Experienced Heartbreak? The 5 Stages of Abandonment
One night Susan Anderson’s significant other, the love of her life, told her that he didn’t love her anymore — and he was leaving. “It came as a complete shock,” Anderson writes in The Abandonment Recovery Workbook. “We had been madly in love, deeply connected through our mutual love of nature, art, music, and so many immeasurable things. We’d led vital, interdependent lives, enhanced each other’s growth, traveled the world together, built a family, a home, and celebrated life together for nearly 20 years.”
Sometimes, we are abandoned suddenly. Out of nowhere. Other times, a relationship experiences years of unraveling.
Either way, it’s painful. It’s as though the pain reverberates throughout our bodies, the sound getting louder and louder, the ache getting deeper and deeper.
Abandonment demolishes our foundation. It colors the lenses through which we see ourselves, our relationships and our lives. According to Anderson, a psychotherapist who’s worked with clients dealing with trauma, grief and loss for 30 years, abandonment triggers feelings of unworthiness. It makes us feel like we don’t belong. It makes us feel like we have zero control.
We blame ourselves for losing such an amazing, loving partner. We think our lives will be meaningless without this person. We think we will be miserable and alone. Forever. We think we will never love anyone else.
Based on her work with clients and her own recovery from abandonment, Anderson realized that “abandonment has its own kind of grief — a powerful grief universal to human beings.” She separates this process into five stages that spell out the word SWIRL: shattering, withdrawal, internalizing, rage and lifting.
In The Abandonment Recovery Workbook, a compassionate and practical guide, Anderson lays out the process along with stories, tools and activities to help readers genuinely heal. She also shares suggestions on starting your own abandonment support group. Below, you’ll find more detail on each stage from Anderson’s book.
Shattering: You feel utterly devastated and confused. You’re in a state of shock and panic. “You feel symbiotically attached to your lost love — as if you couldn’t survive alone,” Anderson writes. At times, you feel sorrow and despair. And at times, you feel a flicker of hope.