Staying Put after a Lifetime of Abandonment and Grand Exits

Blog post staying put
First you're abandoned, then you live with an urge to flee. 

I have spent my entire life anxiously ready for things to fall apart.  My shoulders are never completely without tension, same for my eyes in their sockets.  There's always the potential for a need to leave. I have spent my entire life ready to bail out, to get out, to save myself. To run. I'm sitting in the back of the restaurant facing the door and patrons, ready, at all times, for The End. 

I should have sought work in a hospital emergency room as something. 

I have ended many relationships in an angry flourish that lived up to that anxious anticipation, heaping a longtime on-and-off again boyfriend's belongings outside my locked apartment door in NYC, walking out of a bar mid-conversation on a man with whom I lived and not returning home that night in Cambridge, or by lashing out in writing, with agony and bile, to end things in San Francisco…in a satisfying manner that justified the hell I'd supposedly been put through.   

It's pretty obvious that my break-ups were all about me reenacting abandonment from my childhood, and trying to hurt my parents back for leaving me. They'd messed with my head and my heart, dammit.  (After my parents split up when I was three or four, I lived with my mother for a summer until she brought me to her parent's house for what was supposed to be a weekend but turned into a year or two, until my father appeared to take responsibility for me.)  

I've been aware of this 'urge to flee' more and more over time.  I think I know why.  Over time, I have become a person who's increasingly more committed to things, committed to a job, committed to a relationship, committed to a child, committed to living in one place…  

My fiancee and I are in the same relationship, but we experience it very differently.  He expects it to last the rest of his life, and he thinks we're built to last.  These things are probably true; however, while he experiences our relationships like a comfortable blanket that soothes and warms him and is reliable and softer with increasing cycles through the washing machine, I experience it more like an animal brought in from the cold, who is trying to learn to curl up into the softness but startles at the smallest inconsistency or upset all too easily–"What's that noise? Get up, grab the flashlight, gotta go!" 

But! Have hope! Slowly, through becoming more and more aware of my daydreams centered around fleeing (and having some daydreams that were shockingly extreme 'the end' scenarios), I'm actually learning what it's like to let go of my rip cord, just let my hand fall to my side and not reach for that cord to release, and "be" in my present reality.  That's a satisfying moment.  I bet it's what normal people feel like.

If you're aware of your 'exit strategy' daydreams, then you have the awareness and opportunity to practice putting them in their place (you know the daydreams, the ones in which you move to a different state, where you'll be happier and things will be easier and you'll get a fresh start — or the daydream about your plan for the relationship break-up, where you'll go, what you'll do next, and the better person you'll be in your new life — or the daydream about quitting your job so that you won't have to deal with such critical, micro-managing, ego-tripping bosses ever again, or where you get a job that has only easy tasks that you're really good at and where there are no difficult co-worker relationships…those daydreams).  

The next time you catch yourself daydreaming about fleeing your current commitments, observe yourself and learn.  Look for the why behind the onset of the daydream:  

What preceded the daydream – what just happened (whether an occurrence or a thought)?  

What problems does the scenario in the daydream solve? What difficulties do you get to avoid dealing with in that other life in the daydream?  

What will be easier 'on the other side'?  

Pay attention to all of that. 

Meanwhile, practice staying put. Let the itch to flee exist, but don't indulge it. Instead, observe it, and recognize it for what it is.  Don't let it have ultimate power over you anymore.  

Now, please know that  all of this assumes that the relationship you're in is good for you, healthy, and there's open-communication, common goals and mututal-respect.  What makes these kinds of "flee" responses so dang confusing for us is that Adult Children are notoriously loyal, impressionable, and wait too long to leave realtionships that are unhealthy.  Knowing the difference between an urge to flee and an urge to leave a bad-for-you situation will come with time, and healing.

It's delicious when I remember to let go of my exit plan for a day and enjoy what I've got. Why not let people get to know me – I mean, since I'm going to be sticking around?  (I once lived with a roommate for four years but never really got to know her/let her know me; from the day she moved in, I anticipated her leaving and getting a new roommate. ) Staying put and letting go of my exit plan blueprint is an unfamiliar freedom that I need to practice at, till it's more of a habit, and easier to be in a state of then that of fear.   

With fewer endings in our lives, we have much more room and energy for…

…pursuing the inspiring daydreams.



  1. Jen says:

    How many times in the past three and a half years have I walked into my therapist office and in reply to his greeting I’ve said, “I feel like I need to run away”. Of course I have learned to live, even resist the urge, and when all else fails a simple weekend at the beach with my husband does nicely. Of course it’s always the result of some past or present issue that creeps into my life that needs to be addressed. The need to flee is really just s symptom that my life’s come out of balance once again and I need to do some work to put it right again.

  2. amy eden says:

    Yeah, exactly :-)
    Sometimes channeling the urge to flee into something that address the real itch (but doesnt turn ones life upside-down) is key…sometimes a getaway of some sort (the beach sounds delicious) is effective;I almost always feel much more excited about my life when Ive gotten a break from it, sometimes even a twenty minute break works, if Im focused on it being a break.
    I often need to feel that I am choosing my life again, as I return from a break.
    Choice wasnt given to me as a child — I have to wonder, could the urge to flee/run be a re-assertion of having choices made for me (that I opposed)?

