Abandonment Sufferers Dangerously Ping Like Hearted Souls
Written By: Mark Smith
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“True love, to whom my heart is prey,
How dost thou hold me in thy sway,
That in each day I find no fault
But daily wait for love's assault.”
It is difficult to discuss abandonment issues without covering the related topics such as affairs, sexual addiction, and relationship addiction. People with needy little kids at their cores abandon and are abandoned. They and their equally needy spouses are at great risk of being unfaithful.
Donnie, 45, came to me several years ago with a great deal of shame about his secret pattern of having nonemotional briefly sexual affairs with women he had worked with for much of his career. No one officially knew about his addiction. His wife knew on an unconscious level, but she really didn't want to know. She was very much an ostrich with her head deeply buried in the sand. When I told Donnie that he needed to eventually disclose his behavior to his wife, it sent a foreboding shudder throughout his body.
Donnie had been completely abandoned by his father. His dad had left the family abruptly for another woman; they haven't spoken for decades. Donnie was left to emotionally care for his depressed, victimy, childlike, helpless mother. She didn't move on with her life. She’s been stuck in 1972. Time absolutely does not heal all wounds. Deep abandonment wounds stay frozen in time if they aren't understood, properly grieved, and made peace with. So Donnie was abandoned by both his father and his mother. In fact, a solid case could be made that perhaps even a little more long-term damage was inflicted by his mother's abandonment fallout and constant dark cloud of negativity than was wrought by his dad's bugging out.
The needy little kid in Donnie began receiving what he called “pings” from women early on in his marriage. A ping was eye contact that lasted just a nanosecond too long, yet communicated everything he needed to know. There were a lot of attractive young women in his office whose wiring attracted them to a closed-off, addictive, abandoning married man who was driven to connect for a handful of miserable sexual encounters before shutting down with them completely. When his relationship and sexual addiction were in its prime, Donnie was constantly sending out vibes and looking for that special, unique ping. It’s important to note that Donnie wasn't a stunningly handsome man. He was relatively attractive, but he was no Brad Pitt. (Most of the sexual addicts I've worked with through the years have looked a lot more like Kevin Spacey than Brad Pitt.) And yet, one beautiful young woman after another was drawn like a magnet into a sexual relationship with Donnie. It isn't about looks. It’s about the vibes, pings, and primitive sexual energy that was communicated without a word.
Donnie has worked hard on his recovery process. He hasn't transmitted or received a ping in over a year. He brought his wife into therapy and came completely clean. I’d like to tell you that she understood his addiction, understood how her childhood set her up for marrying him, and got into solid recovery herself. The truth is that sometimes love lasts, and sometimes it hurts instead. Donnie's wife, Kim, had a startling abandonment history herself. Her mother abruptly ran off with another man when Kim was four years old. Kim never lived with her mother again after that day, even though her mother had been her primary caregiver.
That wounding from her mother's cruel and abrupt abandonment impacted Kim's inner little girl with hurricane force. She developed defense mechanisms that helped her block out the pain. You can hide from your childhood, but you can't run. The more you run from it, the more you run into it. Every single boyfriend Kim ever had betrayed and cheated on her. Then she married the well-educated, successful nice man who seemed so different from all the losers who’d cheated on her. When confronted with the evidence that he might be the biggest cheater of all, Kim used her defense mechanisms to block out the truth of who her husband was. She couldn't handle the truth. But she knew what she was going to hear when Donnie invited her into therapy.
The future of Donnie and Kim's marriage is sketchy at best. Although she understands the paradigm of her needing to reenact her childhood abandonment, she just can't let it into her heart for very long. She has become Donnie's mother. She’s the victimy, violated, punishing angry woman who can't forgive. She decided that my approach of “There are no victims in marriage” just didn't work for her. She needs to feel and think of herself as having been victimized. She’s stuck. Some people with abandonment issues can't quite swallow that magical paradigm--they can't help it. Their pain is too great. For Kim to face off with her pain, Donnie will probably need to separate from her. If her heart isn't broken, humble, teachable, and soft, then she won't be able to do the work on herself. It’s always so tragic when that happens. Her husband's acting out ultimately could have been the gift that helped her access and resolve the jarring abandonment she experienced at the hands of her mother.
Donnie will continue to get healthier as he stays true to his recovery; his marriage may or may not make it. Some marriages marred with infidelity and the profound abandonment issues that get triggered die a slow and miserable death. I hope that the message of this book will offer hope, direction, and healing to the individuals in marriages like theirs and forgiveness and healing within the marriage.
I recently got an update on Donnie and Kim. She’s doing better with her abandonment triggers. She found a relationship coach online, a woman who also has a recovering sexual addict for a husband. She and Donnie found a website online that helps them work through their issues by doing exercises. She’s turning the corner. Shifting out of the victim stance is best done as soon as it’s diagnosed. However, many people aren't built that way; it takes them some time. They need to see several therapists who tell them the same thing. They need to read and research and feel over a long period of time. No matter how you get there, you need to get there.
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