Will @ BDSM: Things You Need to Know writes on “Assuaging a Sub’s Fear of Abandonment“.
After a preamble defending the putative (I’m in two minds whether this is real, or an effect because for D/s oriented folks, non-D/s relationships often seem less close?) super-close relationships that D/s can produce against the charge of being “co-dependent” or “unhealthy”, he goes on to talk about fears of abandonment in more general terms, acknowledging that they can crop up in any relationship:
Assuming a healthy relationship, the most common reason to fear losing one’s partner has nothing to do with the partnership, it has to do with the past. Many people, men and women, vanilla and kinky, have abandonment fears, due to previous experiences with parents, close friends, or lovers.
Elsewhere on his blog, Will expresses this idea that emotional responses are often symptoms of earlier upset or trauma, and I’m not completely happy with the idea or the conclusions he draws from it. However, with respect to fear of loss or abandonment, I think it is reasonable to start from that hypothesis.
Here’s the thing: I got me a whole bunch of that. True fact, my worst nightmares – in fact, almost exclusively my nightmares for the past ten years or so – have been about some situation where at the crucial point I find myself being abandoned. Someone I trust deeply and rely on, when I need them most, isn’t there and walks away. That’s what my nightmares are about.
When I talked about subspace (incidentally, in a post also drawing on Will’s writing), I talked about my relationship with trusting others and, in the context of abandonment fears, it’s worth revisiting what I wrote there:
In general, I am wary around other people. The decision to trust is not made lightly, but equally I am never confident of it. I believe that most people are basically good, trustworthy, and motivated by kindness. But I know that any given person could, on a bad day, or just by their nature, be motivated by more dangerous or harmful impulses. I take my best guess on who is trustworthy and go with that. I have a basic urge to trust others, absent a reason not to, but am conscious of the need for caution.
I trust rarely, and deeply. That’s me, and to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want it to change particularly, although I would like to be more confident in choosing to trust someone and I would like there to be more people able to win my trust, but short of a wholesale change in human nature, that doesn’t seem likely.
Via the Slave Chat tumblr, I came across a piece by Crimson-Uncovered, about the positive lift that a Dominant can give to a Submissive partner (the second link goes to the OP, the first link is just to the front page of Slave Chat):
Sex and kink aside, Dominance is about more than just telling me what to do. You’ve got to be strong enough to handle me in all my anxious, over-thinking, pessimistic glory. You’ve got to take that and flip it, turn me into this confident, optimistic woman who believes she can and will accomplish anything she sets her mind to.
You’re the rock I hold on to when the waves get rough. You’re the voice of reason when I send you that rambling, melodramatic text about something that is probably not a big deal.
But, I also exist in “anxious, over-thinking, pessimistic glory”. Now, it so happens that I am pretty good at doing the stuff that Crimson-Uncovered, and Will, suggest doing to support a Submissive. I have pretty much lived that reality, and been that person not just for romantic/sexual/kink partners, but for platonic friends as well. In vanilla-appropriate ways, naturally, and not with the magical quality of just “take that and flip it” (it’s odd how easy that felt when I did it in a kink relationship, but it still took the same amount of work and caring as it always does). Yeah, I pretty much have that as my “calling”.
What I’m saying is that I have the same issues. I am resolute and will be the best rock that I can be, and the best calm voice of reason I can be, when that is what those I care about need. But I also need a rock to cling to, I also have a tendency to send or at least create in my mind, rambling, melodramatic messages (not a big fan of texting, personally) about things that are “probably not a big deal”. I overthink EVERYTHING (to the extent that, if it exists in my consciousness, at some point I have overthought it). I am anxious. I wouldn’t say pessimistic, but I certainly don’t rely on a faith in optimism. I have my issues and I have, as noted, my abandonment nightmares.
Back to Will. His post is about assuaging these fears. He offers a couple of points, and both of them are rather frustrated by my trust issues.
The first is just talking about the sources:
So there may be no quick way to quiet internal voices warning of impending loss. But it is often healing to identify sources of grief from your history, and tell one’s partner about how they formed. Recounting such stories from your life is bonding, and when a story taps into a well of pent-up grief, it’s cathartic.
This is certainly true of my experience, but there is the simple fact that these stories are the points at which my soul is most laid bare. The points at which I am most vulnerable, if someone should choose to aim a weapon at them. For that reason alone, I have to be deeply trusting, and more confident than usual in that trust, to share them. Few people get that close.
It’s also worth noting that I am pretty familiar with my scars and damage, and my weak points. When will talks about, “Remember that you can’t fix whatever is broken in them, you can only hold the space for them while they go through their healing process.” The first clause is spot-on, and Coldplay’s “Fix You” song pisses me off no end because of this (I think it’s a great song, it’s just the message that annoys me). But, by this stage and with the work by myself and that previous relationships have enabled me to do, my “healing process” is largely done. Some things can never be made new again, you just figure out a way to keep them working reasonably well. For me, the relevance of the advice is to build the relationship, through the builders (the partners involved) being better aware of the nature and unique properties of the materials available (each other and themselves). Knowing where your partner needs support and where they can offer you support, is the key to strength and confidence.
The second is about the support network, which helps both during the relationship and if for some reason it should end. (Right now, I am part of that network for my (vanilla) best friend of some 25 years, whose marriage recently collapsed.) Will writes specifically of D/s:
For sure, you should each have a confidant or two—kink-involved friends with whom you speak regularly about your D/s journey. (Note: it’s wise for partners to choose different confidants.)
If a romance becomes troubled, confidants offer a place to turn for solace and solutions. And if the partnership crumbles, they provide a safety net, a place to bring your grief. They can even provide a guestroom in the case where spending nights completely alone in the aftermath of a separation is too much to bear.
Now, I disagree with the common classification of D/s as a “journey”, but apart from that quibble with the language, I think this is good advice. Unfortunately, it depends on having friends whom one trusts deeply enough to talk so openly with. Or, indeed, to crash with after things crashed. Right now, I’m not in a relationship, but I have one friend and an ex who probably fall into that category, neither of whom live near me (we talk online). I don’t socialise in the way Will suggests in the snipped section, because socialising isn’t my thing.
The thing is, Will talks about these things in terms of fostering trust and intimacy, and yes, I think that intimacy is built by being able to share vulnerability, and that can feed back into deeper trust. But for me, there is a level of trust and confidence that must be reached before I can be that intimate. Indeed, the greater the trust extended, the greater the fear of abandonment. The challenge is to find the balancing point so that I can talk these things through and feel safe enough to do that, despite the fear. Then, when the weaknesses are exposed, and shored up afresh, then the fear can subside.
One last note: I love filling in psychological research questionnaires online. Some questions are standard for certain types of research, and ask about fears that a partner “doesn’t love me as much as I love them”. I don’t feel that fear, my fears of abandonment or loss stem from other sources.