidant and Fearful Avoidant.
Anxious (Insecure) Attachment
When one has an Anxious attachment, they can feel needy and clingy, seeking another’s love and approval so they feel good about themselves. They have a strong fear of abandonment from their partner.
Avoidant (Insecure) Attachment
When a person has an Avoidant attachment, they can be a loner and put a wall around their hearts. They don’t easily allow others into their hearts but keep them at a distance. They avoid emotional closeness and connection because it doesn’t feel safe. There is a fear of intimacy.
Fearful/Avoidant (insecure) Attachment
The person with the Fearful Avoidant attachment is a combination of the Anxious and the Avoidant. They do want intimacy and connection but have a hard time trusting others and fear being hurt.
According to the writers at the attachmentproject.com, a person with a Secure attachment:
- “Feels secure in their relationships and their ability to express their emotions openly and honestly.
- Adults with a secure attachment can depend on their partners and in turn, let their partners rely on them.
- Relationships are based on honesty, tolerance, and emotional closeness.
- The secure attachment type thrive in their relationships, but also don’t fear being on their own.
- They do not depend on the responsiveness or approval of their partners, and tend to have a positive view of themselves and others.”
Based on these defintions, can you see how our attachment style growing up as a child (and formed by age 1) would have a huge impact on how a traumatic event would be received?
If we have a secure attachment as a child, chances are much more likely that our nervous system will be able to handle most events as we grow into adulthood. Remember that trauma is NOT caused by the event, but by our body’s ability to process the meaning of the event, something called “nervous system regulation.” The stronger our capacity to regulate the nervous system, the more resilient we are.
Johnny’s Story of Abandonment
The Abandonment Trauma
Johnny, an only child, grew up as a happy-go-lucky little boy, with a secure attachment. Then, tragically, when Johnny was 10, both of his parents were killed in an automobile accident. Johnny changed–he didn’t feel as relaxed and carefree as he once did.
The Beginning Of The Shell
His aunt took him in and raised him; he loved her, but he never felt close to her. She was super kind to him, made him meals, celebrated his birthday every year with a party and cake, let him have sleepovers with his friends. She did her best to listen to him when he wanted to talk. Trouble is that he rarely wanted to talk, and if she were being honest, she never truly wanted to hear. He kept all of his vulnerable feelings and sadness locked away, deep inside of him.
After his parents died, he unknowingly decided it wasn’t safe to love anyone as much as he did his parents, because he’d get hurt. He craved connection and closeness but it always eluded him. Johnny had developed a Fearful-Avoidant attachment as a result of the trauma of his parents dying.
The Habit Of Attempting To Save Others Was Formed
As Johnny grew into a young man, he found comfort in giving to and helping others. It seemed to take his mind off of the grief that he never processed as a child. His aunt didn’t feel comfortable with her own feelings, and so she didn’t actively encourage Johnny to talk. Because he was so quiet, she thought she’d gotten off easy in the vulnerability department.
Johnny’s First Girlfriend–The Avoidant Attachment
Since Johnny felt this emotional relief when helping others, he energetically and subconsciously sought out a girlfriend, Crystal, when he was 16 years old who had an Avoidant attachment. Johnny always felt like he needed her more than she needed him. He fell hard for her adorable, dimpled face, blue eyes, long, wavy brown hair, and perfect smile.
He tried to set up times to get together regularly with her, but she often wouldn’t return his calls or texts, driving him batty. When he got hurt, he’d withdraw into his own Avoidant shell and “revengefully” not respond to her outreach. He figured, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. My life shouldn’t always be on HER timetable.” This went on for 3 years until she went off to college and forgot about Johnny altogether.
Johnny Continues To Subconsciously Seek Non-Commital Women
Johnny continued to attract women who were standoffish and non-committal all the way up until his current age of 35. “I seem to be a chick-repellant magnet. I love them and they leave me. I try so hard to make their life easy and fun, shower them with gifts, give them massages, write them nice cards, basically, I coddle them. What woman wouldn’t want this for the rest of their life? Apparently, the ones I pick. I’m guess I’m too nice, and women never go for the nice guys.“
So after each subsequent break-up, Johnny would retract into his Avoidant protective wall, what he began to call the “Wall of Shame.” He despised his neediness and figured, “I’ll show you–you cold, heartless, ungrateful women! I’m done with the dating scene.”
