Emotionally Unavailable Men and Overcoming Abandonment Issues

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Reader’s Question

I’ve decided that I do need therapy to overcome abandonment issues from both my parents. I constantly feel lonely and ultimately look to “emotionally unavailable” men for nurturing — but it always has the same outcome. I wind up being the caretaker of them, putting up with very abusive and avoidant behavior. (My mother was avoidant and abusive.) I am very busy in school full time. I’m 25 years old and a psychology major — go figure. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling of being lonely my entire life and am now going thru yet ANOTHER breakup from an emotionally unavailable man.

Please tell me how I can stop feeling so lonely all the time. I don’t have many friends because I isolate myself with my boyfriends; I fear that they will leave me, so I focus ALL my attention on them.

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds realistic for you to admit that you are lonely now and will likely be lonely for some time. Once that is out in the open, you can concentrate on how to find the personal agency within yourself to stop acting out your abandonment issues and start living independently of them. Your fear of abandonment may never go away. Your sadness of being abandoned may never go away. But those feelings do not need to control your life today. Today or someday, you may come to the point where you can say to yourself, “Yes, I do feel this way and it does lead me to make this choice or that. But today, I am not going to let it make my choice for me. Today, I will let my fears inform me, but not dictate my actions.” In this way we can be gatekeepers for ourselves. We can acknowledge our past and feel the feelings that stem from the past. But we can still live in the present.

You’ve acknowledged a need for therapy, and I agree that is a valuable course of action to take. However, it is not a quick fix. You share great insight into your condition and seem very available for insight-oriented, psychodynamic therapy. You are also young to arrive at this insight into yourself. That is another strength of yours. I hope you use your time wisely.

Perhaps this will also affect your choice of specialty. It is not uncommon for psychologists to choose their profession in order to help their own depression. Once that depression is fully analyzed, then perhaps one can help others. The key is to be fully analyzed yourself in order to be a good instrument for therapy.

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