Attachment, Abandonment and why Rejection feels like death.
Hello my lovely badass peeps-
This week, I wanted to explore something that I have struggled with personally and a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I was adopted at a very young age- only 7 days old. I really never thought I had attachment or abandonment stuff. One of my first boyfriends in 7th grade (you know- the kind where you are boyfriend/girlfriend, but you never talk to each other or do anything with each other) was perhaps my first clue that perhaps my adoption did register on my system somehow. I was obsessed with him breaking up with me. Everything he did, I interpreted as him not liking me anymore or him losing interest. And guess what? That got pretty annoying and he broke up with me. This is so common for people that have some unhealed wounds with attachment, abandonment or trauma. We struggle with longing for solid connection and attachment and we struggle with having little to no boundaries. Anyone that gives us attention or care, we pull them in tight and live in fear that they will leave and in so doing, we push them away because that fear will not let us connect.
There is often a push/pull dynamic that is present with those of us that struggle with attachment. There is a pulling close, an enmeshment, a “come and rescue me” energy that pulls people in and finds comfort and regulation in co-dependency. There is a lot of research now about attachment as it relates to addiction- that our addictions can be our first attachments and even though they are toxic, they are consistent and always there for us. More on that another week though. The pull in close energy is fine and good until your partner or friend is having a bad day and then there is no differentiation between you and the other person. So if they’re having a bad day, so are you. If they’re happy, you’re happy. If they love you, then you are loveable. This is so disempowering. You are literally putting whether or not you are “okay,” your sense of wellness, joy and safety into the hands of the other person. This is very common with those of us that struggle with attachment. If a child struggles with attachment and gets to do play therapy, they will likely play it out over and over again with toys or dolls and they repeat the abandonment or trauma over and over until they work through it and superman comes and rescues them or they find a comfortable stuffed lion to snuggle up to. We do the same thing as adults, we just do it with our actual bodies- trying to heal attachment wounds with other people but not really having any idea where we end and the other person begins and vise versa.
Simultaneously, we also have the natural need for autonomy and control. We subconsciously (or perhaps consciously) know that if we put our wellness into the hands of others, then we are not in control of it, they are. So we have the push away energy that keeps people at arms’ length and never really seeing our truth, our pain, our struggle, because that would put us in danger of the thing that terrifies us most: REJECTION! OH- That dirty, awful mother-f-er. The part of our brain that processes rejection is the same part the processes physical pain. We are evolutionarily programed to want a sense of belonging and mother nature and our brains set us up for fear of rejection because if you were in hunter and gathering societies and you were cut off from the heard- you DIE. This is natural for all humans, but when you have attachment, trauma or abandonment stuff, your nervous system has a much narrower window of tolerance and the fear of rejection becomes much more amplified. Anything that even hints of rejection feels like death and sends us into flight or fight mode.
So what do you do about it? One of the healthiest things for me has been to look at my attachment wounds and to create a system of safety and support within myself. I have participated in EMDR therapy as a client and am a certified EMDR therapist as well as consultant. Although there are many things that can heal attachment wounds, I have found this to be the most effective both as a client myself and as a clinician.
One simple thing that I do when I am feeling hints of rejection or feeling like my wellness is too attached to what other people think about me is I literally grab an invisible plug that is attaching my heart into theirs and pull it out. I have to greet my feelings of rejection and fear and heartache with compassion knowing that it is just my brain trying to protect my tender heart (there is the care deeply part) AND simultaneously remind myself that their judgments and opinions of me don’t define me (there is the not give a fuck part). This is not to say that we don’t need to be able to hear feedback. We DO! We need to be able to hear if there is something that we could be doing differently or something that we’re missing, or something that we are just downright wrong about, but perseverating on what others think about us is not a recipe for growth and discovery; it is a recipe for shame and paralysis. When I am talking to my fear, especially fear of rejection or perceived rejection, I like to say, something the long the lines of “hi, I hear you. I know you are trying to protect me and armor me against pain AND I need you to sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.” Maybe a shorter version can be something the long the lines of “Hi fear. Fuck off, with love and light.”
So be brave, look in, find and create safety and compassion and security within your own heart so that you can show up and be big and open and curious and nonjudgmental with your peeps that matter. This may mean looking at old wounds- not for the purposes of dwelling in the past, but looking at how the past is still stuck in your system NOW and is impacting the way that you view yourself in the present. We cannot change the past, but we can change the meaning we attach to it and how much power it has over us. And getting through ort pain and coming out the other side with love is ultimately attaching to ourselves so that our wellness is a constant state of being and not dependent on others. We step into a state of power and safety that rests within our own system, which allows us to whether the uncertainty that is inherent in the human experience. It can be scary of source, but anything worth doing does not come without fear. “Oh- hi fear. I’m going to need you to fuck off. With love and light.”