You may go from the shock and devastation of shattering, to the withdrawal feelings of desperately needing a love fix and not being able to get it, to the shame and self-condemnation of the
internalizing stage, to the burning anger of the rage stage, to moments of hope and clarity of the lifting stage, and then back again, over and over, one stage following another in rapid succession.
As when you were an infant, you’ve been suddenly disconnected from everything that gave you comfort, warmth, and sustenance. The infant calms when it is wrapped snugly in warm blankets; it reminds the infant of the warmth of the mother’s womb. But what about you? You have been cut off as well. Are you in no less need of the comfort and human warmth you are suddenly missing?
The tendency even for adults is to cry out for what is lost as if your very life depended on it. As an adult, of course, this desperation is a feeling, not a fact. Your life does not depend upon your lost partner. It only feels that way.
Shattering has indeed delivered you to a state of stark separateness. But who is there to receive you this time? Who remains to answer the urgent needs that have been activated? Only you.
The recovery task for this stage is to take hold of yourself one moment at a time, to recognize that you are a separate person, a fully capable adult, responsible for your own self-care.
Most of our life energy is spent making ourselves safe so there won’t be a shattering. Then, when it happens, it knocks the wind out of us. But once we catch our breath, we are in a position to rebuild our lives and not just to self-medicate with the illusion of security.
You have been jolted out of complacency, thrown out of equilibrium, and forced to find a new way back.
Sometimes there is no one else; your mate left because he just stopped wanting to be with you, needed his space. Your grief becomes fraught with feelings of self-reproach, anxiety, and lack of closure.
Some abandoners are able to bypass these pangs of guilt by remaining oblivious to the effect they have on others. They’re in a general state of denial about the devastation they’ve caused. It helps them maintain an image of themselves as decent, caring human beings. This denial often comes across as callousness and cruelty to the one who was left behind to pick up the pieces.
Memories of that earlier loss come to the surface, forcing you to deal with not just your current loss but the whole issue of loss in your life. Your whole being is thrown into a kind of emotional time warp. Past, present, and future are thrown into the emotional turbulence. Shattering brings you in touch with feelings that may seem
pathological when taken out of the context of grief.
Your neediest feelings—the ones that leave you emotionally
helpless—keep flooding your consciousness with primal urgencies. You feel—albeit temporarily—that you can’t survive on your own.
When you attempt to disown, deny, or supress feelings, you deny yourself the opportunity to better understand yourself emotionally.
Better to accept the cold, hard facts of the situation: that abandonment is a powerful enough trauma to arouse your body’s self-defense system, to reactivate old emotional memories, and to create a temporary condition in which your need for attachment is uncomfortably intense.
Ironically, Alby’s ability to withstand the intensity of his feelings was a testament to his emotional health. As one abandonment survivor put it, coming to Alby’s defense, “Only the strong can endure the shattering; the weak need their defenses.”
Those around you wonder how you could want someone so badly who has treated you poorly. What they don’t understand is that your partner’s leaving automatically aroused symbiotic feelings that had been stored deep in your emotional memory. You are left to cope with feelings that stem from psychobiological processes that operate independently of your conscious thought and beyond your immediate control. It’s common, for example, to become temporarily overreliant upon friends, family, and professionals for nurturance. Some people seek sympathy in ways uncharacteristic of them. They’re driven by an internal craving for nurturance they can no longer find in the lost partner.
These feelings of dependency, triggered during the shattering stage, place abandonment survivors in a painful emotional paradox: The more you experience the impact of your loss, the more you are compelled to seek your lost partner.
It is about feelings that bewilder you with their potency, induce panic, and have you believing you are weak, dependent, unlovable, even repulsive.
The energy involved in shattering is the life force, the inborn need for attachment. When that energy is thwarted, grief is the result. Its pain is our psychobiological reaction to being suddenly cut off, held back from the relationship we so desire. This powerful impetus to attach is ever present. It can be the source of pain, but if redirected, it can be the first step toward healing.
