Object Loss: Understanding the Inner Workings of your Loved One’s Abandonment Issues

Living life involves taking some emotional blows. To love is to open oneself up to the possibility of loss. When you love someone, you’re giving a bit of yourself to someone and trusting that they’ll be there to reciprocate. To illustrate that bond, you can look to the metaphors of the philosopher René Descartes; he spoke of the self’s “essence” extending into space and matter and interacting with an “object”—through emotional and psychological bonds. An object is a person, place, or thing that the subject has become attached to and feels a part of. In the instance of abandonment, the object is the person that the child has loved, who has repeatedly walked away from, been inattentive to, or has not reciprocated that bond. This breach of trust leaves the victim hurt, even into adulthood, and in fear that the very intimacy they crave will only bring them harm.

From the very beginning, a child gives herself or himself freely into “objects”—their essence flows beyond itself, given to other people through the bonds of trust and love. One of the earliest examples of this is with a child’s toys and dolls; the intensity of these early bonds can be unforgettably strong. This is depicted eloquently in the immortal final word of Citizen Kane: “Rosebud”—the newspaper magnate’s ode to his earliest love, his childhood sled. As his clenched hand looses its grip in death, the glass orb of the snow-globe he holds slips to the ground to shatter. In instances of abandonment, that shattering is felt repeatedly by the victim as they are repeatedly bereft of the intimacy they seek, leaving them fearful of attachments and anticipating rejection and betrayal.

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Object Loss

In intimate relationships, such as that of a parent and child, romantic relationships, or marriage, that subject-object bond becomes especially strong, and it’s painful for the victim to feel that they’ve poured their emotional trust out only to have the bond broken. Because even after the breaking, the subject’s ‘music’ stays in the room where it was played:

Music, when soft voices die,

Vibrates in the memory;

Odours, when sweet violets sicken,

Live within the sense they quicken.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Music, When Soft Voices Die

As a child grows, they develop an entire network of object relationships, with family, friends, places, and things. To give that love is an expression of trust and intimacy—the subject needs the object of their trust to be stable, and harbor that trust. When a child loses that object of love, or repeatedly has the trust broken by the ones close to them, it can feel as painful as a loss of self. Over time, object loss, especially in core relationships such as a child’s nuclear family or a young adult’s romantic partners, can damage the individual’s trust in the strength of their object bonds and blossom into a fear of abandonment.

Destabilized relationships such as a parent’s traumatic divorce, a negative adoptive experience, parental neglect, death in the family at an early age, alcoholism, or verbal abuse by their parents or an ex can all be contributing factors for normal feelings of loss to develop into something more severe and disordered.

The Tragic Cycle

The victim of abandonment craves love—they need a trust that is fulfilling, a stable object relationship. The tragedy, however, comes in the self-defeating cycle of a victim who fears losing the object of their love, and so sabotages any possibility of a relationship becoming intimate. Understanding the inner workings of your loved one’s abandonment issues can help you navigate your relationship with empathy.

The Implications: Living and Loving with Someone with Abandonment Issues

Since abandonment issues can complicate the victim’s perception of the interpersonal intimacies, they are prone to create problems in romantic relationships. Sometimes the symptoms can confuse their significant other, or be misread as hostility. If you love someone with a history of abandonment, remember that though they may seem to have trouble negotiating interpersonal intimacy, they are likely capable of great love and need your sympathy and understanding in order to express it.

Intense fear of rejection: This is the core symptom of someone who has abandonment issues. They may communicate this fear directly, expressing the fear that you’re going to leave them, or questioning your fidelity. They also may communicate it tacitly, through neurotic behaviors such as clinginess or paranoia, which are tangential to this core fear. It’s important for you to understand where these behaviors are coming from, to be able to approach the situation with patience and self-awareness.

Immediate, strong attachments (“clingy”): Abandonment issues can paradoxically be comorbid with codependency. The fear of abandonment can lead the victim to seek validation and approval from their significant other, and delve more quickly into intimacy than is natural for the relationship. It’s a self-protection mechanism to stave off what they perceive as an impending loss.

Finding flaws: By eliminating the possibility of a relationship with someone who doesn’t meet an impossible standard of perfection, the victim avoids the frightening possibility of intimacy. What might seem like an extreme particularity, or waiting for the “Knight in Shining Armor,” could actually be a fear of facing the reality of a close relationship.

Unreasonable or unfounded fear of infidelity: What may seem unreasonable to you may seem like the only possible outcome to your loved one. If a person consistently experiences abandonment and rejection, deductive reasoning suggests that the pattern will continue throughout their life. Despite your best efforts to assuage their fear and communicate love, they can be unreceptive and seem paranoid.

Commitment issues: When the subject lives in constant fear of losing the object of their love, long-term commitments can be difficult to cognize. A long-term relationship can be experienced as a constantly impending trauma that comes to no fruition—an anxious state more miserable than solitude.

Understanding the symptoms of abandonment can give you a greater understanding of your loved one’s behavior, but that’s not always enough to work through them to a livable and lovable situation for the two of you. Depending on the severity of the case, clinical support might be necessary for recovery and coping.

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Seeking Clinical Support

Understanding your loved one’s emotional history can help you to relate to their needs. The severity of their symptoms could be related to the severity of abuse or loss that they have experienced in life. Depending on the severity, you may want to approach them (always from a place of empathy and kindness) to consider either couple’s counseling or individual therapy. In more intense cases, residential therapy can be highly effective. Treating childhood trauma in a residential setting can often provide long-term relief and minimize the ongoing pain that comes from symptoms of abandonment.

What seems like a distrust, or aggression, or lack of interest in intimacy could actually be the antipole: a burning desire for love, caged in self-protective fear. Remember, victims of abandonment are often capable of enormous love and are longing to express it—with the right clinical care and a supportive home environment, that love can come out of its cage.

Bridges to Recovery offers therapy and support for individuals and couples coping with the effects of abandonment. Contact us to start on the path to healing.