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This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Love Me, Don't Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment and Building Lasting, Loving Relationships
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‘’Love Me, Don’t Leave Me,’’ by Michelle Skeen is a guide intended to help anyone whose behavior in a relationship is often triggered by the fear of abandonment. To anyone struggling with a fear of being left by their partner, Skeen’s guidance will help you let go of painful emotions, such as jealousy, anxiety, shame, and anger, and make healthier behavioral choices. So, get ready to learn how to identify and overcome your fears and move toward the healthy and meaningful relationship you long for!
Skeen says, ‘’Our childhood experiences create our story, and that story resonates throughout our lives.’’ Let’s hear how early events in the life of a young woman named Ava shaped her behavior in relationships in adulthood. Ava was an only child whose parents separated before she was born. Even though she had never met her biological father, she did have father figures played by her mother’s boyfriends. Ava particularly remembers Bob, who used to take her to the park and play with her. Unfortunately, after her mother broke up with him, Ava could never see Bob again. She also had so much fun with Ross. However, the same thing happened after her mother ended their relationship. Ross disappeared from Ava’s life forever, leaving her to wait for another stepfather to bond with.
When she began dating, Ava found herself extremely insecure in relationships out of fear her partners would leave her as her mother’s boyfriends did before. She was, therefore, often clingy, compliant, angry, manipulative, blaming, demanding, critical, and controlling. Additionally, she was continually attracted to men who were likely to trigger her fear of abandonment. Most of them were inconsistent, distant, unpredictable, and chaotic.
As mentioned in the beginning, things we experience throughout our infancy, childhood, and adolescence create schemas, which Skeen calls ‘’core beliefs,’’ that help us ‘’organize and make sense of information and the things around us.’’ Thanks to our core beliefs, we can form expectations about present and future situations and people’s behavior. The problems arise, though, when our toxic early experiences shape our core beliefs. ‘’In this case,’’ Skeen writes, ‘’your core beliefs are basically negative ideas that you form about yourself and other people based on how you were treated growing up and the messages that you received.’’ In Ava’s case, continual abandonment experience led her to expect the same in adult relationships.
The primary core belief Skeen explores in this book is abandonment. In addition to this core belief, she has also identified four core beliefs linked with the abandonment core belief. Let’s hear more about them in the next section.
The abandonment core belief is a result of physical or emotional loss. It forms when a child lacks emotional support and connection or grows up in an unstable and unreliable environment. Just remember Ava—her abandonment core belief developed because of the repeated loss of father figures in her life. If a person’s core belief includes the fear of abandonment, their thoughts might often be: ‘’People who love me will leave me or die,” ‘’No one has ever been there for me,’’ ‘’The people I’ve been closest to are unpredictable,’’ ‘’In the end I will be alone.’’
The abandonment core belief works with other core beliefs Skeen calls mistrust and abuse, emotional deprivation, defectiveness, and failure. If childhood experiences involve abuse of any kind, betrayal, humiliation, or manipulation, the individual develops ‘’mistrust and abuse core belief’’ and expects others to hurt, abuse, humiliate, cheat, lie, manipulate, or take advantage of them. Take Courtney as an example. Her mistrust and abuse core belief developed because her parents often cruelly criticized her, even for minor offenses. Their verbal abuse led her to believe she needs to protect herself because people close to her will eventually hurt her verbally, physically, or sexually.
When caregivers do not provide affection, attention, warmth, guidance, or do not empathize with their child, it creates emotional deprivation core belief. People with this core belief think no one can adequately meet their emotional needs or give them the love they long for. On the other hand, those with deprivation core belief think they are unworthy of love. They feel defective, bad, unwanted, or inferior, and believe others will stop loving them if they reveal their flaws. Ali, whose father would often withdraw his affection and attention when she would make minor mistakes, such as getting drunk or getting speeding tickets, developed a defectiveness core belief.
Finally, failure core belief causes one to feel like they never measure up to those around them. It is usually formed when parents constantly compare their child's achievements to the achievements of their peers.
Did you recognize yourself in any of these examples? If you still cannot find the link between your childhood experiences and your behavior in relationships, don’t worry, the next section will help you with that!
You cannot change your past, but you certainly can change your present when you understand how past events affect your current behavior. Reshaping your behavior begins with identifying your core beliefs, which will help you discover what is going on with you when something reminds you of a painful childhood experience. Skeen made the job of finding your core beliefs easy by creating self-assessments you can find on a website named after her book.
