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Thursday, August 25, 2016
THE FIVE STAGES OF ABANDONMENT: An excerpt from THE ABANDONMENT RECOVERY WORKBOOK by Susan Anderson
 
Psychotherapist Susan Anderson had been helping her clients overcome heartbreak and loss for over twenty years when her longtime partner told her he didn’t love her anymore and left their relationship out of the blue. As she struggled to cope with her own pain from that abandonment, she recognized that healing from such a deep emotional injury requires realistic, well-researched, and clinically tested steps. That is what her Abandonment Recovery Workbook: Guidance through the Five Stages of Healing from Abandonment, Heartbreak, and Loss is designed to provide. We hope you’ll enjoy this short excerpt from the book. 

# # #

One morning about a year after my breakup, I set out for my usual walk around the harbor, unaware that I was about to have an epiphany. I was aware only that I was happy and in love, grateful for where my life was. When I reached the harbor, I felt a tingling sensation as it occurred to me that the dark cloud of grief, no longer above me, suddenly seemed far behind me. Observing its shape and dimensions from a distance, I was able to see for the first time that abandonment has its own kind of grief—a powerful grief universal to human beings. I could see where its natural folds lay—that it broke down into five universal stages: Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting.

Each of the stages affects a different aspect of human functioning and calls forth a different emotional response. They overlap one another as part of one inexorable process of grief and recovery.

I was awestruck at the cyclonic nature of this all-encompassing cloud that had enveloped me for so long. This had been a profoundly difficult life process I had been through and that I helped my clients through over the years. Now that I was on professional as well as personal terms with this process, I had the vantage point of having been inside the universal pain and experienced for myself what it took to survive it.

Here is a brief overview of the stages of abandonment grief. 

Shattering: The painful tear in your attachment, a stab wound to the heart. The sudden disconnection sends you into panic, devastation, shock, and bewilderment. You feel symbiotically attached to your lost love—as if you couldn’t survive alone. You’re in crisis and feel as if you’d been severed from your Siamese twin and you were in the recovery room in pain and alone. You try to keep remnants of your fractured self together, but your whole sense of reality feels destroyed. One minute you succumb to the overwhelming despair, suicidal feelings, and sorrow. The next, you see glimmers of hope.

Withdrawal: Love withdrawal is just like heroin withdrawal—each involves intense yearning for the object of desire, and this craving is mediated by opioids within your body. You feel a painful aching, longing, needing a love fix and can’t get one. You feel strung out. Your mind incessantly waits for your lost love to call or return. You’re plagued with separation anxiety—an expectant, urgent feeling of heightened vulnerability. Physical components of withdrawal from love are the same as they are for withdrawal from heroin. You’re in withdrawal from your endogenous opiates as well as suffused with fight-or-flight stress hormones. Your withdrawal symptoms include wasting, weight loss, wakefulness.

Internalizing: You begin to turn your rage over being rejected against yourself, which accounts for the intense depression that accompanies abandonment. You idealize your lost love at your own expense, indicting yourself for losing the most important person in your life. You internalize the rejection, interpreting the dismissal as evidence of your alleged personal unworthiness. Internalizing is the most critical stage, when your wound can become infected, scarring your self-image. You inculcate a narcissistic injury. Your self-doubt has the power to implant an invisible drain deep within the self that insidiously leaches self-esteem from within. You have grave doubts about your ability to hold someone’s love and blame yourself for the loss. Old feelings of insecurity merge into your new wound, creating lingering insecurity. Without recovery, this feeling can interfere in future relationships.

Rage: You attempt to reverse the rejection, expressing rage over being left. You are restless to get your life back in order and riddled with low frustration tolerance, your anger spurting out of control. You resent being thrust into aloneness against your will. You regress into fantasies of revenge and retaliation. Your aggressive energy is like a pressure cooker. You boil over easily, sometimes spewing anger onto innocent bystanders (like your friends when they fail to understand what you’re going through). Many of you who have difficulty with assertiveness tend to invert your rage into an agitated depression.

Lifting: Life begins to distract you, lifting you back into it. You experience intervals of peace and confidence. Abandonment’s lessons are learned, and you get ready to love again. Without recovery, some of you make the mistake of lifting above your feelings, losing touch with your emotional center, becoming more isolated than before. 

You swirl through the stages within an hour, a day, a year, cycles in cycles, and you emerge out the end of its funnel-shaped cloud a changed person. As you learn how to handle the feelings at each stage of this overwhelming process, this transformation lifts you to greater life and love.

The S.W.I.R.L. Process provides a framework by which to organize your overwhelming experience. Since recovery is greatly enhanced by your active participation, once again, I offer an opportunity to relate your own situation to each of these stages.

Bear in mind that the stages are not discrete time packets but rather one continuous process. We tend to go back and forth among them, sometimes experiencing two or more at once; and just as we think we’re through, something happens that seems to thrust us right back to the beginning.

Actually, it only feels that way. Each time you swirl through the stages, you come out with greater awareness, strength, and capacity for love than before. This book will help you use the cyclonic feelings of each stage to make profound personal changes and transform your life. You need to remain determined to turn abandonment—one of life’s most painful experiences—into an opportunity for profound personal growth.

We have all been through the S.W.I.R.L. Process at one time or another as we flow through the disconnections and disappointments of everyday life.

# # #

Susan Anderson is the author of The Abandonment Recovery Workbook, as well as Taming Your Outer Child. The founder of the Outer Child and Abandonment Recovery movements, she has devoted the past 30 years of clinical experience and research to helping people resolve abandonment and overcome self-sabotage. Visit her online at www.abandonment.net

Excerpted from the book The Abandonment Recovery Workbook. Copyright © 2003, 2016 by Susan Anderson.




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