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Abandonment (emotional)

abandonment emotional intelligence, abandonment emotional support
Emotional abandonment is a subjective emotional state in which people feel undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded People experiencing emotional abandonment may feel at loss, cut off from a crucial source of sustenance that has been withdrawn, either suddenly, or through a process of erosion In a classic abandonment scenario, the severance of the emotional bond is unilateral, that is, it is the object of one’s attachment that has chosen to break the connection Feeling rejected, which is a significant component of emotional abandonment, has a biological impact in that it activates the physical pain centers in the brain and can leave an emotional imprint in the brain’s warning system1 Abandonment has been a staple of poetry and literature since ancient times2


  • 1 Separation anxiety
  • 2 Psychological trauma
    • 21 Post traumatic stress disorder
  • 3 References

Separation anxietyedit

Main article: Separation anxiety disorder

Separation anxiety, a substrate of emotional abandonment, is recognized as a primary source of human distress and dysfunction3 When we experience a threat to or disconnection in a primary attachment, it triggers a fear response referred to as separation stress or separation anxiety4 Separation stress has been the subject of extensive research in psychological5 and neurobiological6 fields, and has been shown to be a universal response to separation in the animal world7 of which human beings are a part When laboratory rat pups are separated from their mothers for periods of time, researchers measure their distress vocalizations and stress hormones to determine varying conditions of the separation response8 As the rats mature, their subsequent reactive behaviors and stress hormones are reexamined and are shown to bear a striking resemblance to the depression, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and self defeated posturing displayed by human beings known to have suffered earlier separation traumas9

Owing to the neocortical component of human functioning, when human beings lose a primary relationship, they grasp its potential repercussions ie they may feel uncertain about the future or fear being unable to climb out of an abyss, thus encumbering an additional layer of separation stress10 To abandon is "to withdraw one's support or help from, especially in spite of duty, allegiance, or responsibility; desert: abandon a friend in trouble"11 When the loss is due to the object’s voluntary withdrawal, a common response is to feel unworthy of love This indicates the tendency for people to blame the rejection on themselves "Am I unworthy of love, destined to grow old and die all alone, bereft of human connection or caring" Questioning one’s desirability as a mate12 and fearing eternal isolation are among the additional anxieties incurred in abandonment scenarios13 The concurrence of self devaluation and primal fear distinguish abandonment grief from most other types of bereavement 14

Psychological traumaedit

Main article: Psychological trauma

The depression of abandonment grief creates a sustained type of stress that constitutes an emotional trauma which can be severe enough to leave an emotional imprint on individuals' psychobiological functioning, affecting future choices and responses to rejection, loss, or disconnection15 A contributing factor to the trauma-producing event is that 'being left' triggers primal separation fear, also referred to as primal abandonment fear – the fear of being left with no one to take care of one’s vital needs Our first anxiety is a response to separation from Mother16 This sensation is stored in the amygdala – a structure set deep into the brain’s emotional memory system responsible for conditioning the fight/freeze/flight response to fear17 Primal fear may have been initiated by birth trauma and even have some prenatal antecedents18 The emotional memory system is fairly intact at or before birth and lays down traces of the sensations and feelings of the infant’s separation experiences19 These primitive feelings are reawakened by later events, especially those reminiscent of unwanted or abrupt separations from a source of sustenance20

In adulthood, being left arouses primal fear along with other primitive sensations which contribute to feelings of terror and outright panic Infantile needs and urgencies reemerge and can precipitate a symbiotic regression in which individuals feel, at least momentarily, unable to survive without the lost object21 People may also experience the intense stress of helplessness22 When they make repeated attempts to compel their loved one to return and are unsuccessful, they feel helpless and inadequate to the task This helplessness causes people to feel possessed of what Michael Balint calls “a limited capacity to perform the work of conquest – the work necessary to transform an indifferent object into a participating partner” According to Balint, feeling one’s ‘limited capacity’ is traumatic in that it produces a fault line in the psyche which renders the person vulnerable heightened emotional responses within primary relationships23

Another factor contributing to the traumatic conditions is the stress of losing one’s background object A background object is someone on whom individuals have come to rely in ways they did not realize until the object is no longer present24 For instance, the relationship served as a mutual regulatory system Multiple psychobiological systems helped to maintain individuals’ equilibrium25 As members of a couple, they became external regulators for one another They were attuned on many levels: their pupils dilated in synchrony, they echoed one another’s speech patterns, movements, and even cardiac and EEG rhythms26 As a couple, they functioned like a mutual bio-feedback system, stimulating and modulating each other’s bio rhythms, responding to one another’s pheromones,27 and addicting to the steady trickle of endogenous opiates induced by the relationship28 When the relationship ends, the many processes it helped to regulate go into disarray29 As the emotional and bio-physiological effects mount, the stressful process is heightened by the knowledge that it was not you, but your loved one who chose withdraw from the bond30 This knowledge may cause people to interpret their intense emotional responses to the disconnection as evidence of their putative weakness and ‘limited capacity to perform the work of conquest’31

Post traumatic stress disorderedit

Main article: Posttraumatic stress disorder

Some people who experience the traumatic stress of abandonment go on to develop post traumatic symptoms32 Post traumatic symptoms associated with abandonment include a sequela of heightened emotional reactions ranging from mild to severe and habituated defense mechanisms many of which have become maladaptive to perceived threats or disruptions to one’s sense of self or to one’s connections33