After you assess yourself and find out what your core beliefs are, you should learn how they influence your reactions to certain people, situations, or events. First, close your eyes and imagine a snow globe. When you pick it up and shake it, the snow starts falling, and the scene inside comes to life. Say the globe contains your painful childhood memories. Every time something or someone triggers your core beliefs, the past in the globe revives, and, suddenly, you feel overwhelmed with negative thoughts and emotions. They fuel your ‘’fight, flight, or freeze response,’’ which might include (passive) aggressive, hostile, manipulative behavior, compliance, social withdrawal, or compulsive stimulation seeking (consuming drugs, alcohol, or excessive amounts of food).
Take Emma, who has abandonment and emotional deprivation core beliefs, as an example. She was in her senior year in high school when her parents divorced. Preoccupied with numerous problems triggered by the divorce, they did not provide Emma with support or guidance while she was preparing for college. When she left her home, to avoid the pain of feeling abandoned and neglected by her parents, she developed into a fun-loving party girl with a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach in relationships and started drinking excessively.
Situations and events that remind you of a painful childhood experience can trigger your fear of abandonment and other core beliefs. Nevertheless, some people can also activate the negative beliefs you have about yourself and others. For instance, a person Skeen calls ‘’the Abandoner’’ will trigger your abandonment core belief. You will recognize them for being unpredictable, unstable, and often unavailable.
Your core beliefs will return you to unpleasant past experiences whenever something reminds you of them. The thing is, whenever the snow globe with your painful memories shakes, your mind automatically neglects the present situation. As Skeen notes, ‘’When you are stuck in your story, your hardwired fear response takes over and you detach from the present moment and react based upon past experiences.’’ How can you override this dated reaction? The answer you are looking for is mindfulness.
As you might already know, being mindful is about staying present in the moment. Since it allows you to make thoughtful choices based on your current situation, being in the here and now helps you move away from reacting according to learned patterns. Practicing mindfulness will enable you to distance yourself from your core beliefs and view the present and future more objectively. ‘’Your core beliefs will always be there but you can take away their power and their negative influence over your current situation,’’ Skeen adds.
So, if you want to gain more awareness about your behavior, start practicing mindfulness every day. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Pay attention to your breathing for a while and observe how your body parts move as you inhale and exhale. Then, notice the thoughts that come to your mind, the sensations, and emotions you feel. Try not to hold on to them. Say to yourself: ‘’It is just a thought (sensation, emotion),’’ and move on to whatever comes next to you. Imagine you are the sky, while they are the weather that comes and goes.
When this exercise becomes your routine, you begin observing your inner state without feeling the need to react to it. That way, when you are in a situation that ‘’shakes up the snow in your globe,’’ you will be able to let the negative thoughts and emotions pass and make a mindful choice based upon what you know to be true instead of the painful past experience.
When your core beliefs are triggered, your response is emotional and behavioral. For instance, you may think others see you negatively and therefore feel ashamed. You may also feel rejected, alone and depressed. Unfortunately, you cannot change your core beliefs nor erase the accompanying feelings either. Nevertheless, when it comes to your behavior, the good news is that there is a way you can change it.
Changing your core belief behaviors starts with looking at the outcomes they produce. Can you remember a situation in which you didn’t get the result you hoped for? Maybe you made another person angry, aggressive, or caused them to withdraw. In that case, you need to change your behavior since it does not help you achieve what you want. Since these unhelpful coping reactions are habitual, it will take lots of effort to adopt new behaviors that bring you closer to your goals. However, if you commit to change, you will eventually manage to override maladaptive behavior and achieve more positive results in your relationships.
Next time your core beliefs are activated, resist reacting automatically and do something you ordinarily would not. Say you are dealing with a difficult situation at work, and you call your partner to tell them about it. However, they do not answer. You call again. And again. With every unreturned call, your anxiety rises. When your partner sees all the missed calls, he gets upset thinking you have an emergency. After they realize you made them step out of the important meeting only to hear their voice, they get mad. Then you start frantically texting, begging them to forgive you.
The whole situation with excessive calling and texting made one person anxious and the other mad—and these certainly are not reactions we want to produce. So, instead of initiating excessive and unnecessary communication, the person in our example could have done something opposite: avoid communicating until negative thoughts and feelings pass. The easiest way to do this would be to engage in activities that occupy your mind or practice mindfulness.
Relationships impose numerous challenges on us—reflecting on our painful experiences and changing our behavior are perhaps the most difficult ones to overcome. For this reason, Skeen's clear and compassionate guidance will be of utmost help to anyone committed to enhancing their relationships with other people, and above all, the relationship with oneself.
Create a journal to record the outcomes your behavior produces after the events that shake your globe. It will help you distance yourself from negative experiences and make you more aware of your unhealthy behavioral patterns.
Michelle Skeen is a clinical psychologist and an author. In treatment and her books, she tries to help individuals create and maintain healthy relationships by encouraging them to become aware of the fears an... (Read more)
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