Fear of Being Left
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 2014 (edited 2019)
Insecurity from childhood attachments invades adult relationships, pushes action, and prevents healthy connection. We fear being left so we endure abuse.
We desire relationships. We are emotionally driven for connection. Lonesomeness is a feeling of lacking connection, demanding us to seek greater security. From the moment of birth (most likely even before) to the grave, we find comfort in others. Healthy childhood connections lay the foundation for future secure and healthy attachments. Conversely, chaotic childhood relations, fraught with inconsistencies and fear, damage the soul, creating disorganized and destructive emotions that interfere with attachment needs. The child with erratic emotional memories will often struggle with bonds throughout his life. Many ignorantly advise, “Don’t be insecure, it ruins relationships.” By addressing symptoms rather than underlying causes, we further alienate the sufferer, demanding they change internal mechanisms learned during childhood. The conditioned reactions appropriately created a protective chemical reaction to defend against the abnormal external conditions, imprinting emotional patterns that continue to flow into adulthood.
#insecurity #relationshipanxiety #relationships
We wrongly treat insecurity as a choice that sufferers can flip on and off like a switch. We can’t force security; it must be learned through a safe environment. Security is not a matter of self-discipline, where the strong-willed can force a feeling that isn’t there. We can, however, work on building stability and creating trust through a more predictable life. Overtime, acknowledging the fears and mindfully challenging unreasonable clinging, we can give fragile birth to a new security. Relationships do not need to be painful forever.
Those with relationship insecurity constantly entertain fears of being left. Insecure lovers adapt by controlling, clinging, or avoiding closeness.
Those with insecure attachments vigilantly seek signs of impending abandonment and try to intervene before the loss; the surprises they valiantly stand on guard against still knock them flat. The young child tempers disappointments by predicting emotional states of his caregiver. When dad fumbles his keys at the door and stumbles into the foyer, the child knows to watch out. Accurate predictions create security. Rollo May discovered through his studies of teenage pregnancy that the children who were openly treated bad, verbally abused without any qualms suffered less anxiety than the children receiving mixed messages of love and abuse. (May, 1950)
Children with chaotic backgrounds survive by adapting to their environment. Biologically, the brain trims and creates connection appropriate for the environment. The child’s environment forms her brain, creating the foundation for felt experience in all future relationships. The child’s brain, awash in chemicals, motivates protective sensitivity to the emotions and behaviors of a volatile caregiver. The child lives with the complex demands of being attached to the caregiver for survival while simultaneously fearful of another damaging blow. The conflict complicates attachments with scanty predictable guidelines.
A child in a volatile environment must constantly watch for changes in demeanor—faulty assessments may be costly. For these children, hyper-situational awareness is a natural adaptation. Yet as an adult, this vigilance interferes with healthy trust. The constant vigilance frustrates a loving partner. The onslaught of accusations undermines his needs for appreciation. Partnerships develop with trust—a character trait often undeveloped in volatile homes. Instead of inner strength, these adults now need constant reassurance.
The jealousies spurred by insecurity interrupts developing new attachments, creating drama instead of quiet moments of bonding. The partner’s voiced commitment is constantly scrutinized for sincerity. The barrage challenging sincerity eventually damages communication; the partner doubts her own value, gaslighted into accepting tainted views. Even in these relationships there is hope, trust can still be forged. Outside professional help may be required; but with patience and love, two dedicated partners can work through the demons and experience the joys of intimacy.
Patterns imprinted on young minds outwardly express themselves in adulthood. Our learned attachment style attracts or repels potential partners. The more salient the associated behaviors, the more limiting partner selection becomes. Some insecurity, cloaked in secrecy, remain hidden until bonds of connection begin to form. While other fears scream loudly, evident to pursuers during the early first stages of connection. The twelve missed phone calls while you were in the shower should be a hint to a partner with underlying fears and greater needs. The subtle cues and desperate clinging invite givers and abusers into the shaky lives of the insecure.
Givers that Seek Insecure Partners.
Givers are attracted to needy partners. In the dawning moments, the giver finds pleasure in giving, hoping to cure the debilitating illness. The givers desire to heal—giving provides them purpose. The patient giving may provide exactly what is needed. But sometimes the black hole of need sucks the life out of the giver; their giving is insufficient, the hurt refuses to heal and the needs begin to overwhelm. Both the insecure partner and the giver feel dissatisfied and the relationship begins to unravel. Neither partner is inherently evil, but both feel victimized. The relationship failed to provide the attachment needs for both.
"But sometimes the black hole of need sucks the life out of the giver; their giving is insufficient, the hurt refuses to heal and the needs begin to overwhelm."
Abusers Take Advantage of the Fear
Another common relationship for the insecure is with the abuser. The insecure stumble into harmful relationships more often than the secure. Sometimes stupid luck or more likely the design of a manipulative other seeking someone to exploit. The manipulator feasts on the insecurities, skillfully using them, escalating the trauma by extracting life out of the present. The manipulators are sick too; but the smugness of their brutality seldom solicits compassion. The manipulators’ hurtful behaviors evolve from their brutal of neglected pasts. A young child doesn’t simply decide to be isolated and mean. But for a host of biological and social reasons, the child becomes a tyrant willing to hurt. This painful collision between the insecure and the narcissist happens often; the insecure finds momentary salvation in the brazen confidence and quickly commits to the tortuous future. Domestic Violence occasionally accompanies these volatile relationships. Those most in need of stability stumble into the most volatile relationships. Their need to continue with childhood programming to assess moods for danger is solidified in adulthood. The adaptive behavior continues, providing measured rewards of safety while living in danger. Trust serves no purpose here.
The Fear of Being Left and New Relationships
New relationships deceive, temporarily blinding lovers with powerful feelings—childhood fears subside; often providing the momentary paradise of a loving relationship. But patterned responses stubbornly remain, patiently waiting for vulnerability before their triumphant return. When fear resurfaces, the momentarily security that was enjoyed magnifies the panic of pending doom. A great fear the joy may be lost. Fear and love are not healthy traveling companions. Fear drives manipulations; love invites kindness. The closeness enhances beauty or unleashes demons from the past fearing.
Even with chaotic beginnings, intimacy is possible. Understanding our propensity for fear—making the unconscious conscious—loosens the grip of these emotions. With recognition of the bubbling emotions, we can confront them. Feelings of insecurity often persist for years; perhaps a lifetime. But by recognizing the fear, compassionately holding it, we free ourselves from unconscious influences; by sharing these fears with openness, we can enlist a giving partner’s help in managing them. By facing our fear, no longer manipulating a partner’s succor, but gently summoning help, together with a loving partner, we can sooth the resurfacing emotions. As we do so, we build the foundation of trust necessary to enjoy intimacy and feel security (at last).
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May, R. (1950). The Meaning of Anxiety. Ronald Press, New York.