Part 3: The Power of Abandonment*
* Last updated: 8/5/2017
The first disappointing fact that I learned about becoming a Miller conscious survivor is that even if I’m more consciously aware of what is going on, abandonment feelings don’t magically go away or lessen in intensity, at least not initially. Not without consistent, hard work. There is no silver bullet. But in a short period of time I have built a rough but somewhat effective set of tools to manage abandonment symptoms and I think I can supply enough actionable information and the why behind them for others to find these tools effective as well. I’m sure this section will continue to grow.
Tools to work on myself first
I've done a lot of emotional release sessions (structuralenergetictherapy.com or SET), breathing deeply and quickly when I feel emotions coming on. I try to experience them fully; if I have to give them voice I cry, sometimes scream. Primal screaming in the car when driving alone is a great way to discharge stuff. If you feel something get caught in your throat, cough it out immediately, don't swallow it back down.
If you can do emotional release sessions in a private enough environment where someone won’t call the cops, scream, keep breathing, and follow your body - if you feel like curling up, curl up. If you feel like reaching out like a baby, reach out. Pound the couch, bed, whatever, using your hands and arms, or even feet if you feel like running.
One effective technique from the SET instructors - get a punching bag and put it on the floor or anchor it well on a bench where it won't fall. Roll up a bunch of newspaper about 4 - 5" in diameter and wrap it completely in duct tape. Use that as a weapon to hit the punching bag. The sound and feel is enormously satisfying. This creates an environment for abuse victims to envision the punching bag being their abuser curled up helplessly in front of them, and they can beat them up and focus all of their rage on the bag. It will dissipate over time because they’ve connected to their subconscious and gotten their subconscious the revenge that it deserves. Make sure you can do this in a high enough ceilinged place so you don't hit the ceiling, light fixtures, or anything around you. The first time I did this, I was afraid, the SET instructors kept pushing me, and then I was pounding the bag so hard my feet felt like they weren't on the ground, and I was screaming so hard I couldn't hear myself anymore because I would swear my voice went ultrasonic.
There is a book I suspect few would admit to reading - Phyllis Light’s Prince Charming Lives! Unlike what the title implies, it’s actually an effective book for helping you understand life. I think most of us want healthy relationships, but keep playing out dysfunctional patterns over and over, not understanding why. This plus the Alice Miller book could help you break the cycle.
There I learned that sometimes the trauma that happened to us is too big, we can't erase it. Using the word forgive is powerful, but not in a way where we try to forgive an abuser because it's not true, and in addition now we feel guilt and shame for not being able to truly forgive. Instead, we can start by saying I forgive myself for the anger or grief or fear that I feel about being abused. In my case I forgive myself for the strong abandonment feelings that surface, because this means I can grieve, I am ready to begin acknowledging and embracing these feelings as part of me, and they give me information to help me move in a healthier direction. They help (or rather force) me to avoid commitment-phobic people and avoid marrying them.
Before I continue I’m going to tell a couple short stories. As a SET therapist doing a number of emotional release sessions with other therapists in classroom situations, I’ve felt other peoples’ emotions rip through me, and I’ve seen things, so I know I’m an energetically sensitive person. Also, there was one time recently when I was doing something I realized could be dangerous, and I decided not to tell Frank until I returned, so I wouldn’t worry him. I left my phone sitting on my car and when I returned, I was surprised to see he had texted. He was asking me to text him back ASAP, that he was feeling frantic and dizzy and he hadn’t experienced a panic attack like that since his roommate had committed suicide in 1996.
So here is my tip. When cycling through a down spell after a breakup, it might be a fragment suffering from abandonment syndrome which is coming up for acknowledgement, or it might be from the person you just broke up with, since both parties will likely suffer some fallout from a breakup. No matter what is happening when a feeling surfaces, I find this makes it easier for me to practice both self-compassion and compassion for others. And, for those of you Echoes out there who live for everyone else but have no self-compassion, how would your perspective change if you thought those feelings were coming from someone else?
Here is another interesting story. For a short while, I tried to be a SET therapist, and while I have a nurturing touch I learned my empathic energetic sensitivity made this a challenge. There was one time when I placed my hands on a client and almost fell asleep on her. The SET instructors told me I’d encountered an “energy vampire”, and gave me this tip. If I run into that situation, simply ask the universe to please use me as a conduit between this person and the universe, so that whatever energy exchange needs to happen between this person and the universe can occur through me (but not land and stay in me).
So what I’ve learned is that if I’m having a challenging PTSD emotional hijacking, and the forgiveness tip isn’t completely working or isn’t working quickly enough for me, I move on to assuming this energy could be coming from me or someone else and asking that I be used as a conduit for the energy to return to where it needs to go. These tips together mean I can take a heart-pounding experience and have it subside within one to two minutes tops, without suppressing anything.
I like this system too. Sit down with a blank sheet, set a timer for 45 minutes, and start spewing every ugly thing that comes to mind. Go as fast as you can. When the timer ends, set another timer for 15 minutes, and write about all of the things for which you are grateful. Why does this work? Because you usually run out of bad things before you reach 45 minutes. But you usually don't run out of things you're grateful for in 15 minutes, and that leaves you somewhat dissatisfied that you didn't finish, but also gets your subconscious to realize there are many more things that you have that you are grateful for, than angry about.
