Last night I talked with a friend for hours about all kinds of things. I’m glad she called.
But I was struck by something we talked about that nagged and bothered me all night. And all day today, too. I suspect I’m going to have this subject lurking about me for some time to come.
As a social species we’re hard-wired to fear abandonment. Being abandoned means being cast-out, and those individuals cast from the group are living at the edge of society, are in constant danger and under massive stress because we’re subject to those dangers. The worst thing about abandonment is being at the mercy of diminished chances; any rejected member of a society is subject to everything from being cold all night to fighting off a marauding tiger.
It doesn’t matter when that abandonment happened, whether as a child or an adult (or both). Once you have been cast aside it becomes almost impossible to fully heal from the experience. It’s no surprise that abandonment issues are prominent in therapy.
But why? Why can’t we heal from the experience as easily as, say, healing from being lied to, or overcoming an embarrassment?
When you’re lied to you can sometimes find out the truth. When you’re embarrassed at having made a mistake you can get back up on the horse and try again. But abandonment? That’s being left behind the troop because you’ve been found wanting — you’ve been judged as expendable.
You’re not good enough.
You’re tiger food.
It means you aren’t worth being supported by those that heretofore expressed love and concern about you. And when you’re left behind you do the worst thing possible: you believe it. You believe the lie. You believe you deserve to be left behind the rest of the pack because there’s something wrong with you, something so wrong that the others in the pack are endangered by your mere presence. You believe you deserve to die because you believe the lie.
Abandonment is difficult to overcome; once it’s happened you have to shift for yourself. No more hunting in the pack for you; you’re left to scrounge for your sustenance, left to hope for some kind of miracle, left behind to face the fear that’s been created within you. Left to silently cry so that you don’t attract the predators.
It’s little wonder that we have to face some pretty intense therapy in order to put the fear of abandonment at bay and get back to either rejoining our troop or finding another that will accept us. If it’s happened once, our brains tell us, it can happen again. Depending on the depth of the first realization you’ve been rejected, the idea of another instance is unbearable. So we live in constant fear. We tell ourselves we deserve what we get. We believe the lie and we recite it over and over in our heads.
And in so doing we create the environment to expect rejection again, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We forecast in our crystal ball the inevitable specter of the truth as we see it. We will accept pain, defeat and death.
But as it was recently so graphically pointed out to me, there’s a big difference in our thinking between perceptions and truth. We like to believe we understand what truth is, that we can back our truth up with our experiences. However, our experiences are completely composed of our perceptions and since the recollection of experiences is somewhat uncertain, what we see as truth is malleable. I think that understanding the difference between the two is a very hard thing to face because experience is painful and fact is merely fact. When we’re in pain we may see fact with a jaundiced eye.
I’m going to suggest watching an incredible TED talk regarding how rejection, fear and abandonment affects us all not only emotionally but physically, too. Anyone that’s ever felt like an outcast or experienced the pain of rejection will learn a lot — and those that need to understand what happens when they reject someone will learn even more.