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.
Many years ago, my brother, who is an attorney, shared the following situation with me. A woman had recently lost her husband and needed an attorney to handle all the financial and legal ramifications of her case. The woman was a Holocaust survivor, like our parents. She had come to his office accompanied by her single daughter, who was very bright and extremely personable. Her daughter was caring, thoughtful and patient as she spoke on her mother’s behalf.
Sol was very impressed by the dynamics of their mother-daughter relationship, and with the young lady herself, so much so that he felt it would be a great idea to set me up with her.
He asked the mother if the daughter would be interested in meeting his brother who is also single, personable and interested in getting married. The mother’s immediate response was, “I am sure your brother would not be interested in my daughter since she recently had a nervous breakdown.”
Needless to say, Sol’s reaction was one of shock and disbelief that anyone, especially a person’s own mother, would share this type of personal information so readily.
It’s seemed to him that she was trying to sabotage her daughter’s chances of ever getting married, and for the most part he was correct. She loved her daughter very much, and as with all Holocaust survivors, her daughter was her purpose for living.
The thought of being alone, however, and losing another intimate attachment was too frightening.
As part of the life cycle, as with all intimate attachments, sooner or later there will be some sort of separation. When children marry, this too is a process of intimate separation, but with family support everyone adjusts. If parents have experienced separation as a positive experience, then the adjustment is less intense. For others who have autophobia and have been faced with previous loss, as with Holocaust survivors, this separation event can become a very crippling experience. A child getting married can cause a state of extreme vulnerability with loss of control. The fear of abandonment leaves them feeling pain and rejection – and it can affect the ability to make proper decisions.
For this, and other reasons, it is important to have the support of a rav or mentor to help us think rationally through these most difficult and yet, joyous times.
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.