More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Coping with Abandonment: Keeping my Distance
by Deborah Gray
Monday, October 29, 2007

I described my search for a new therapist in an earlier blog posting. I didn't talk about why I had gone back into therapy, because it would have probably hurt my biological father's feelings. However, Stephen died three weeks ago. It was not a surprise; he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, or ALS, about three and a half years ago. I got to spend a lot of time with him in the last year, so while his passing is sad, I was able to achieve some measure of closure. But not complete closure, apparently.

First I need to clarify something. When I refer to Stephen as my "biological" father, I'm sure you're assuming I'm adopted. I am, but the actual adoption didn't take place until a few years ago (my stepfather, Larry, adopted my sister and I in an adult adoption a few years ago). Stephen and my mom got divorced when I was about two years old and my sister was about two weeks old. Two years later, my mom married Larry, who became my stepfather.

Growing up, I never thought that losing Stephen affected me. My stepfather was a wonderful father, so I never felt that anything was lacking. However, I was kidding myself in thinking that the dysfunctional nature of my relationship with Stephen had no impact on me. Among other things, in an unconscious attempt to fix the relationship, for years I had been dating men who were twice my age. My first year of therapy was focused primarily on identifying how I really felt about his lack of involvement in my childhood.

Which leads me back to my current issue. Ever since I was a child, I've had a problem with affection, both giving and receiving it. Any form of affection, either physical or verbal, can make me uncomfortable. My family used to joke (gently) about it when I was younger. I grew up accepting that that was the way I was made. But my inability to be affectionate caused a lot of problems in romantic relationships, as you can imagine. I honestly didn't like being that way, and I desperately wanted things to be different.

Years of therapy did seem to make a difference. I became more comfortable being affectionate with my family and friends, and I initially had no problem being affectionate with my husband. I figured that I had the problem beat.

Then, about three and a half years ago, I could feel myself starting to become emotionally and physically distant again from everyone but my son. I kept hoping that it was a temporary reaction to something, although what that could be, I didn't know. When my husband and I discussed the problem a couple of months ago, he pointed out that this had started right around the time Stephen was diagnosed.

So what's the problem? Right now, my therapist and I are working under the hypothesis that Stephen's abandonment had a lot to do with this issue. It seems too coincidental that my problem cropped up for the first time in years when he was diagnosed with ALS. After all, dying is kind of the ultimate abandonment, even if it's involuntary. So it looks like I still haven't completely worked through my feelings about his absence, and I have a lot of work to do. Wish me luck!

just mary

That was an interesting article.

Becoming "emotionally and physically distant again from everyone", I would like some examples of this, just to see if I what I feel is similar.

Sometimes I tend to embellish my feelings, I think I'm sad or depressed or angry (in a clinical sense) but I'm really just over reacting. What I'm feeling is actually very normal, I'm just too introspective (self-consumed).

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