Regulating fear of abandonment: a closer look at the role of shame
Developmental/childhood trauma victims often struggle with fear of abandonment. Fear of abandonment is felt in relational contexts when expression of the authentic self leads to feelings of inadequacy. Genuine self-expression, on the other hand, is experienced when thinking, feelings and behaviours occur in a congruent manner. When one is in the process of grieving a recent loss, for instance, and feels sad, looks subdued and avoids social contact, there is consistency between how he or she thinks, feels and behaves. Emotionally neglectful and abusive parents, however, do not foster a healthy connection with emotions, especially when negative. This is observed when they consistently criticise, blame and even punish their children for having and expressing emotions such as anger and sadness. Children exposed to this maladaptive parental attitude towards negative emotions, then learn how to associate their expression to feelings of rejection, shame and loss of affection.
If parental love is conditional and, therefore, not available when children feel frustrated and sad, make a mistake, or fail to fulfil expectations, their shame triggers a sense of unsafety. This mechanism is not only at play when they are young, however, but also throughout their adult years. In practice, this tendency is easily observed in adults’ emotionally dependant behaviours such as people pleasing and denial of individual needs to secure a partnership. The urge to be liked by everyone through repression of negative emotions and wants is highly motivated by a fear of the drastic consequences that would supposedly follow their emotional freedom and acts of self-assertion, namely, loss of love and attachment.
Since the link between shame and fear of abandonment is so intimate and detrimental to mental health, it is vital to highlight its influence on people’s ability to create functional relationships that allow them to be themselves and build strong emotional connections. If you do not feel good enough to connect with your own body, understand and honour your needs because you are afraid of the effect that that might have on others, I highly recommend to challenge the dysfunctional beliefs that are feeding your fear of abandonment. First, it is not your duty to make others’ existence free of emotional discomfort. Secondly, would you like to keep a relationship with someone who only validates their own interests, needs and wants? And finally, do you not think yourself worthy of your own? If you do believe to be good enough for you, practice tolerating the shame that arises from acting in an authentic way until it becomes a trait from a much more confident, happier you.