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Alcohol and Mental Health

Abandonment Issues: Finding Your Way Back

July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 11, 2023
8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 11, 2023
8 min read

Picture this: You've met someone incredible. They're charming, funny, and they seem to get your quirky sense of humor. Your phone pings with their messages day and night. You feel seen, understood, connected. And then, one day … radio silence. You check your phone obsessively. One day turns into two, then a week, then a month. The text you've been waiting for never comes. You're left with unanswered questions and a sense of profound rejection, leading to long-term feelings of insecurity.

This constant feeling of chasing people or being left behind is the crux of abandonment issues. It's a persistent feeling of insecurity that can leave a subtle, nagging doubt in your mind or set off a loud alarm bell — whether or not it’s warranted.

The Science Behind Abandonment Issues

So what does science say about this? Abandonment issues aren't “just in your head” — they’re rooted in the brain.

Our brain’s emotional sentinel, the amygdala, stands guard for potential threats, including those scary feelings of insecurity and possible rejection. It's our ever-watchful guardian against what it perceives as possible harm heading our way.

Then we've got the hippocampus, our living memory bank that relates present experiences to past events. If we’ve faced abandonment in the past, the hippocampus revs up and says, "Wait a minute, I've seen this before!" at what seems like the slightest provocation — all in an effort to protect us from future abandonment.

Lastly, we have the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s center of rational thought. It tries to bring some reason into the emotional mix, but in cases of abandonment issues, the amygdala's emotional response is much louder.

Body Talk

The other key part of the abandonment trap is the body’s stress response. When we experience intense emotions such as fear, anxiety, or distress — all companions of abandonment — our body kicks into fight-or-flight mode. It starts releasing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, getting us ready to either face the issue head-on or to make a quick exit.

Normally, this stress reaction dissipates once the threat has passed. But when we’re dealing with chronic abandonment issues, the brain and body are always on high alert. This constant stress mode can lead to a host of unpleasant physical symptoms, ranging from headaches and sleep troubles to more serious stuff such as heart disease. It's like asking the mind and body to run a marathon daily — it can cause quite a strain!

A Trip Down Memory Lane

While abandonment issues can start at any point in life — for example, after a bad breakup — they can be even more tricky to untangle when they take hold in childhood. Much like learning to ride a bike or hating broccoli, our experiences during these formative years often stick with us. In fact, long-term exposure to stress hormones can also modify the hippocampus, part of the brain involved in memory and emotion regulation.

If we went through neglect, separation, or loss in childhood, our stress response system gets hypersensitive, reacting more strongly to potential threats of abandonment later in life.

That's why understanding the science of abandonment issues is so vital — and why it can also be so empowering. It helps us realize that these feelings aren't random or unmanageable, but are linked to understandable — and modifiable! — biological processes. Sure, it's a challenging journey, but with this newfound knowledge, some self-care, and the right help, we're better equipped to navigate it. Let's embrace this adventure!

Tackle Abandonment Issues

  • Acknowledge your feelings. The first step is to acknowledge that you're dealing with abandonment issues. It's okay! This isn't a "blame the victim" situation. It's about understanding that these feelings come from a real place. Try to identify your triggers to reframe the situation. Are you triggered when someone cancels plans, or when you're not included in a decision? What makes you feel insecure?
  • Explore your history. Understanding the root causes of your abandonment issues can be really helpful. This could involve tracing back to a particular event in your past, or to a situation or environment that was ongoing.
  • Healthy connections. Isolation can fuel feelings of abandonment. Make sure to maintain connections with your loved ones, even if it's just a simple text or a phone call. At the same time, it's important to establish healthy boundaries in relationships. This doesn't mean building impenetrable walls — just setting clear expectations about what you need from others.
  • Practice mindfulness. When feelings of abandonment creep in, bring your mind to the present. Notice the world around you and the sensations in your body. Try some breathing exercises or meditative practices when feelings of abandonment arise. It's not just about “omming” your way out; it’s about grounding yourself in the present moment.
  • Note to self. Write affirmations or positive self-talk on post-it notes and place them where you'll see them daily. This could be your mirror, your laptop, or even your fridge. Constant positive reinforcement can help in rewiring those insecure thoughts.
  • Capture your thoughts. Use a journal to express your feelings. Give it a fun twist by sketching, doodling or painting your emotions. This isn't about creating a masterpiece but understanding your feelings better.
  • Playlists for the soul. Create playlists for different moods. Upbeat songs for when you're feeling down, calming ones for when you're anxious — or whatever works for you! Music can help you navigate through emotions.
  • The no-phone zone. Dedicate some time each day to disconnect from technology and engage in an activity you love. This could be anything from painting or playing a musical instrument, to taking a leisurely walk, reading a book, or doing a jigsaw puzzle.
  • Therapeutic gardening. Get your hands dirty! Gardening can be a grounding activity that connects you with nature and offers a sense of accomplishment.

Now, don't go thinking these steps will magically erase stubborn abandonment issues. But every small step brings you closer to understanding and, ultimately, healing. And remember, we're all in this together. So, keep that chin up and let's keep going.

Ready To Leave Abandonment Issues (and Alcohol) in the Past?

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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