June 28, 2021

It’s Time to Stop Pathologizing “Fear of Abandonment.”


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“It’s in your mind that I’m abandoning you,” said my therapist before she did, in fact, abandon me.

In the moment, I felt like snapping back and saying, “You know what’s in your mind? Privilege—so much goddamn privilege.”

I didn’t though.

Instead, I cried.

I cried like a little girl with scraped knees needing to be picked up.

I cried like the little girl who experienced a tough childhood.

I cried like anyone with childhood trauma would when being abandoned by their therapist.

I’ve been crying this way for two years, and to be honest, it really hurts.

You see, my fear of abandonment is not as she said, “in my mind.”

It’s in my entire body.

I feel it from my head to my toes.

I try to soothe myself, but it’s difficult. All these younger parts of me sob uncontrollably—ages 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13.

It hurts more than anything I have ever experienced.

Why therapists pathologize “fear of abandonment,” I have no idea.

It’s as if they don’t think this pain is real.

“Manipulative,” they say to describe the tears of those who are deemed “overly emotional.”

I don’t get it.

You see, their words do not describe my experience at all.

They look through their own lens, but I wear a different prescription.

I see what happened.

I see my truth.

I know my story.

From a developmental psychology perspective, this “fear of abandonment” I feel makes developmental sense to me.

It’s normal.

It’s not disordered at all.

Rather, for us who were not provided a secure attachment in early childhood, we are on a mission to find it in adulthood.

We need it, just like adolescents need to wander away from their parents, make their own friends, and define their own identity.

It’s not that adolescents are being difficult. It’s an evolutionary basic need, according to Dan Siegel.

Attachment is the same.

The “fear of abandonment” some adults struggle with is not disordered at all.

Secure attachment is a developmental need we all require in order to move on to the next stage of development.

It’s just that for some of us, we haven’t yet created the internal working model in our minds, and this delay appears odd to adults who are not aware of something that was created in their minds before they were fully verbal.

So why do we pathologize fear of abandonment?

And who is pathologizing it?

It seems quite odd to me that we pathologize such a fundamental basic need, but I understand that those who do not have this wound may find our behavior odd and our difficulty with abandonment frustrating.

It’s really not something though to pathologize.

Rather, if this is not a wound of yours, show kindness toward the wounded.

Do your part to help them create a secure internal working model in their minds in adulthood.

Don’t label them.

Don’t pathologize them.

Avoid these descriptions:

“They’re narcissistic.”

“They’re toxic.”

“They’re abusive.”

“They’re bipolar.”

“They are too needy.”

“They’re Borderline.”

Pathologizing them is not helping them heal.

Let’s be honest, does pathologizing anyone really help anyone in our world heal?

Does the world begin to heal when we point a finger at each other and call each other labels, claim fears and pain are in one’s mind, and slam each other by yelling, “Don’t cross my boundaries!”

I don’t know how we have gotten here in society, but how we talk about each other and our mental health is not a model of well-being or the “mindful life.”

I am not saying abuse doesn’t exist and people don’t struggle with narcissism. I’m not saying this at all.

I am also not saying that we shouldn’t have healthy boundaries and hold them in place when needed.

What I’m saying is that healing doesn’t begin with abandoning clients.

It doesn’t begin with a label.

It doesn’t begin with finger-pointing.

It doesn’t begin with walls that we often label as “boundaries.”

Healing happens when we show compassion, openly discuss our wounds and how we may be wounding others, and hold hands with each other.

I believe there is a lot of work still to be done when it comes to understanding how we work with all these different needs, but it doesn’t begin with a label or finger-pointing.

Somehow, someway, we need to find a better way to healing our global wounds.

Let’s drop the disorders.

Let’s stop pathologizing the pain of others.

Let’s change the mental health system and pass the microphone to those with lived experiences.

We need a new system.

We need it more than ever.


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