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When You Fear Emotional Abandonment: Do You Know Your Worth?

Alone in the Woods

“Your value doesn’t decrease based on someone’s inability to see your worth.” ~Unknown

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…says Lady Liberty. She was speaking to immigrants wanting to start a new promised life in America, but those words could be my tagline for the men I have had my most intimate relationships with.

If you were broken, emotionally unavailable, complicated, and confused, I was your girl.

I would love you more than you loved yourself, or could love me. 

I would put all my energy in trying to make it work, trying to help you heal, but would abandon my own needs or truth in the process, because the desire to recognize or honor my own worth was not as strong as it was for me to show you yours.

Was I aware of this pattern? Perhaps on a superficial level, but it didn’t truly emerge until I ended my most recent long-term relationship last summer.

One day the light bulb turned on as I went from six years with a man I was engaged to marry (and before that in an eleven-year relationship that sucked my soul dry) to an emotional affair that had left me more raw and exposed than before.

I was the common denominator in this series of events, but what was I contributing that left my soul and heart so ravaged?

I devoted the summer of 2013 to unravel this mystery. I was done with repeating the same outcome just with a different man.

My search took me back to my childhood, as it would inevitably for all of us adults struggling with conditioning or behavior that we just can’t seem to let go, even though it does nothing to serve our higher purpose.

My relationship with my mother could be described as a fractured one, at best. She too was broken from her childhood experiences, which shaped her choices, mostly the not so good ones as she aged. Difference is, she chose to stay in that place of un-healing and unawareness, whereas I knew better.

Through my teens and early adulthood I struggled with trying to understand her choices, her inability to love me and support me the way that I needed.

I was not brought up to understand my intrinsic worth, to know what a healthy and nurturing relationship looks like, and most importantly that I deserved to be in one.

I turned to the metaphysical, spirituality, and yoga to shed light on what I just couldn’t see.

With each year, I was able to piece together a little more of my toolkit for understanding, but the toolkit my mother gave me for tolerating emotional unavailability and abandonment in my closest relationships seemed to win out.

I could support, tell all those around me in their darkest days how beautiful, how amazing they were, but when it came to myself, those words were like bitter tasting medicine that I just couldn’t swallow.

Subconsciously, I ached for my partner to help heal me—to echo the sentiment I would bestow to them—but it never came in the quantity or consistency that I required. And it never would if I kept looking outside myself. It was a vicious cycle that had to end.

Then one day it became clear. Through my search, which I was fiercely committed to, I came upon a psychological term coined by Freud: repetition compulsion. The trumpets sounded, the lights turned on, and in that moment it all made sense.

Repetition compulsion is an “inherent, primordial tendency in the unconscious that impels the individual to repeat certain actions, in particular, the most painful or destructive ones.”

Usually, it stems from an unhealed relationship with a parent. So in adult life, we’ll attempt to heal the traumatic event that took place as a child through intimate adult relationships, but the outcome will end up the same.

It never occurred to me that my relationship with my mother, and all the hurt it brought, would ever affect my adult relationships with men.

My father and I were very close; he was a friend, a rock in my life. But even so, I kept finding the same man drawn to me or I drawn to them. In essence, they were emotional replicas of my mother.

I was not brought up with clear emotional boundaries or the ability to validate my own worth—not on the level I required to be a strong, confident woman. I flailed. I would have bursts of drive and chutzpah at times, but I spent most of my energy feeling not good enough, not lovable enough, not worthy enough.

I talked myself out of many opportunities or shied away from experiences because of my inner demons. In a nutshell, I sold myself really short.

Armed with this new knowledge, I consulted with a counselor to understand further. In a few sessions and more reading as the summer wore on, I came to that place of healing.

I saw, objectively, what had happened and what I wanted to and needed to do differently to end the cycle. This education was put to the test this past winter when I ventured into a new relationship that had great promise.

All my old fears came up, fears of being emotionally abandoned. And when it looked like the same thing was happening again, I did something that I didn’t know I could do. I said no. No to repeating the same mistake. I set my boundaries, I stated my worth, and was prepared to walk away.

I spoke my truth and came from an authentic place when communicating with this newest partner. It mattered not if he understood or heard me; it only mattered that I said what I did and took responsibility for my own outcome instead of placing the power in the hands of another.

In the end, he did understand and I was heard. Although we did part ways, I was left with more clarity than I ever had before.

I don’t regret the path taken or the experiences had, including the heartaches. For each one brought me to this point. The point of seeing my intrinsic worth, something we all are born with.

We must nurture it firstly within before it will be mirrored to us fully. It’s not about being defined by ego or conceit, but knowing, from an inner wisdom, that others cannot define the value we all possess; only we can do that.

That being said, I’m still human, and sometimes I catch myself falling into that old, familiar pattern. But before I fall too deep, I bring myself up again. I cannot undo the past but I certainly can lay the groundwork for my present and my future, to cultivate fertile soil where my needs are nurtured and my worth is evident.

I do not have to fear being emotionally abandoned by another, because I won’t abandon myself anymore. So now the tagline reads, I can help show you your worth, not because yours is more important, but because I firstly see and honor my own.

Alone in the woods image via Shutterstock

About Barb Smeltzer

Barb Smeltzer is a social change agent by day in corporate philanthropy. in her off time she is a writer on mind/body topics, registered yoga teacher, avid traveller and a practitioner of authenticity. Through writing she sets out to inspire others to live their truth, in light and love.

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