I have been slowly reading a book called “When the Past is Always Present: Emotional Traumatization, Causes, and Cures” by Ronald A. Ruden. My social worker and I have been trying to understand where my emotional traumas have come from so I thought it would be important for me to learn more about emotional trauma. I am on the part of the book that is explaining the importance of emotions and what causes emotions. This particular little section is taking about fear and how many fear responses are hardwired. The one fear that is mentioned in the book that stood out to me is abandonment. I do not think I realized that fearing abandonment is something that could be hardwired into the majority of us.
Hardwired, in this case, means: genetically determined or compelled (Google Dictionary). So, we are genetically compelled to fear people leaving and us being alone. Ruden states in his book.
For mammals, there is also the fear of abandonment. That is because mammals are so helpless at birth. Without a mother there is no food or safety; there is only certain death. This is dramatically illustrated by northern mallard ducklings. which, when separated from their mother, will follow a crude duck model, a walking person, or even a cardboard box that is moved slowly away from them. Even as an adult, fear of expulsion from your herd alters behavior, as chances for survival outside of the herd are diminished. This powerful fear of abandonment has been used throughout the ages in humans as well. For example, the Catholic Church uses ex-communication and the Amish use shunning to control behavor. Fear of abandonment is one of our primal fears. – Ruden, pg 81-82
I began to think about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and it’s first listed symptom “frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment” (borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com). I have always felt that since fear of abandonment is listed as a symptom then it must be a silly fear, it must not be common. It took reading the above passage for it to really sink into my brain that fear of abandonment is an everyday occurrence for the majority of people. Whether it be at work, school or home the majority of us do not want to lose things that can lead to a change in our perceived safety. You may stay late a work even though you do not want to because you do not want to run the risk of losing your job which could lead to financial troubles. You may hand in a plagiarized essay at school for fear of failing the class and not graduating on time with your peers. You may delay telling your children about why their other parent has moved out of the house because you are worried about their reaction and view of yourself. When the fear of abandonment arises we are motivated to take action to cope with the fear. We are hardwired to do this (fight or flight). The majority of humans want to be accepted and want to feel safe.
So, what makes this fear of abandonment unique enough to BPD that it is listed a symptom? I can only guess the constant extreme lengths we’ll go to coupled with the other behaviours we exhibit and, I hope, the source that caused extreme reactions to abandonment to begin with. I can only speculate. It is my hope that through understanding how our brain and emotions work that we can accept emotional differences, see them as a part of human diversity and provide better support. We all want to be accepted and safe.