Write on paper the things you are most angry / fearful / sad about, ball up the paper and throw it at a wall as hard as you can. When you're done, take the pile of balled up paper and burn it. I’ve also worked with an acupuncturist and mind/body/spirit worker (mariamoraca.com).
I found the Ishaya Ascension technique to be helpful. This isn’t trying to clear your mind, which can lead to a fruitless cycle of you beating yourself up for not being able to clear your mind. Nor is this chanting mantras in a language you don’t understand. They are attitudes of praise and gratitude that put you in a positive frame of mind. I found the first level mentioned here: https://www.bring4th.org/forums/showthread.php?tid=1007
I’ve found Youtube recordings, sometimes hours long, of meditative music around protection, healing, heart, releasing and harmonizing. If you Google “Youtube to mp3” you’ll find links to convert Youtube links to mp3, and then I load them on my iStick app on my iPhone (part of a Kickstarter project Long ago). This might be part of the reason I’m able to enjoy strolling through Times Squares nowadays.
Tools to work with others
Look into Crucial Conversations. It shows how to establish parameters for how to conduct a crucial conversation in a way that is safe for all participants. Then and only then when you have established mutual safety and respect do you dive into the content of the conversation.
Information we communicate goes into a growing pool of shared meaning, and that leads to successful dialog. The researchers quote: people who can make individually intelligent decisions can make collectively stupid decisions if they haven't put all of their information into the shared pool of meaning.
The conversation researchers learned that only a few things determined 95% of the time whether a couple would make it long term or not. Were they able to engage in tough conversations and stay focused, or did they shut down on each other? If they started to shut down, could they step outside of the content of the discussion to restore safety and respect, then return to the content of the conversation and continue? That's because what doesn't get said gets acted out. When one person shuts down it makes it harder on the other because then they have to throw a whole pile of scenarios into the pool of meaning hoping to find the ones that resonate with the person who shut down. That’s exhausting and fruitless, trust me.
Having said this, a lot of men tend to shut down when a sensitive topic surfaces. In fight or flight mode, if their target is a woman they’d probably rather flee than start to abuse her. So for those women hurt because the person they care for shuts down, there are a lot of terrible stories we can tell ourselves - they’re being cagey so they can continue to get sex while waiting for the right person to come along. Or they’re treating us like children by not letting us in. Or they’ll stick to their guns, stubbornly hoping the problem will go away (it won’t and it will likely precipitate an abandonment). When one possibility is that the alternative could be far worse, and sadly, abuse is a reality for many women.
Ever since I was a child, my dad tried to school me in always holding something back, so that you had something to offer the other person when the time was right. I’ve never been able to do this, and, ever since 2002 when I popped into a non-ordinary state of consciousness (NOSC - something I’ll discuss in a later chapter), I haven’t needed to do this. Instead, I try my best to engage in radical transparency, and go with the flow. What I discover is that together we elucidate the principles by which an agreement can be made, regardless of what anyone wants. What ends up happening instead is what is right.
Relationships aren’t absolutes, they’re more like a constant dance through life. It’s about people learning what constitutes healthy boundaries for them, and learning to build healthy boundaries in their relationships. A friend told me a quote that went something like this: I can’t just be for me. And I can’t just be for others. The balance is somewhere in between, and only I know what is right for me at any particular moment.
In terms of gender differences, I’ve noticed women tend to think more holistically and men tend to compartmentalize much better than women. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and both the advantages and challenges add up when they interact with one another, especially when it comes to relationships. I suspect there are equal parts of joy and misery in these strengths and weaknesses, just very different. Sorry to not address those of you who don’t feel constrained by gender norms. I can’t even begin to understand what your worlds must be like.
I not only tend to think more holistically, I’m a polymath who has backgrounds in technology, music, real estate, etc. So what goes on in my brain feels like a combinatorial explosion of information, past, present, and future, with probabilities attached at each node which fluctuate depending on incoming information. Trying to translate this information into human terms, using human forms of communication (which sadly, are serial only), makes communication that much more challenging.
There are times when I’m sure I overwhelm others, which is why I tend to act like an introvert who is recharging most of the time, then once in awhile you’ll see an intense spurt. This is especially challenging in relationships because, since I tend to be more forward thinking, I might throw a whole pile of scenarios that I see into the shared pool of meaning, to get people thinking and to give them actionable information to work with. It doesn’t mean I have any expectations of those scenarios playing out, or any expectation of commitment unless it appears it will work out with everyone’s consent. I try to remind myself of this periodically, that not everyone understands this right off the bat.
Another excellent book I've read is Getting to Yes - Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. This is about conducting a principled negotiation which is hard on merits, soft on people. Like Crucial Conversations, it discusses how to decouple people issues from the content discussion, and establish parameters that will lead to the greatest chance of coming to an agreement, without either side giving up their principles. Again, this requires open communication.
Abandonment.net is a resource for finding local therapists and abandonment groups, or starting a group in your area.
Last but not least, I am learning my limits, and I choose to practice self-compassion and avoid toxic situations where communication is not possible. I realize I’m lucky to be able to do this, and I realize there are many who feel they may not have a choice, maybe because they have kids or can’t support themselves.