Fear of Commitment and Fear of Abandonment: 2 Sides of the Same Coin

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: pexels.com

I just had a wonderful conversation with one of my dearest friends about the dance between people suffering from fear of commitment and those suffering from fear of abandonment. I’ve written about my side of this dynamic, the fear of commitment, before in this previous post and this previous post. After living and consciously working through this dynamic for the past few years, I noticed that so much of it has become as familiar to me as the back of my hand.
I know the thought patterns, I know the feelings (or lack thereof) that come with it, and I understand the triggers and needs on either side.

What I have also come to grasp is how closely related these two patterns are. In fact, they are based in the exact same fear: the fear of being left alone. In both the patterns, this feeling is so uncomfortable you decide to fully focus on the other person and how they are behaving, in an attempt to control your own vulnerability.

For the person with abandonment issues this translates into a pattern of latching on to the other person. You would do anything to stay with them, to shower your love on them, to hold them close. You might obsess over what they are doing, where and, especially, with whom. You might feel jealous because you really don’t want to lose this love of your life.

For the person with commitment issues, this fear translates into doing everything you can to avoid a situation in which you could possibly be left. You might tell yourself you want freedom and like to be alone. Your feelings of falling in love with someone can disappear from one day to the next, without any evident cause. You might prefer not to touch, or not to get very emotional around your partner.

Both of these sides mirror valid needs in life: desiring love and wanting someone to care for you is a basic human need; so is enjoying your freedom and being self-reliant. Where it goes wrong in this dynamic is in the balance between the two.

Relationships that are based on this dynamic can be characterized by an off-and-on rhythm. There’s a strong push and pull, where one partner will pull away and the other will try to get closer.
One partner could also feel a fear of abandonment at one point, but switch to fear of commitment when the other finally gives in. Then you find yourself in the odd realisation that you’ve just completely switched your behaviors and the stories that go with those behaviors.

Usually, those who are on the side of fear of abandonment are quicker to pick up on the dynamic. They notice a partner who is hot one moment, and cold the other. The pattern becomes too obvious to ignore. It may be harder for them to see the pattern in their own behavior and thoughts, though. They see their needs and strategies as perfectly logical in the context of loving relationships. They just want to be with the other person, right? If you realise you are doing this while not guarding your own boundaries, that’s a valuable clue.

It’s worth taking the effort to break free from this programming, even if you might never get 100% rid of it. Being aware of your repetitive thoughts and of the way you behave in relationships in general, and romantic relationships in particular, could give you a clue as to whether you suffer from fear of abandonment/commitment. Becoming familiar with this fear, knowing your own history behind it, can then help you in not believing your own thoughts. When you realise a thought pattern is only trying to push away or cling to someone because you are afraid, you are able to make a different choice in that moment.

So what does a relationship look like after you’ve both worked through some of this mud? When you feel tension rise, or notice a thought coming up, you stop to think: What am I really needing in this moment? Which boundary do I need to set in order to take care of myself? What request do I want to make of my partner?
You realise that the thoughts that come up are not necessarily your truth. They are just fear nagging at you. They only signal that it’s time to look within.

It also means you learn to recognize the other person’s triggers. What does it do to my partner when I become very emotional? What happens when I talk about my colleague? That doesn’t mean you don’t get emotional or talk about your colleague, it just means you hold space for whatever reaction your partner may have to your story. You become as familiar with their patterns as you are with your own patterns.

Perhaps most importantly: you take responsibility for your end of the dynamic. You don’t say the things that might hurt or scare your partner. You remain truthful, in an empathetic way, even if you fear you might hurt the other person. You work on yourself to gain understanding of why you act in this way. Believe it or not, at some point this attitude has served you very well, otherwise it wouldn’t be so readily available.

The road through fear of abandonment/commitment is not an easy one. It can be lonely, and painful, and scary. It can feel like you’ll never get there (wherever that may be). Or it can seem pointless, since you don’t really suffer anyways (fear of commitment talking here).
But on the other side is a land you could have never dreamed existed. There’s freedom to choose what you really want, not what your fear dictates. There’s peace, stability and safety. There’s a sense of being yourself AND of being a couple.
There’s just a little glimpse of heaven.

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