Fear of Abandonment: When You Go Away, I Regress To a Child

I tried to explain to a loved one yesterday that I am heal-ING from Borderline Personality Disorder. I still meet the criteria for the disorder, and I am still symptomatic. The good news is that most of the time, I am able to apply the DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skills that I've been learning for the past two years and that I continue to learn on a weekly basis through a group class.
I think it may be disappointing for others, then, when I have those moments where I don't look very skillful at all. Sometimes this is true (they actually give me feedback), and other times, this is my thought or interpretation, which of course isn't accurate 100% of the time. 
Lately, I've been experiencing a short temper with anger. I'm more reactive than usual, and I've been saying things (and doing impulsive hand gestures) that I pretty much immediately regret. It's quite embarrassing, and this behavior is really not in alignment with the values I've discovered and the person I want to be.

What's going on?  I'm feeling STRESSED.  Those of you who have been following my blog know that I am facing a major work stressor right now. In addition, my significant has an upcoming trip for a week.
In June, I wrote about my mini-meltdown when he went away for a month. That post was entitled, "You've Gone Away, So Where Am I? | Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder."  Since I more or less successfully navigated the skills to cope with the issues that came up around identity disturbance in his absence, that is not the focus of my concerns this time.
Even though he is only going away a week, I suspect that due to the other vulnerabilities I am experiencing right now emotionally, I am responding in a fearful, anxious way on a physical level. My nervous system is reacting. I feel scared.  The little girl inside of me who has appeared before and who has come very far in coping with fears of abandonment, has been triggered again.
I need to be gentle with her (me).   I need to be compassionate with her (me).  My inner child is frightened. She doesn't want to be alone during this time of stress.
This morning, I literally felt like acting out. I wanted to cry, beg, and plead for him to not go away, but I was able to stop myself. Been there, done that. The ticket is purchased, he has commitments, and whether I get myself sick over it and have a breakdown that upsets both of us - or not - he has to take that trip. And I have to cope with it. (Skills practiced: Wise Mind and Radical Acceptance.)
My goal, of course, is to cope effectively and to behave as the actual adult that I am.  I don't want to dismiss my inner child's fears and worries - they are a real part of my experience, but I also need to continue to tap into Wise Mind and choose effective behaviors that help me get through the week.
Realistically, I could pull myself together and actually find a silver lining to the time alone and enjoy myself. Wouldn't that be wonderful? 
The skills I'll be focusing on this week are:
  • Thinking Dialectically: It's not true that I'm perfectly fine when with my significant other and that I am not ok when he's away. There are shades of grey in there.
  • Effectiveness: I will focus on the behaviors that work and are effective for my short and long-term goals of maintaining emotional stability as best as I can.
  • Non-Judgmental Stance: Rather than labeling the situation, my responses and emotions to it, etc. as "good" or "bad," I will describe what I observe without any labels -- just the facts.
  • Reduce Emotional Vulnerability: I will take care of myself by eating well, getting some exercise (a nice walk here and there, some yoga), sleeping well, and doing some guided meditations to calm my nervous system
  • Distract: I have lots of little projects to get done around the house and with my writing. I can delve into these and really focus. 
  • Wise Mind: I will focus on thinking clearly and as objectively as possible, especially when Emotion Mind comes to the surface.
  • Attending DBT Group: I'll be sure to show up and go over my Diary Card and possibly an Emotion Regulation Handout 1a.
I am also going to tend to my inner child during this time. If she wants an ice cream, she's getting one. If she wants to watch something silly on television, we're going for it. I acknowledge that there is a part of me for which this fear of abandonment feels very real and scary, and I intend to love and comfort that part of me through it.

I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Do you have a difficult time when a loved one goes away, even for a short time, such as on a business trip?  How do you cope?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.

UPDATE The author of this blog no longer meets the criteria for a BPD diagnosis and is in recovery. Join her online DBT informed course (live each week with Q&A) at www.emotionallysensitive.com


  1. My ex left me and has since texted things like, "How are you coping?" It's nice that she cares, but did she just ask a Borderline how they're coping with the abandonment?! Grr.

    1. I completely relate to this! My boyfriend just moved out and doesn't understand why I've had such a hard time. Yet when we first found out I was borderline we both researched and learned about it. He KNOWS about my abandonment issues. It's like at this point all of the things he learned and promised to help me through were forgotten and now we are at the point where he seems like he has no understanding at all. I've come to a conclusion though...I have been spending so much of my time trying to get him to understand me and understand how I feel that I haven't been working on myself enough. It doesn't matter if he ever "understands." What matters is that I get better. This realization has helped my anger and negativity so much just this past week.