Johnny’s Temporary Coping Mechanism
He’d then find a new hobby or spend more time with his aunt, cousins, and friends. He’d do anything to occupy himself, but inevitably he’d go to a bar on a lonely Friday night, or look at a dating app, happen upon a stunning woman, and the cycle would repeat.
Though the women he met seemed independent, successful, and put together on the outside, deep down they had the Avoidant attachment styles, which means they truly felt insecure and unlovable. They avoided deep connections in their relationships because of how they learned to be with others from their most likely emotionally unavailable parents.
Enough Is Enough–Maybe I Need To Heal Myself
In essence, Johnny was always trying to save these women from their own loneliness and disconnection, which he couldn’t do, because he was lonely and disconnected himself. And after many years of trying and failing to have a healthy, connected relationship, he realized that he needed to change something within him, to heal his hurt, his trauma from childhood because he felt like he was drowning in everyone else’s needs.
How To Heal Abandonment Trauma
- SAFETY: To heal from Trauma, we need a visceral sense of safety in the body. We need a boost of energy and time to open our hearts again after trauma has caused us to retreat within our own shell.
- SUPPORT: If the body is stressed, what it needs more than anything else is to know we’re not alone, that someone is supporting us and has our back. If we feel alone, we are more likely to stay in trauma.
- Once we feel SAFE and SUPPORTED, we can break the trauma pattern and begin to process and release the trauma from our bodies.
- Only then can we move into growth, expansion, joy and happiness. Otherwise, these positive emotions will feel too risky. Because our disappointment would be too painful, we avoid putting ourselves out there.
Go To The Body For Answer, Not The Head
Since the trauma originated in the body’s cellular memory when his parents died, leaving him emotionally alone, hurt, and fearing further abandonment, Johnny needed to go back to the source (his body) to heal. No amount of searching for more information or reading more books was going to be able to help him.
He needed to stop running from his feelings and feel them, “You gotta feel to heal.” This meant he needed to get in touch with his body, his feelings.
This isn’t the same necessarily as working out, jogging, going to yoga, or other physcial movement. These physical activities can certainly help us get in touch with our bodies, but we have to be intentional about feeling our vulnerable feelings so they can let go of us.
How We Do Self-Care Matters And That We Do It
We have to connect to our bodies in some way. We can use energy medicine, emotional freedom techniques, breathing exercises, specific guided meditations that help us get in tune with our body, etc. It’s very important HOW we do the above techniques.
If we do self-care rotely or methodically, up in our head analyzing our feelings, we need to stop and take another approach because it won’t be effective.
We must learn to regulate our own nervous system, because, though we really want someone else to do it for us, they can’t.
Try the exercise below as a means of getting in touch with your body. These are energy techniques that calm the nervous system. Gage how you feel before and after the exercise.
1. Take 3 deep breaths
Put your hands over your heart, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth audibly.
2. Get Grounded
Simply focus upon your feet or your seat, the contact to a chair or earth, etc.
3. (Donna Eden’s Triple Warmer Smoothie):
- Take both hands and rub them together vigorously. Shake them out.
- Cup your hands and put them over your eyes–take a deep breath.
- Move your fingertips over your eyebrows to your temples–Deep breath.
- Slide your fingertips around the back of the ears and down your neck, along the vagus nerve.
- Squeeze your shoulders and end with dropping your hands to your heart.
- Deep breath.
4. Connect to your breath
Keep one hand over your heart and put one over belly—breathe and feel the gentle rise and fall of your chest and stomach.
Now gently rub your index finger and thumb together with the slightest of pressure, feeling your fingertip ridges.
Bring both hands together, palms touching slightly. Notice all of those sensations.
Rub the bottom of your ear lobes and let out pshhh sound…releasing tension like a pressure cooker.
- Place your hands over heart again.
- Imagine someone you love, maybe even your creator.
- Imagine this someone embracing you lovingly, holding you, gently rocking you.
- Can you receive that?
- Just observe how you receive that or resist it.
- What if this person or entity handed you an imaginary heart full of love?Now tuck that love into your heart.
9. Hug Yourself
Rub both sides of your arms. Great job!
How was that for you? I’m going to level with you. Trauma lives in your body. To release it, you gotta come back into your body, feel the feelings, and then release.
In order to do this, you want a safe container of support. I can provide that. Let’s Talk. I’ve a women’s group starting very SOON. Let’s see if it makes sense for you to join us and finally get past this trauma.
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