By nature, humans are wired for connection. We seek out others to share our lives with, with the goal of forming lasting and intimate bonds. So feeling trapped or abandoned in an intimate relationship shouldn’t be a common thing, should it? Actually, these experiences are common for partners who wind up repeating cycles within intimate relationships that they may be unaware of. Feeling trapped or abandoned are commonly seen in the push-pull dynamic found in unhealthy relationships; both styles often represent two sides of the same coin.
Engulfment and Abandonment Defined
Fear of being engulfed, or trapped, is often indicated as feeling smothered, or in losing one’s autonomy within the relationship. People who report feeling trapped may try controlling their partner through hostile withdrawal, emotional indifference, cheating or otherwise punishing the partner, up to and including, abandoning them.
Fear of being abandoned is often indicated as being afraid to be alone, or fearing being left behind or forgotten. Those who report feelings of abandonment or perceived abandonment may use desperate measures (self-harm, alcohol or drug use, etc.) to prevent being abandoned, which often reinforces the very abandonment they fear. With this type of relationship dynamic, each partner is feeding into the other partner’s biggest fears, often at the expense of unraveling the relationship. It is common to see both partners vacillate between the two dynamics, and potentially strengthening a traumatic bond between them.
Some may seek out emotionally unavailable relationships or settle for a shallow or unfulfilling relationship because it is seen as “safe.” However, emotionally void or shallow relationships lack the very emotional intensity and dramatic flair that these personalities crave, leaving them feeling bored and aloof, and looking to find a way out of the relationship. In time, a cycle replays where feeling engulfed (trapped) or abandoned within the relationship resurfaces. Partners who were once put on a pedestal may now find themselves being devalued, held to unreasonable standards or unappreciated. For example, a partner may express that the person they’re now with is not the same person they started dating. Idealized relationships or the “The Grass is Greener Syndrome” are commonly reported, keeping them feeling trapped or fearing abandonment.
Feeling trapped or fearing abandonment has its origins in insecure attachment styles, early life trauma, PTSD, personality, and unhealthy habit formation. These push-pull dynamics are often blamed on the partner with little accountability for one’s own patterns replaying within the relationship. However, because of a lack of object constancy, projective identification or splitting, intimacy and closeness within relationships triggers feeling trapped or feeling abandoned; the resulting behavior is to abandon the relationship to prevent themselves from being abandoned.
Signs of Feeling Engulfed or Abandoned
Many times, a history of feeling trapped or abandoned in relationships is met with these key symptoms:
- Fear of being alone or can’t be alone with themselves.
- Confuses being alone with feelings of loneliness.
- “Chasing” or “Running” from relationships; cyclic relationships.
- Constantly distracted; a need to be busy all the time.
- Idealization and devaluation of partner.
- Denying or rationalizing a partner’s behavior.
- Unable to ask for personal space when needed.
- Seeks shallow or impersonal relationships to prevent being alone.
- Boredom or disillusionment in relationships.
- Feeling trapped or unable to leave the relationship.
- Emotional volatility or emotional numbness.
- Self-identity tied into the relationship or relationship roles.
- Traumatic bonding within the relationship.
- Feelings of emptiness, loneliness or indifference.
- Cycles often repeat within relationships.
Stopping the Cycle
Getting out of the relationship is often your healthiest choice to focus on your personal goals and healing. If a partner is unwilling to address their own improvement goals, the relationship will continue the push-pull dynamic.
Take time to be alone and address core issues. Recognize the differences between being alone and feeling lonely in increasing awareness and in establishing a healthy sense of self. Work with a therapist who specializes in relationship dynamics and self-empowerment who can help create healthy habits and individual goals in fostering personal growth.
Pervin,T., & Eren, N. (2019). Psychodynamic formulation in borderline personality disorder: a case study. Psychiatric Nursing, 10(4), 309 – 316.
Toplu-Demirtas, E., et al. (2018). Attachment insecurity and restrictive engulfment in college student relationships: the mediating role of relationship satisfaction. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 11(1), 24 – 37.