The deepest fear of the human mind is abandonment.
That statement was dropped ever-so-casually into a talk on Neuroscience and the Soul that I was listening to this week, and it stuck with me.
If our greatest fear is that the people we need won’t be there when we need them most, is it any wonder we try to keep our needs and burdens to ourselves, to avoid that letdown?
If we’re terrified that the people closest to us – the people we long to trust and by whom we need to be loved – will walk away if they knew our deepest selves, it is any wonder that we feel lonely and isolated, unable to truly share ourselves lest we suffer their rejection?
And I think about how our fear of abandonment, instead of being assuaged and lessened by deep trustworthy relationships over our lives, is actually strengthened and confirmed by our experiences.
The baby left to cry himself to sleep learns that he is just too much, too intense, too needy – that no one, not even the people he needs and loves the most, can handle his full range of emotion and personality.
The preschooler sent to her room to tantrum, isolated from her support system when she is most overwhelmed by her own emotions, learns that her anger and disappointment are going to cut her off from the feelings of love and security she craves.
The child bullied at school, dealing with intense rejection from his peer group and unsure of how to fit in and make friends, who then goes home and finds no sympathetic or listening ear, learns – writes deeply into his psyche – his own inadequacy and worthlessness.
We learn, as we grow, that the intensity and depth of our needs, the power of our emotions, and the uniqueness of our personalities contain things that no one else cares enough about to deal with – that the cry of our hearts for unconditional love will go unanswered. So teenagers hide their fears and questions and doubts and struggles from their parents because they’re afraid of being shot down and pushed away again. Spouses keep secrets and avoid topics of conversation because they’re afraid of conflict and disagreement leading to rejection and separation. We isolate ourselves so that we can avoid abandonment – we choose self-inflicted loneliness over the loneliness that whispers in our ears, “no one loves you; no one will ever love; you are not worthy of love.”
I remember in the early years of my marriage sitting in the car reciting psalms to myself before I could bring myself to go into our apartment, because I was so afraid that this beautiful relationship I had would suddenly and inexplicably fall apart – such is the depth and irrationality of this human fear of abandonment.
It takes incredible courage to open our soul to another, to risk this most fierce and desolate pain. We’re so often callous and insensitive to those are daring it, perhaps in ignorance, perhaps in self-protection – for to love another imperfect person unconditionally is also one of the most difficult things we can do. And yet this mutual dance of daring and difficulty, of risk and response, is where we can begin to redeem our broken covenants and communities.
Let us love each other with Christ’s love and allow ourselves to be loved in return; let us strive to know each other with grace and open our hearts to be known intimately in return. There is no great beauty without great labor and at least the risk of great pain.
One thought on “fighting the fear of rejection”
Very well said! Yes, grace is what we need… to give ourselves as well as others.