Staying in the moment provides an alternative to drowing your feelings in alcohol, abusing drugs, or acting out in self-destructive ways. It allows you to stay with your feelings, to let them wash over you like waves. You will emerge from the storm. You can bear the very worst of these feelings because you know that they are normal and temporary, part of life’s unpredictability and impermanence.
Shattering involves a painful transition from oneness with another to a state of sudden and involuntary separateness. You are left to experience the powerful forces that are at play as you strive to regain your balance.
The secret gift of abandonment is that it has helped you find your way to old wounds from traumatic events you may not even recall. Finally you can address unresolved feelings. Shattering has accomplished what many psychoanalysts strive for in years of therapy—bringing you to the seat of your unconscious conflicts.
People going through the anguish of love loss often feel that their lives have been permanently altered, that they will never be the same, will never love again. I’m writing to assure you that as devastated as you may be right now, your feelings of despair and hopelessness are in fact temporary, and they are a normal part of grieving over a relationship. In fact, only by grappling with the feeling that your life is over can you begin to rebuild.
To compound matters, your lost partner may be oblivious to the pain you feel. Often while you are still suffering through the worst of it, your lost partner has already moved on to a new life or perhaps a new lover. So even though your relationship was lost to both of you, the one who was left carries a far greater burden of emotional pain than the one who did the leaving.
In grieving over a death, the mouner gets to keep the love of the person who has died, cherishing it, perhaps even feeling comforted by it. In contrast, when a loved one chooses to end a relationship, the love we once felt has been love taken away – perhaps to be given to someone else. It is an ambiguous loss.
During the worst of it, you can’t get away from your conviction that without your lost love one, your life is over. This belief comes from the child within. The child keeps telling you that you must get your loved one to come back at all costs, or you’ll die. A primary relationship is a matter of survival for a child; no infact can exist without its nurturer.
The more time that passes, the longer your needs go unmet, the more your body and mind ache for all that you’ve lost. No matter how hard people try to hold themselves together, a profound sense of loss intrudes on every waking moment.
The effects of withdrawl are cumulative and wavelike. They often have to get worse before they can get better, a point lost on friends who expect to see your desperation dissipate, not mount day after day.
Without hope, you stay buried in despair, and these feelings evolve into profound grief, creating a bottomless well of tears.
But with the tears, something else is released. Making its way to your consciousness, through memories of the times you were left unprotected and rejected, is your right to be loved. Withdrawl is the stage when you listen to the child’s cries. You recognize that her needs are your needs ; that you must nurture your most important feelings.
During withdrawl, you mind automatically seeks an emotional bond it can no longer find. This seeking is your emotional brain (your mammalian or limbic brain) trying to capture what it is conditioned to believe is necessary for your survival. Try as you might to control this, you are usually unable to stop the futile search for the person whom your rational mind knows is no longer there. In spite of your efforts to regain your composure, your mind goes right on searching for your lost partner.
Just because the object of your attachment is no longer availible to you does not mean your need to bond goes away. On the contrary, it pulls with all of its might to regain what was lost. During withdrawl, you feel the potency of this instinct most keenly because it is being thwarted. When this energy is thwarted, the urgency will not abate until it finds something else to attach to, until it reinvests instead elsewhere.
The self searches desperately for its lost love, then turns its rage and frustration against itself. The wound becomes a self-contained system where self-doubt incubates and fear becomes ingrown.
The question most people can’t help but ask during this stage, no matter how strong their self-esteem is: What did I do to deserve this?
As painful and potentially destructive as these thoughts are, they serve a temporary purpose. They provide a sense of control over what has happened. By holding ourselves sulpable, we feel we have the pwer to change the things that brough the relationship to an end. All we have to do, we reason, is correct our faults, and we can get our lost partners back. Even if they don’t come back, at least we can learn what to do (or what not to do) for the next time.
At the very heart of the shame is the belief that you are undeserving of love, a crucial and potentially dangerous belief. Remember, this is a feeling, one commonly experienced by abandonment survivors. But as potent as it is, it is only a feeling, not a fact. You are deserving of love, as we all are.
