When I read the myth of Persephone, it resonated deeply. See my blog link to my goddess archetype understanding here;. I related to Persephone’s separation from her mother and subsequent personality traits. Persephone’s mythology could be seen as childhood abandonment. This blog post shares some of my insights from exploring childhood abandonment. Note: additional information on childhood abandonment trauma can be found at: Pete Walker and Complex Trauma Healing.
Disruption of the bonding between baby/child and parent (usually mother) during early childhood is not necessarily life threatening, but it is ego threatening. This loss of contact with parental figure(s) is an emotional abandonment – a feeling of being left alone without protection. The feeling of childhood abandonment can be the result of absentee workaholic parents, too many children vying for a mother’s attention, parental death, a release of a child to foster or adoption, actual child neglect, spoiling a child with insufficient limits, or as in my case, a multi-week hospitalization of a newborn (in the 1960’s health arena where parents were not encouraged, in fact discouraged, to spend time with the hospitalized child.) For me, the hospitalization was necessary (to save my life) and the emotional and physical abandonment was unintentional, but it is a reality I felt a need to address as I see aspects of this trauma in me still today.
When the basic (Maslow) safety need for holding (containment/protection) is not met in early days (as a baby or very young child), the child is left with complex trauma of feeling alone and never belonging; this reaction is hardwired in the brain (early neural networks/pathways formed). The emotional abandonment makes a child feel worthless, unlovable, empty, flawed. An inner belief is formed that, “I am unacceptable and unworthy because I was abandoned.” Faulty coping mechanisms (defense structures) are wired in and become unintentional patterns of behavior to avoid a repeat of the emotional pain of abandonment that a young child couldn’t process.
Essentially, an ongoing deep-seated abandonment fear impacts feelings of security/safety (a feeling that the world is unsafe place to explore), creates trust & intimacy issues (never feel like belong, belief that loved ones will leave you), and causes a persistent need to be perfect. “If I was perfect, they would not have left me. If I could only be perfect, they will not leave me again.”
This complex trauma results in a heightened awareness (hyper-vigilance) of being left out of activities or ignored by friends, of being not recognized/ appreciated for a contribution, and a large fear of making mistakes (not being perfect). Each of these become triggers for the abandonment fear. Some other specific behaviors of this ongoing abandonment fear:
- Overly sensitive to any criticism – sparks feeling unworthiness/feeling inadequate
- Seeking constant reassurance & external validation – because always feel not enough
- Worry when don’t know where partner is (has he left me/abandoned me)
- Self imposed social isolation because discomfort/stress in social situations, especially new social situations – fear of not fitting in, fear of making social mistake
- Pushing for perfectionism, trying to meet expectations, being productive → all that so I will be acceptable and worthy of belonging
- Excessive planning (obsessive thinking) – desire to control situation (because could not control the abandonment)
- Excessive behaviors to fill that emptiness – being a workaholic, over controlling situations, over thinking things, addictions, excessive compulsions
But this wiring, these hardwired brain thought patterns, are no longer valid in adulthood. I am no longer an abandoned child in need of protection. A Healing Journey to re-wire these reactionary thoughts is needed. It is not an easy re-wiring as the patterns are deeply entrenched. In fact, I am feeling unworthy to even claim a need to heal, as my emotional trauma was not that bad – I am feeling “not enough” even here.
Do you recognize any of these hyper-vigilant triggers in your life?
More to come in part two as to what I’m doing with this learning.
Picture Credit: me – spring time in Florida has lovely blooms!