    2. I'm still working on this with my husband and my mother-in-law.

  2. I dread when my partner goes away, and it's not even that often, but i am constant fear that it will happen at any time. Even for one night i find it so difficult. I completely understand your situation. I know that you will be ok and use all the skills you have. Good luck and let us know how you are doing:)

  3. It was really hard for me when I started dating again after being diagnosed but Bill was very understanding and did everything he could to educate himself to make it easier on both of us. I remember the days in the beginning when we would fall asleep on the phone together. I would wake up with a cell phone imprint in my cheek. LOL! Or he would text me through out the day just to say hello and let me know that he happened to be thinking of me. We moved in together 3 months ago and it was hard for me watching him leave every day for work. I went through what you are going through daily for almost a month. Is he going to come home? Is he really going to work or is he seeing some one else? If he came home a minute late I was freaking out. Now I just know. Its hard to explain but deep down inside I just know. He loves me and I love him and he is coming home. We text through out the day. He calls me on his lunch break or any other time when he may have a moment during the day and if I just need to hear his voice for what ever reason I can call him and say that and he won't get mad at me. He will talk to me, if even for just a few minutes and it comforts me. I have learned to keep my mind busy during the day. I read, I write, I do my DBT exercises and I am kind of OCD about a clean house so I usually do that too. But I agree with taking care of your inner child, she is who is hurt. Spoil her this week, take her out for some ice cream, go play on the swings and most of all be happy because your inner child survived you became the beautiful adult woman you are today! :-)

  4. I was walking out o a sleep clinic appointment last thursday and ran into my ex who hurt me extremely and I was with my aunt and she talked to him as I walked right past him. It has been a year and I still struggle with thoughts of him yet when I saw him I felt pure anger. I was proud of myself for not responding with the hateful words I wanted to say. I realized he was not worth my words so I think this is a very good step. My BPD was so very bad when we were in the relationship and it was scary for my inner self when he let me two times a year apart.

  5. I am currently attending DBT group just finished Mindfulness/Meditation. In a couple of weeks will start Emotional Regulation. It is amazing the progress I have made because of these groups. Not judging myself and observing my thoughts and emotions has been a life saver. I don't want to make it simplistic it is a lot of hard work each day insecurities pop up. I have been dealing with anger as well the explosive irrational emotions.

    It is so true be good to that inner child I am learning to be compassionate w/ my inner child. I think about it this way if we witnessed a child in pain we would offer some type of support be it a hug or kind words. I do that with myself..

    The abandonment is a little tricky for me and that is where meditation helps me. It is nice to see positive stories of people with BPD keep up the good work..

  6. I can't cope when she does. She is now in NY. I am in London. And I am a little baby girl again. Tantrums and all. I keep being all defensive when we talk. I feel like she doesn't want to talk to me and she'd rather have space from her overwhelming girlfriend (me) .. I keep asking if she'd rather be single while she is away and promising notto text and phone. Then I text and ring again. Silly :( I think she will have to be coming and going for a couple of months. She's been so patient, too! Keeps saying she got me this and that and putting up with my insecurity:( It's been a week so far and I am not sure how to cope if it's going to be a 'normal' thing til the auttum :( THANKS FOR YOUR story. It helps, as usual, to know I am not alone and will try do what you suggest. Do my DBT excesrcises, too.

    All the best!!!

  7. hey debbie :) just wanted to let u know that ur a great girl and a helpful inspiration for me. i feel every of ur lines and i find myself in u. thanks for sharing all ur ideas and thoughts, they help me thru my days and i feel that im not alone.
    with best wishes

  8. He is away now. I fell apart the moment the door closed

  9. It's weird for me because I prefer to be alone, all the time. What makes me anxious is to meet other people (in person). Even when I've had a significant other, there was a moment when I just needed to be alone, and needed him to be gone. What I have actually experienced is huge anxiety when I can't be "connected" , there's been times when I needed to have someone in the chat, or msn or facebook... talking to me, all day long. "Someone" I could trust 100% and tell to "him" ALL my thoughts or fears, or what I was doing or planning to do that day. Some datail: I always prefer to have friends who are "boys" or well, men, I get along better and feel comfortable around men, that's why I don't have girl-friends, any special one.



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