Separation Anxiety and Relationship Sabotage

It is common that a client may consciously forget a traumatic event from childhood, especially if it seems insignificant in retrospect. It is even more impressive when a seemingly forgettable experience contributes to major relationship issues. Jennifer was one such woman. Throughout her adult life, she suffered from a fear of abandonment and so sabotaged her intimate relationships by being too “clingy.” Her insecure behavior was a turn-off to men she dated, and her relationships didn’t last much more than a year. She acted as though she expected each man to leave her, and her behavior ironically manifested the abandonment she feared. I was curious how she established the belief that caused the fear that triggered her clingy behavior. Although this pattern is not always the result of a traumatic experience, it was in Jennifer’s case.

During our first memory association process, Jennifer was very surprised to recall an experience from decades earlier, when she was only 3 or 4 years old. She immediately recognized the feeling of being abandoned as she described being separated from her parent at a store. Although she may have been alone for only a few minutes, she recalled crying hysterically until she was reunited. We neutralized the emotional charge in minutes, thereby eliminating her self-described separation anxiety. She clearly learned from her childhood experience that it was unsafe to lose sight of someone that she depended upon. That belief is very protective for a child, but it can be severely limiting for an adult.

After noticing an immediate improvement in her current relationship, Jennifer admitted her astonishment that this single event could have been so impactful. She figured that it was just one of many times she became upset as a child. It’s important to realize that it’s much easier to overwhelm children than adults, which is why even seemingly minor traumas, including mistreatment and neglect, can leave a lasting imprint. I wonder what large proportion of relationship issues stem from childhood lessons that are forgotten consciously but clung to subconsciously.

Stay tuned for my next article, in which I’ll continue the relationship theme with examples of a breakup and infidelity and how to neutralize their impact on future relationships.