There are various predisposing psycho-biological and environmental factors that go into determining whether one’s earlier emotional trauma might lead to the development of a true clinical picture of post-traumatic stress disorder34 One factor has to do with variation in certain brain structures According to Jerome Kagan, some people are born with a locus coeruleus that tends to produce higher concentrations of norepinephrine, a brain chemical involved in arousal of your body's self-defense response35 This would lower their threshold for becoming aroused and make them more likely to become anxious when they encounter stresses in life that are reminiscent of childhood separations and fears, hence making them more prone to becoming posttraumatic


  1. ^ Eisenberger NI, Lieberman MD July 2004 "Why rejection hurts: a common neural alarm system for physical and social pain" free PDF TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences 8 7: 294–300 doi:101016/jtics200405010 PMID 15242688 Retrieved 7 May 2012
  2. ^ Lipking, Lawrence, Abandoned Women and Poetic Tradition, University Of Chicago Press, 1998
  3. ^ Fromm, Eric The Art of Loving New York: HarperCollins, 1989
  4. ^ Hofer, Myron "An Evolutionary Perspective on Anxiety" In Anxiety as Symptom and Signal, edited by S Roose and R Glick Hillsdale: Analytic Press, 1995 p 36
  5. ^ Colin, Virginia A Human Attachment Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996
  6. ^ Coe, Christopher, Sandra Wiener, Leon Rosenbert, and Seymour Levine "Endocrine and Immune Response to Separation and Maternal Loss in Nonhuman Primates" In The Psychobiology of Attachment and Separation, edited by Martin Reite and Tiffany Field San Diego: Academic Press, 1985
  7. ^ Masson, Jeffrey and McCarthy, Susan, Delta When Elephants Weep, 2010
  8. ^ Hofer, Myron, "An Evolutionary Perspective," ibid
  9. ^ Sapolsky, Robert M, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers New York: W H Freeman and Company, 1994 and Sapolsky, "Social Subordinance as a Marker of Hypercortisolism," Social Subordinance, Annals New York Academy of Sciences, pp 626-638
  10. ^ Baumeister, Roy F and Mark R Leary, "The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation" Psychological Bulletin 1995
  11. ^ Free Dictionary: "Abandonment"
  12. ^ Vormbrock, Julia K "Attachment Theory as Applied to Wartime and Job-Related Marital Separation" Psychological Bulletin, 114 1993: 122-144
  13. ^ Rogers, Carl, Way of Being, Houghton Mifflin 1980
  14. ^ Anderson, Susan "Helping people overcome the aftermath of heartbreak and loss" Susan Anderson Retrieved 15 February 2016 
  15. ^ Van der Kolk, Bessel A, Alexander C McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth Traumatic Stress:The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society New Y ark: Guilford Press, 1996
  16. ^ Hofer, Myron "An Evolutionary Perspective on Anxiety," in Anxiety as Symptom and Signal, pages 25-27
  17. ^ Joseph LeDoux, "Emotion, Memory, and the Brain," Scientific American, June, 1994 pp 50-57
  18. ^ Smotherman, William P, and Scott R Robinson "The Development of Behavior Before Birth" Developmental Psychology 32 May 1996: 425-434
  19. ^ Decasper A , and W P Fif "Of Human Bonding: Newborns Prefer Their Mother's Voices," Science 208, no 4448 June 6, 1980
  20. ^ LeDoux, Joseph Emotional Brain New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996
  21. ^ Vormbrock, Julia K "Attachment Theory as Applied to Wartime and Job-Related Marital Separation" Psychological Bulletin, 114 1993: 122-144
  22. ^ Seligman, Martin Helplessness: On Depression, Development and Death San Francisco: W H Freeman, 1975
  23. ^ Balint, Michael The Basic Fault: Therapeutic Aspects of Regression Evanston: North Western University Press, 1992
  24. ^ Winnecott, Donald W "The Capacity to be Alone" In The Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment: Studies in the Theory of Emotional Development Madison: International Universities Press, 1965 ; Robertiello, Richard, and Terril T Gagnier, PhD "Sado-masochism as a Defense Against Merging: Six Case Studies" Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 23, no 3 1993 pp 183-192
  25. ^ Weiner, Herbert Perturbing the Organism: The Biology of Stressful Experience Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992
  26. ^ Tiffany Field, "Attachment as Psychobiological Attunement: Being on the Same Wavelength," in The Psychobiology of Attachment and Separation, pp 445-448
  27. ^ L Monti-Bloch, and B I Grosser, "Effect of Putative Pheromones on the Electrical Activity of the Human Vomeronasal Organ and Alfactory Epithilium," Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1001
  28. ^ Pert, Candace B Molecules of Emotion New York: Scribner, 1997’ and Panksepp, Jaak, Eric Nelson, and Marni Bekkedal "Brain Systems for the Mediation of Separation Distress and Social Reward" Annals NY Academy of Sciences 807 1997 78-100
  29. ^ Weiner, Herbert, op cit
  30. ^ Julia K Vormbrock, "Attachment Theory as Applied to Wartime and Job Related Marital Separation," Psychological Bulletin, 114 1993: pp 122-144
  31. ^ Balint, opcit
  32. ^ Goleman, Daniel The Emotional Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights North Hampton, Mass, 2011
  33. ^ Susan Anderson, The Journey from Abandonment to Healing: The Five Stages that Accompany the Loss of Love Berkley 2000, page 27
  34. ^ Van der Kolk, Bessel A, Alexander C McFarlane, and Lars Weisaeth Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience n Mind, Body, and Society New Y ark: Guilford Press, 1996
  35. ^ Kagan, Jerome The Nature of a Child New York: Basic Books, 1984

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