Fear of Abandonment
This case presents how Benjy treated and resolved his fear of abandonment using EMDR therapy.
Benjy’s unprocessed childhood memories were responsible for poor choices, unsuccessful relationships as an adult, fear of abandonment, and other issues. He was treated with EMDR therapy.
Benjy had had a stressful life. He entered therapy at the age of 55, with frequent headaches, forgetfulness, angry outbursts, irritability, sadness, and feelings of insecurity. He was also overweight and suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain.
“I need to always be in control.”
Lack of trust
Benjy lacked trust in others, including his wife Ariane. He was afraid of failure, both at work and in his relationships. He lacked self-esteem and feared intimacy.
Benjy was a people-pleaser who thought that if he kept everyone happy, they would stay with him. However, they all left and he had already been married three times. He was desperate to make his present marriage different from the other two. Because he was worried that Ariane would leave him if she found out who he was, he kept his emotions and opinions to himself.
His self-repression caused him to be angry with Ariane, just like he had been with his previous wives. Conflict would begin, tension would build, he would blow up, and then he would feel hurt and angry. The two would distance themselves from each other and it could be days before they spoke again, without resolving the core issue.
“I boil with anger when the pain is too hard. The only thing on my mind is to protect myself.”
Benjy’s core negative cognitions were: I am unworthy, I am unlovable.
Benjy recalled a memory from his childhood. He was five when his mother dropped him off at his grandmother’s house without explanation. He didn’t know why he was there or how long he would be staying.
He saw his mother walking away, not turning to wave goodbye, not looking at him as she drove off. It was six months before he saw her again. “I am useless,” he thought, feeling anger and shame in his stomach.
Benjy’s father had moved out and his parents separated shortly before he was left with his grandmother. Benjy was devastated when his mother left him.
Reprocessing the memory of his mother leaving him, he saw the anguish and fear on her face as she closed the car door and drove off. She was forced to leave him that day and he understood with relief that it was the last thing that she wanted to do.
Reprocessing the memories
After this session, Benjy’s acceptance and trust of other people and of himself improved. After becoming comfortable with himself, he no longer felt the need to please others constantly. His frequent headaches, forgetfulness, angry outbursts, irritability, sadness, and feelings of insecurity disappeared after further processing. He could also focus on getting his diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic back pain under control.
For the five-year-old Benjy, the situation was so traumatic that the unprocessed memory and its negative emotions and physical sensations became locked into his brain.
Benjy thought it was his fault that his Mum left him and he managed his fear of abandonment by pleasing his grandmother so she would not leave him. His grandmother did not leave, which confirmed Benjy’s belief that pleasing people was necessary for them to stay. Benjy maintained the pattern with his Mum when she returned. She didn’t leave again, which meant that he was right. This pattern set the foundations for his difficult and challenging relationships in adulthood.