Stereotypical depictions of abandonment issues in women have appeared on the big screen for ages. Movies like Fatal Attraction, Single White Female, and Wedding Crashers turn female characters with a history of abandonment into manipulative, even dangerous protagonists.Perhaps it’s easier to think of abandonment issues in women in terms of fairytale villains, or “psychos,” but those tropes only draw us away from recovery from abandonment wounds. They also project a false narrative about women, distorting the fact that they are just like everybody else.
Contrary to popular notions, women with abandonment issues are not always obvious. For the most part, they seem like any other women. Hiding what lies underneath, they are often very busy, have seemingly full support systems, and enjoy successful careers. These women mask relational difficulties with claims that they are simply unlucky in love, confounding friends and coworkers in the process.
It’s difficult to understand how such confident and independent women can make the bad choices in romance that they do, or as commonly happens, begin to avoid dating all together.
Over time, one thing becomes clear to those who love women with abandonment issues: the inability to form a lasting, intimate, and reciprocal relationship, or the propensity to repeatedly fall into destructive or harmful ones have little, if anything, to do with bad fortune.
Make no mistake, abandonment wounds can shape behaviors, and though they usually don’t include boiling the family rabbit, they can indeed be embarrassing, self-defeating, even destructive. Women with abandonment issues live in fear of being exposed, as they often equate their problems with personal failure. Ongoing failure in relationships and the resulting confusion leads to feelings of powerlessness that causes a push-pull in relationships which keeps the cycle going.
Breaking the hold of rejection in childhood can be a deeply disturbing process of feeling and owning emotions that one might rather not. All too often, women who survived abandoning parents do not face them or let them linger for long.
Feelings, instead, get buried or compartmentalized in some hidden part of the mind, body or soul, still, such women seek the safety in numbing, running to a new, “unruined” love, or turning to distractions like work, even alcohol or substance addiction.
Two Faces of the Same Problem: Separation Anxiety and Fear of Attachment
Women with abandonment issues may scare potential partners, driving them away with needing too much closeness, but they may also keep viable partners at bay, not allowing them to get too close, feeling uncomfortable with the monotony of a healthy relationship, they may unwittingly sabotage connections, recreating their abandonment experience in one way or another, confirming their long-held biases. In short, there are qualities to long-term relationships that may trigger women with abandonment issues and cause them to run for the hills.
Here are a few:
- There is a belief out there that relationships have gone south when they get boring. The idea of finding excitement in relationships (as if infatuation can be bottled and consumed like alcohol) is a favorite subject of exploration by actors, writers, singers, and artists of all kinds.
It’s a foregone conclusion that boredom in relationships is the kiss of death, especially sexual boredom. But if the goal is a long-term relationship, surviving good times and bad – raising children, growing old and sitting on a park bench together – constant excitement is not a realistic expectation.
While it’s advisable to keep the fire burning in a marriage, it isn’t always easy, and long-term marriages usually admit to a certain degree, or occasional periods of boredom with their relationship, their job, or life in general.
- Like with boredom, women will often bristle when they realize their relationship has some health issues. As a rule, I encourage people to look for progress, not perfection, in their relationships. Hypervigilance, the constant lookout for problems in a relationship, can become its own disease.
For a relationship to work, there must be some tolerance for the issues we are all prone to. No one is, or has, a perfect parent, and even if they did, they usually didn’t have two. But even for those of us fortunate enough to have two, nearly perfect parents, it’s not likely that their perfect household never hit any bumps in the road.
Parents suffer hardships; sometimes they die. In the end, we all have childhood hang ups and things we bring into relationships that need to be ironed out, even if they are as simple as putting the cap back on the toothpaste tube or lowering the toilet seat after using the bathroom.
Women with abandonment issues will react to problems as if they are the end of the world; as if partners are concrete statues, cast in one static image until the end of time. If an intimate partner can manage his emotions, especially anger, has the key components of humility, willingness to consider other viewpoints, and an opening to counseling, they are likely a good catch.
- Relational breathing patterns. If you watch the old ballroom dancers, there is a natural and calm push and pull in the dance. They distance and draw closer to each other in a rhythm that is similar to the normal inhale and exhale of relationships.
In a healthy relationship there is gravitating closeness, then distancing, and then closeness again, which is perfectly normal. A couple may grow apart for a time, get busy, or just take some space from each other to get alone with their own thoughts, and when this gets old, and partners start to miss each other, they draw close again. It’s not unlike the ebb and flow of the waves rolling over the sand and then falling back again.
For women with abandonment issues, it is difficult to tolerate this natural closeness and distancing pattern. Either they react to the clinging, pushing the other person away, or they panic with the distancing, seeming overly needy and even desperate in the relationship. This can create a feedback loop that could ultimately damage the relationship.
Couples develop a pursue/withdrawing pattern that is not helpful to intimacy. Instead of the normal breathing of the relationship happening naturally, it becomes forced or stunted. Fear of closeness and commitment, or fear of distancing, may lead to conflict or behaviors that flood the relational lungs with too much closeness or suffocates them with too little.
