When a client fears abandonment, they may desperately reach out for emotional connection in their relationships . . .
. . . only to feel pain and heartbreak when their behavior overwhelms the other person and drives them away.
And this can especially be the case when it comes to romantic relationships.
Over time, this push-pull dynamic can drain both the client and their partner, and the relationship may break down.
So in the video below, Pat Ogden, PhD shares how she worked with a client who feared abandonment and whose relationship was in jeopardy. She also gets into the body-based homework assignment he could use whenever his partner felt he was too “clingy.” Have a listen.
He said that he knows he’s clingy. He said he was clingy as a child, and he was teased a lot by kids, so he got very clingy with his mother. He didn’t feel safe with the other children and was afraid to go on play dates as a child. He knew all this. He said that his parents just told him, “Oh, don’t be so silly. You’ll have fun. Just go on the play date,” and his feelings were never really acknowledged.
So, what we explored then was the clinging action. He chose a pillow from my office to grasp, to hold on to and cling to, and that gesture of holding on was very comfortable for him. Pierre Janet used to say, “You always want to find out which movements are familiar and easy for clients, and which movements are unfamiliar and not easy.” Of course, that was just the beginning, to feel how easy that was, and it felt good to him just to hold on. Then, we experimented with letting go, because it was necessary for him to learn that action of letting go. That letting go, a kind of yield or not holding on is one of five basic actions. It was painful for him as he even thought about letting go. He got frightened, and those memories became more vivid. Again, the pain of his parents minimizing his fear in early childhood came up. So, you feel like there’s a theme through all the sessions — we have to access the part that holds the fear, find out what that part needs, and help provide it. That way, he and I together could work with that part of him that had been teased and bullied by the other children, and acknowledge that those feelings are normal. “Anybody would feel that way, so of course you would feel that way. But not all kids are like that.” So, help that child part of him sense something different in the moment. Gradually, through that exploration, he was able to learn how to let go.
So, he had homework around letting go. He was to enlist his partner to help him — for example, she would tell him when she experienced him as clinging to her, and then he would just practice this action. He would just start to open his palms, because holding on is a tight clinging. He wasn’t actually grasping her, but it was a tight grasping motion that he would feel in his body. So, he would ask her help, and then he would practice letting go. I encouraged him to be very aware of the effect of that, of the letting go part. I wanted to challenge that idea that it would be good to hold on, and challenge that fear in him that something worse would happen. Whereas, in fact, if he released the holding on, something better would happen. She liked being with him more, she wanted to come closer, etc. So, the trick was to integrate that awareness with the letting-go.
If you found this video helpful, you can find out more from Pat (and other top experts) on how to address the core wounds that drive a fear of abandonment – just click here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What are some ways you help your clients who struggle with a fear of abandonment to embrace the idea of letting go? Please share by leaving a comment below.
If you found this helpful, here are a few more resources you might be interested in:
Working with Abandonment – A Common Therapeutic Mistake
Treating Attachment Trauma with Compassionate Imagery
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