Many of our clients show up with deep-rooted fears and sensitivities around being rejected or abandoned. In some ways, that’s a normal aspect of being a human being – fear of rejection is hard-wired into our brain, because for most of human history being rejected from the group was, literally, a matter of survival. Finding yourself alone, outside the village stockade, surrounded by hungry animals and hostile tribes, was not a good place to be.
So we are all sensitive to signs of rejection by friends/colleagues/family, or worries about our partner being unfaithful or leaving us. But for some clients, this sensitivity dominates their lives. These people probably have an Abandonment/Instability schema – one of the most painful schemas we can have, which can start to imprint in our brain from birth onwards. And this makes it especially overwhelming when it gets triggered in later life – because the emotions and bodily sensations we feel might be pre-verbal, pre-cognitive and those of an infant; hugely powerful and utterly overwhelming.
For example, Sonya comes to see me because she is having problems in her relationship. ‘Every time I think my boyfriend is going off me – even a tiny bit – I just freak out and start bombarding him with texts because I feel so anxious. I can’t bear it.’ When we start to explore her history, Sonya tells me that her mother was an alcoholic, so even though she did not physically abandon the family, she was often drunk and emotionally unavailable for Sonya and her siblings. This speaks to part two of the schema: Instability. Even though Sonya was not actually abandoned, the attachment to her mother was not stable or secure, so she felt abandoned on a daily basis.
Stephen’s case is easier to understand. When he was five his father – who he adored – suddenly left his mother and started a new family. Virtually overnight his dad went from an attachment figure that Stephen loved and relied on to being completely absent from his life. This clearly was an abandonment, so Stephen’s schema developed then. He now gets fiercely jealous if his wife even speaks to other men – because his schema gets triggered and he is overwhelmed by a wave of jealousy, fear and insecurity.
Healing the core wound
In schema therapy, we work on the Abandonment schema like every other – with a combination of experiential techniques (especially imagery and chair work) and ‘limited reparenting’, where we try to meet Sonya and Stephen’s core needs that did not get met in childhood. For both people, the biggest need I would be striving to meet would be love and a secure attachment – to me, primarily, but later to other friends, partners and family members. This takes time, but magically we can heal even the deepest, most painful schemas – and help people like this feel calmer, happier and more secure.
If you would like to know more about healing schemas and modes, come along to my one-day workshop, Working with Modes: Embracing Complexity & Achieving Integration, or for a more comprehensive training you might prefer my two-day workshop, Introduction to Schema Therapy.
And if you would like to know more about any of my workshops, call me on 07766 704210 or use the contact form to get in touch.