Those with a fear of drawing together and bonding with an intimate partner may maintain an emotional aloofness, seeming unable to trust even after trust has long been established. They may maintain an unrealistic distance for too long, that unwittingly prevents real closeness, leading to unsafe attachments and/or destructive relational patterns.
Common Signs of Abandonment Issues in Women
Women with abandonment in their background may pick fights and find problems even when things are going well. They choose partners who are likely to leave them, becoming overly attached or noncommittal for too long. They will rush into relationships and glom on, even in the face of red-flags.
Parenting a Partner
Women with abandonment in their childhood may project unmet parental needs from their past onto their partner, creating an unhealthy dependent relationship where they or their partner is expected to parent the other.
The habit of caretaking for survival is something children will do with unstable parents, but once carried into an adult relationship, the toxic dynamic is transferred from parent to love interest. A partner cannot parent another partner or make up for what they didn’t get as a child. Attempts to get that, conscious or unconscious, result in distancing and rejection, creating the confirmation bias that one is doomed to be abandoned over and over again
It is not unrealistic to be suspicious of cheating when infidelity has occurred, but suspiciousness of cheating when there’s no sign or history of it may be a sign of abandonment issues. Fear of infidelity is very common in relationships with one partner that has abandonment issues.
A need for excessive control over a partner, monitoring their whereabouts or watching a partner’s schedule too closely, can result from an ongoing fear that one is going to be betrayed. But insisting on knowing a partner’s whereabouts and schedule disrupts their autonomy, ability to develop their own interests, even their sense of safety.
Unpredictable Outbursts of Anger
Women with abandonment issues have learned to abandon themselves and have difficulty recognizing their own feelings, being much better attuned to the feelings of others. They rationalize and stifle their own feelings till they pop.
Often women with abandonment issues believe they feel too much or too intensely, but the opposite is true – they are not feeling enough, or they are fighting their feelings that build up and overflow.
Self-Neglect and Self-Destructive Behaviors
Women with childhood abandonment wounds will have episodes of neglecting themselves, taking care of everyone and anyone but themselves. They may also act out, drink too much, take unnecessary risks or throw caution to the wind in a way that is clearly self-harming.
Women with abandonment issues can be extremely hard on themselves and perfectionistic. The difference between women with childhood neglect wounds and those having Type A personality is that the wounded individual will have an intolerance for mistakes or flaws in herself and other women.
Recovery from Abandonment Issues
The steps of recovery can be difficult and the process arduous, but they are the same for anyone with abandonment issues, women or men. Below is a number of skills, as well as steps one can take towards recovery.
Regulating EmotionsOften recovery involves obtaining skills that are second nature to someone who grew up with a secure parental figure and that are commonly missed when surviving abandonment. Impulse control is a commonly missed developmental skill. Escalating conflict in relationships, but it’s very nature, destroys trust. Developing the skill of emotion regulation, tolerance of relational tension, is critical to successful relationships and addressing emotional wounds.
Coping with overwhelming emotions starts with manage one’s self talk. It may sound cliché, but before one can accept love from someone else, they have to be able to love themselves, and that starts in the mind. There must be a reckless abandonment of self-condemnation and depreciation. Recovery involves radical self-acceptance, embracing one’s own humanity, and fostering self-love.
Taking 100 percent responsibility for your insecurity is paramount to recovery and to success in relationships. When romantic partners feel confident, they can bare their own painful emotions like grief and loneliness, they are more equipped to love each other. Both partners, due to their autonomy and wholeness, are more able to be with the other. They learn to say “my bad.”
Develop Separate Lives
Acceptance of your separateness is a healthy component in one’s relationship is important. Having steadfast interests that are your’s, and your’s alone is part of bringing your own flare and color to your romance.
A partner may find a growing interest in what the other one is doing, like skiing for example, but it is less likely if the other one forsakes their own interests and does not continue enjoying them. In other words, if you love to ski and your partner hates it – keep skiing.
Women with abandonment issues and men for that matter look like anyone else. The emotional difficulties with unresolved neglect or loss in childhood can be quite difficult to see. Highly functional individuals may continually find themselves in hurtful relationships that do not survive or avoid relationships.
Abandonment issues can appear as desperation or complete indifference, but underneath the veneer of success, even happiness, women with abandonment wounds live in fear, a fear that may take a lot of time and effort to overcome. The good news is that recovery is possible.
Regulating intense fear and anxiety, accepting imperfection one oneself and others, and cultivating independence within a relationship, are different ways that healing can take place.
“Pretty Woman”, Courtesy of RondellMelling, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Depressed”, Courtesy of Masimba Tinashe Madondo, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Sad”, Courtesy of Trnhkien91, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Solitude”, Courtesy of Suzelleandco, Pixabay.com, CC0 License