How to Face That Abandonment Issue

A therapist shares the self-talk she uses to heal the void.

How to Face That Abandonment Issue


photo courtesy of Sergey Filimonov

filed under Advice, True Stories

I’m here again. The old familiar place inside that wreaks of fear. I know I’m here because my guts tell me: the sinking feeling, the emptiness, the void. It comes when my feelings of love are so deep that the thought of their not being reciprocated throws me into a sense of irrational terror.

Many of us intimately know the sharp pain of feeling abandoned. Like so many of us, this core wound developed in my early years as the daughter of a loving father with intermittently treated bipolar disorder and a strong mother who struggled to confront her own vulnerabilities. The havoc from the combination presented itself in financial crises, explosive arguments, my mother leaving every weekend to escape, the eventual traumatic end of their marriage, and the crescendo of my father’s sudden death when I was 19.

Compounded by ancestral and intergenerational trauma, my experience growing up was layered with constant, underlying fear. It left me with a profound sense of insecurity, invulnerability, fear of intimacy—and no idea what to do about any of it. The subconscious inner monologue went something like this: “Love is distant and unstable, and I am left because I am not worth staying for.” Around this core belief swirls a truly murky cloud of confusion.

Attachment wounds are nothing new in the human experience, and abandonment rears its ugly head for so many of us who are raised by imperfect albeit well-intention humans who are just trying to cope the best way they know how. I’m undyingly grateful for the warmth and love I always felt, even among the tumult. I know my parents worked hard to provide in the fullest ways they could. Understanding this intellectually doesn’t change the heat of the fear’s fire when it’s ignited in my gut.

This narrative that lives so deeply embedded in my subconscious comes to life when I feel unheard, unchosen, deprioritized. Often it shows after I express vulnerability, or in the hours between a text and a reply. Or even when I feel full love from my partner and then get frantically worried it won’t stay. When it does come, I’ve learned attune to myself and gently ask: “What do you need, sweet girl?”  

Years of therapy, spiritual development, and meditation have taught me the origins of the voice who speaks from fear, trauma, and abandonment. She is just so, so scared. She’s small too, so she often doesn’t know what to do and gets frantic in that sense of not knowing. Intimate romantic love is the fuel that sets every deep insecurity on fire.  

With self-inquiry and spiritual advancement, I’ve learned a sophisticated process of discernment, one that asks my higher self to come online, to come to my own rescue.  In that place, I embody my womanhood and partake in a delicate and tender dance within. I build refuge within myself to quiet the trauma and tap into my truth.

It sounds like this:

  • Will I choose to abandon myself for the sake of grasping to be loved?
  • Will I take breadcrumbs instead of the full feast that I’m deserving of?
  • Will I relinquish myself to another unavailable man who doesn’t have the emotional sophistication or maturity to meet me?  
  • How can I notice the core wound compelling these actions, and nurture it instead of acting it out in ways that only perpetuate it?
  • Will I trust my instincts, listen to my intuition, express vulnerability and honesty even in the face of fear of rejection?
  • Will I show up fully, bravely, and express myself from a real place?
  • Will I stay regulated when I feel attacked and hurt?
  • Will I take the time I need to nurture that hurt, and reply from compassion and wisdom instead of from spite, trauma, or pain?

I’ve also learned to do a little Q&A with the fear to alchemize it into truth. Here’s an example:

Q: What are you scared of?

A: His leaving. Getting caught in the same loop that feels awful.

Q: And what if he leaves you?  

A: Then you learn and can move forward.

Q: And what if he chooses you and stays?  

A: Then you get to rise to love.

Q: And what if he triggers you?  

A: Then you get to practice healing.

Q: And what if your love story is beyond epic?

A: Then I offer you deep pride and recognition for healing yourself to let this in.

It’s a wonderful, confusing, bizarre, enlivening paradox. In this gentle place of curiosity, I liberate myself from the old stories that were never true, and let myself tap into desire, dreams, and magic.

I cope with the fear by noticing it, becoming aware of it, allowing it, feeling into it. I get curious about its sensations, stories, and needs. I write to it, ask it things so it can have its voice and so I can call upon my wisdom to offer it the truth it most needs to hear.

I say: “You’re feeling scared and anxious now. It’s alive in your stomach, the hollowness that feels like void. There’s a sense of doom that you’re having a hard time releasing.  The story you tell yourself is that you’re not going to have the love you desire, that what is actually here isn’t love, and that you are left. That you aren’t worth it. That you can’t be chosen because you’re not okay.”

And then I remind it of the truth.  

I say: “Darling, you are beyond okay. You are always inherently wonderfully okay. You’ve confronted yourself with ruthless gentle compassion and courage; you’ve learned your lessons, evolved and transformed. You’ve found this beautiful, safe, comfortable, cozy home within. You have become who you are. And it is profound and powerful. You are a warrior and a leader. You are a lover and a mother. You are a wife and a partner. You are a sister and a friend. An aunt and a niece. A daughter. A healer.”

I connect to my full embodied desire, and tap into the love that lives there. I offer the smaller, traumatized self the nurturance it needs, and reminders of what is capable of being cultivated now. This loving, open-hearted stance quiets the trauma and invites in the truth. It allows an unruly love to discover itself, and provides the patient recognition it needs to blossom.

As often as I need to, I remind myself: Let your worry rest. Your heart knows the way.

Dr. Rachel is an Oakland-based licensed clinical psychologist who’s influenced strongly by Buddhist psychology and philosophy as well as Western evidence-based practices. Visit her at

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