How To Be Happy: Value yourself and break the cycle of despair

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The Independent Online

'I rarely had childhood friendships, moving constantly because of my father's work. I am settled now but find myself analysing every relationship for fear I have given them a reason not to like me. Why do I do this?' M.

Step 1 You describe a classic fear of abandonment, what Jeffrey Young, in Reinventing Your Life, would describe as being a maladaptive core schema. Schemas are the emotional belief systems we create about ourselves as reflections and models of our experience. The abandonment schema is generated through a habitual experience of loss, such as you experienced growing up. Additionally, children whose parent was absent, emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, unpredictable or who die, often develop an entrenched and destabilising belief that they will always be abandoned, creating tension in many of their subsequent relationships.

Step 2 The abandonment schema can be triggered by any parting, however innocuous. Sadness, dejection and fear of being alone envelopes us, often as a profound feeling of desolate isolation. The misery of feeling abandoned manifests a desire to cling harder or seek reassurance. Our neediness often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where our urge for dependency repels those we long to be with. Those of us with this schema will often idealise others, blindly accepting behaviours that are often cruel, to assuage our horror of being deserted. We might also fall in love dramatically, longing for a merging of ourselves with another before they even really know who we are, driving them away in alarm.

Step 3 Acknowledging an abandonment schema brings us closer to realising that we can love ourselves and enjoy our own company without fear. By accepting that part of us is vulnerable to farewells, separations, losses of any kind, we can begin to take care of our feelings by drawing on our reservoir of resilience. No longer a dependent child, we can choose to become a good friend or parent to ourselves, caring for our own needs and putting our wellbeing first. We can remind ourselves that we will not fall apart if left. If we commit to loving and valuing ourselves, we can trust in the connections we make, where feeling loved is genuinely reciprocated.

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