Understanding bpd:
fear of abandonment

May 18, 2020

As part of my BPD Awareness Month series, I'm going to take you through some of the main symptoms that affect me the most. The first is...

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

Wow, this is a huge one for me. It's probably the symptom that affects me the most severely and has done for a long time, years before I was even diagnosed. 

It was my mid-twenties when my fears of abandonment first took over after getting into a new relationship. Almost over night, I went from feeling honeymoon-period lustful bliss to excruciating anxiety. My new partner had a four-year-old daughter and little did I know this would trigger me in a way I could never had imagined. The first time I met her I was naturally quite nervous but, as I went to tuck into my burger in a busy-bustling Southbank restaurant, I felt an overwhelming sense of nausea, a pit in my stomach and shortness of breath. At that moment, I wasn't sure what these strange feelings were but, looking back, I was on the verge of a full blown panic attack. For some reason, seeing my ex lovingly help his daughter cut up her chicken nuggets had sent me over the edge. And this was the beginning of an 18 month relationship riddled with anxiety, fear, insecurity and panic.

It was a living hell. I used to wake up in bed each morning, and even though I knew my ex had already gone to work, the cold empty spot his absence left would send me into a flying panic. Whenever I was up and he tried to leave for work, I would obsessively paw at him at the door, insisting we kiss or hug a number of times until it 'felt right' to let him go. Before he'd moved in, I'd wake up daily and, from the second I opened my eyes, my mind was hijacked by a relentless stream of intrusive thoughts never ceasing until I went to sleep. The physical symptoms of anxiety were also really intolerable - a tight grip in my chest, nausea, shortness of breath, constant panicky feelings and a dry mouth. I used to try to eat breakfast, the anxiety so strong that I would gag on my food. I had no appetite at all and lost a lot of weight during that relationship. 

Fast-forward a few years to my current relationship, and my fears still show up albeit not quite so intensely anymore. I wish I could say the same for the beginning of our relationship but the truth is, it was a roller-coaster ride of fear and anxiety. Because people with BPD often suffer from such extreme fears of abandonment, our minds conjure up all kinds of things to sabotage a relationship with a loving and emotionally-available partner. And that's exactly what mine did. For the first 18 months of my relationship, I was constantly plagued with a continuous stream of what-ifs and doubts over whether we were a good match, obsessing over our compatibility, all day, every day. At it's worst, my mind questioned whether I actually loved my partner or not, scanning every part of him for signs this relationship wouldn't work out, picking him apart piece-by-piece. 

Unfortunately, these fears nearly broke our relationship a number of times. The turbulent storms my mind created had such a strong control over me, convincing me to run from my relationship. But deep down, somewhere, I knew it wasn't really what I truly wanted. Thankfully, I eventually found my way to an amazing therapist called Sheryl Paul (www.conscioustransitions.com) who offered a fantastic online course to help those with relationship anxiety. I gradually began to see my intrusive anxious thoughts for what they really were: fear shouting loudly in my face "Get out now before you get hurt, relationships never work out so run away before it all ends in tears!" Over time, I grew to learn more and more that these intrusive thoughts were fear talking, and I didn't need to listen to them. I knew in my heart that I loved this person so deeply and didn't want to be with anyone else. And that's precisely why the fears had become so intense, because this was the person I was already pretty sure I'd marry one day.

Currently day-to-day my fears show up in other ways. I'm on high-alert for something going wrong in my relationship, a hyper-sensitivity to loss and abandonment. Due to my overactive threat system, I'm constantly looking for any little warning sign that my partner might be upset or angry at me. It could be something as small as a slightly negative look that flashes across his face, either real or imagined, and I feel the anxiety rise inside me as if I'm about to lose him forever. All it takes is one slightly off look or a clipped tone of voice, and my mind goes into overdrive, straight to the worst-case-scenario: he's going to leave. 

Because of my abandonment fears, I seek reassurance from my partner in a number of ways. My go-to is physical reassurance in the form of hugs, kisses, or any physical touch. When I'm feeling very fearful, I hang onto my partner's neck for what feels like dear life (luckily he is very patient and reassuring!) I also ask for verbal reassurance, excessively saying 'I love you', and questioning whether he loves me or not when we hit a bump or I'm having a bad time. I do have to keep check on these reassurance-seeking behaviours because if they get out of control they can become overbearing and exhausting for my partner. I feel like I've got better at this over the last year or so.

Another way in which my efforts to avoid abandonment show up, is when I'm being separated from my partner. The less in control I am of him leaving the house, or separating from him in any way, the more anxious I can feel. I've also had it with friends too, if I've been out for dinner and drinks with a close friend, suddenly leaving them at the end of the night can make those same fears surface.

In other times, especially when I'm feeling depressed, shameful or empty, I fear that my partner doesn't love me anymore, doesn't accept me for my illness and many flaws, and has decided to leave. It's hard living with such extreme fears as they can really affect my daily functioning. I've learnt that I have an anxious attachment style and so part of my recovery is to heal any 'attachment injuries' from the past by building a more secure attachment style. I highly recommend reading Sue Johnson's 'We' and 'Hold Me Tight' books if you want to read up on attachment styles. My last therapist who I saw for 16 months helped show me that people can be kind, compassionate and trustworthy. She really heard me, validated my feelings and provided an unconditional positive regard for me. I'm also lucky to have a partner who wants to build a secure and loving bond with me that helps me feel safe, although practising secure behaviours are much easier said than done!

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