Your isolation does not mean that you are unworthy, but that you are in a period of transition and profound personal growth.
Even if your relationship is completely over and you have already been through the devastating breakup, you still face the process of wrenching apart. You are wrenching apart from the need for that person, from the prescence of that person in your thoughts, hopes, and dreams.
As adults, having someone in the background fulfills a similar need. A background object is the person from whom we dervie our primary sense of connectedness, belonging, and security. If your lost relationship was like most, having your mates in the the background meant that even when you weren’t physically together, you enjoyed the security of knowing they were there.
Many people function as well as they do precisely because they feel so secure in their primary relationships. They are self-confident, self-directed, and content because they know someone is there for them.
Being left has temporarily placed you in a subordinate position. You’re astounded by the power of their absense; your’re emotionally overhwelmed bu the strength of your attachment to them. Feeling at an emotional disadvantage, and powerless to change things, the natural tendency is to create a hierarchy in which you place the abandoner somewhere above you.
You elevate their status and power as a way of justifying why you feel so devastated. You convince yourself that the reason you feel helpless and dependent is because you have lost someone who was completely indispensable and irreplaceable.
You may feel your power has been overthrown by your lost love because you cannot control them or make them come back. However, you can control your own actions and set new goals for yourself.
Try to take an active rather than passive role in your own healing. Avoid submissive posturing, and resist the tendency to diminish yourself. Instead, stand up and assert your self-worth.
Rage is a protest against pain. It is how we fight back, a refusal to be victimized by someone leaving us, the way we reverse the rejection.
The fact that we can express anger is a good sign. It signifies active resistance to the injury. Rage tells us that the beleagured self, under siege from self-recrimination, is ready to stand up and fight back. Rage insists upon righting the injustice and restoring your sense of self worth.
Rage becomes offensive aggression when it is used to perform destructive acts of retribution. Your task is to transform its energy into healthy self-assertiveness – that is, to take positive actions on your own behalf.
The challenge is to convert your resentment into healthy aggression.
One of the most vexing problems for many abandonment survivors is closure. Often there is too little closure, and most find themselves left with agonizing questions that won’t go away. An ongoing search to understand what went wrong feeds the insidious process of self-injury. You do not need to remain in suspended animation, struggling to put the broken pieces of your former life back together again. Now that your anger has reached critical mass, it is time to take back control. Your task is to rewrite the story of your broken relationship on your own terms, from a position of greater strength, wisdom, and
objectivity. Rather than being the one who’s been left, you get to decide how to end things on your own emotional terms. You are not the victim anymore. Put your aggressive energy to work and create your own ending.
During the rage stage you have an opportunity to change the way you respond when a relationship comes to an end. Communicating with your lost loved one—standing your ground and sharing your own thoughts and feelings—is one way to practice becoming separate. This development is a slow process, but you’ll reap the rewards each time you resist the temptation to let your needs be overshadowed by someone else’s.
The ability to be separate allows us to sustain our own identity within a relationship. The rage process enables us to break the bonds that have robbed us of our self-expression. Once free of those bonds, you can begin to dismantle old people-pleasing patterns and assert your own preferences and needs.
As Marie discovered, you grow by expressing your anger and other complicated feelings to your lost partner. In doing so, you assert your emerging self.
The need to express the changes you are going through in a tangible way is universal. As superficial as these changes may seem at first glance, they are a sign of taking action, of turning rage energy outward.
You were naturally so hurt by your loved one’s rejection, that you have a hard time finding the strength to fight those negative messages. The barrage of criticism weakened you, making it that much harder to dethrone your abandoner.
As you begin to expel the self-deprececating asusmptions you have made about yourself, you relieve yourself of the damages wrought by self-doubt and self-recrimination.
Anger is a sign that you’re ready to stand on your own two feet again. Your anger shows you’ve chosen to defend yourself rather than to flee or freeze.