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The Fear Of Abandonment: Children In Crisis (Part III)


Herskowitz-Moishe

In my last article I had mentioned that often one of the symptoms of autophobia, a fear of abandonment, is that as adults people suffering with this condition may become extremely sensitive to rejection.

This week I would like to focus on adolescents and what occurs when they suffer from autophobia. Adolescents who feel they have been abandoned can become traumatized.

The human nervous system is designed to be finely attuned to danger, and to recognize safety. Yet when children have experienced abandonment, as adults their nervous system can be stuck in the “on” position, constantly responding to fears that no longer exist in their relationship. Abandonment is one of the many fears that trigger danger to the brain, and there is no deeper fear in the human experience than the fear of being abandoned.

We see this in infants, as they begin to explore their new world. They will experience a separation anxiety whenever they are separated from a parent, their attachment figure. As they begin to explore their new world they will often check back to see if a parent or a significant care giver is in sight. If they should lose sight of a parent, their attachment figure, they will no longer feel safe and they will start to cry, terrified to be left alone.

For a child the feeling that someone will always be there, even when they can’t be seen, is a crucial part of any developmental stage. We call this feeling “Object Consistency.”

A lack of object consistency is the inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable. Should this happen in adolescents, then the nervous system can be stuck in the “on” position alerting the neo-cortex that regulates the brain that something is wrong, and to be on the look out for abandonment. The message the brain sends is that you are no longer safe! Find another attachment figure as soon as possible.

When the teenager no longer feels safe, he internally starts to cry, terrified to be alone. The objective consistency connection has been detached, and as with anyone in a crisis their equilibrium does not function as it should. In plain English, this means the teenager can not make rational decisions, and reaches out to anyone who will listen. They look for someone reliable whom they can trust – but who is that person? This need to reach out can cause them to form unhealthy relationships with the wrong people – predators on the street who will take advantage of their innocence. These children will become vulnerable to anyone or anything that will make them feel happy again. We have learned to refer to them as teens at risk, but in reality they are children in crisis.

Case 1: The eighth grade yeshiva boy/girl who looks forward to going to the high school of the school they have been attending since early elementary school. They have developed an Object Consistency, with the principal, teachers, staff, and friends. Then they are told they are not welcome and to please continue their education somewhere else. The child seeks out another school but is not accepted. Often the reason is, “Why should we accept someone who was not accepted by their own school?”

Case 2: The school s/he attended has no high school, and his/her report card is not up to the standard of most high schools, so the only school that has said yes is one considered to be an “alternative” high school.

Case 3: The child is not adjusting well in the high school s/he is presently attending. The administration feels his/her attitude will affect the other students in a negative ways and the child is asked to leave.

In all three cases the fear of abandonment is about to take place. The child’s positive attachment figures, and object consistency with the school no longer exists.

Solution: With professional supervision have teenagers who are role models act as mentors to other teenagers vs. having those on the street doing so. With professional supervision these teenagers can stay in school and stay connected.

Please contact me for more information on how to start a mentorship program or become a teen mentor.

Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples – helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz is a Graduate School Professor at the Touro College Mental Health Program. To discuss topics from an article, or ask questions, he can be contacted at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388. 

About the Author: Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage). As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he guides new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. He can be reached at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388.


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Many times when a couple is arguing they may, unconsciously, trigger childhood anger. So much so, that if we would stop and listen to what they are arguing about, it would sounds like two eight year olds fighting in the back yard.

In my last article I had mentioned that often one of the symptoms of autophobia, a fear of abandonment, is that as adults people suffering with this condition may become extremely sensitive to rejection.

In part one (Family Issues 04-29-2011) we mentioned that often a symptom of the anxiety disorder, the fear of abandonment, is a strong need to be in control. That is because the person suffering from the disorder has lost someone in their past – due to separation, divorce or death – and may unconsciously blame themselves for the desertion.

The fear of abandonment, also known as autophobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by an acute fear of being alone. Often, one of the symptoms of this particular anxiety is a strong need to be in control. This is because one has previously lost someone close through separation, divorce or death and may unconsciously blames his or herself for the event. When this happens, any type of separation may traumatize the person, even the marriage of his or her own child can be viewed as a life-threatening event.

The following was a letter sent as a response to the article, “Children of Shame” (02-04-2011). The article addressed the fact that children learn at a very young age to disconnect their feelings as a mechanism to end their feelings of shame. As these children become adults, they find it difficult to reconnect those out of fear that once again they will feel the pain of shame.

Children who grew up feeling shameful for the most part will have also grown up without someone to talk to about how it made them feel.

Shame is one of the most destructive feelings there is. It is a feeling that something is wrong within us and has a negative affect on a child’s self-development.

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