  3. Jen says:

    There is no doubt for me “the fleeing urge” is rooted in my childhood as well. If you feel yours is in not having or being given any choice when you were a child then I’m sure you’re right. Pulling back, protecting, and feeling afraid, overwhelmed…all of these things have led me to flee or to want to. My childhood issue is feeling unsafe, all those endless car rides with daddy being drunk- never knowing…. I think I see a common thread of control for us both. In the sense of us needing the feeling of “being in command” of aspects of our lives since there was such chaos for us as children- thus the fleeing.

  4. amy eden says:

    Right…also, I moved eleven times before I had turned eleven years old, so the urge to run has to be rooted in that constant uprooting as well. Id forgotten about that when I wrote the post. I just dont remember much of my childhood. Im sure most of us are missing a lot of memories..the traumatized brain of a child shuts down. –a
    Sent from my iPhone

  5. j says:

    For me, ive always had such strong intense feelings of both being ignored and being bullied, and running away has been the only “solution” i’ve been able to see. I haven’t been able to stay put and build my self esteem, since it’s always been in my bullies hands. I don’t trust people yet I have believed every cruel thing they’ve said about me. i KNOW i need to leave my current situation but can’t do it effectively with my tail between my legs, since I’ll be running into yet another abusive situation. The urge to flee is VERY STRONG though. Thanks for this post, it’s really helped me see this.

  6. E says:

    Recently, I almost broke up with a long term boyfriend due to this same urge. The need to flee for me is stronger than ever it seems…

  7. amy eden says:

    Thanks. Its HARD to stay put, eh? Its surprising to me that Urge to Flee isnt one of the official Characteristics of Adult Children of Alcoholics. Im glad I ventured to write about it, because my hunch was that Im not alone in this urge – that blinking EXIT light there that offers both comfort and terror.
    Ill write more about it soon –

  8. amy eden says:

    Thanks to you, too. I dont think its possible to do this kind of work alone- therapy, self-help books, blogs, talking to siblings, close friends, and group therapy or twelve-step (ACoA) groups can help. And I dont think this kind of work can be done passively, either. Im realizing that more and more — changing our actions and reaction is where its at, where true change happens.
    This is such deeply rooted stuff thats we cant extricate quickly. Although its easy to be fooled into believing that running away/ending things (because it appears to feel cathartic) will work, but its like a sugar binge…a mirage. I was teased a lot when I was in 4th and 5th grade, so I know a little bit about bullying – it sucks. Its hard to remember that its not personal…its just someone using you as a target for their own self-loathing, to project their own insecurities. (And it looks like bullying is on the rise in our culture – sadly.)
    I think youre smart to realize that you dont just want to repeat your behavior, that you want true change. Is your current situation a workable environment in which you can work on becoming your true self? I hope it is a good testing ground for your to do that — because then you can put your new behaviors into use right then and there.
    Hug -

  9. Jen says:

    Fleeing is probably more attributable to PTSD to some degree or another. As an ACOA, i think we are so much more vulnerable to all types of stresses and will spend a life time honing skills to cope with not only the past but our present.

  10. amy eden says:

    Jen – Yes! Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD – good point! I think you hit it on the nose, here.
    I had a PTDS episode a few days after writing this post; while I dont think my episode was directly related to writing about this post and thinking about fleeing (it came out of a fight), it very well may have been the original trigger – one that wasnt powerful enough on its own to send me into panic, but it softened the ground.
    Im so glad you mentioned PTSD in connection to fleeing — thats going into my next post.
    Really appreciate that -

  11. Jen says:

    ae, I’m looking forward to your thoughts about PTSD in your next post, thanks!

  12. angela gregory says:

    After reading this post, I realized all the times where all my good relationships, jobs and experiences, I have been waiting for something bad to happen so I can flee. But now I realize it’s so much easier to tighten and strengthen my relationships and experiences to something more positive, the great feeling I ran away to find.
    So remember any loss you are faced with right now, you hold the strength to accept it and make it a positive experience. One door closes another opens.

  13. amy eden says:

    Hey Ange! Yeah. I think that when we run, run, run to scratch that itch (running) that our life becomes a series of relationships that (very likely) share the same problem; so were working out that one problem over the course of several scenarios and people rather than in the original relationship. Where theres the opportunity to work those things out in a relationship thats healthy for us, staying put and doing so keeps things much simpler and less chaotic — and very likely gives us a chance at true intimacy.

  14. sarah says:

    i am so glad i came across this post. every relationship i have been in i have got to a point where i wanted to leave the relationship, the job i was in and the area i lived in. my parents separated when i was 7 and my dad really never took any time to be with me always making me question what did i do wrong. i am now in another relationship and feel like i’m going to flee again. its almost like a “i have to leave this moment” response and i assume it means i dont love my boyfriend anymore. i do and i want to work things out but like someone else mentioned, i find it difficult to think past tomorrow and see a future of happiness, marriage and children without being scared. any advice?

  15. amy eden says:

    Its a challenge for any adult child to think past today because we grew up programmed to cope with the chaos around the corner. So, its not just you who cant think into the future and plan for it! Our parents didnt plan for the future (therefore modeling it for us) for the same reason – they were raised in chaos as well.
    I think balance is key – live in the now, be open to what the future may hold, plan for the future to the degree youre able, and let go of all-or-nothing thinking (like, if you dont get along with your partner one day, theres no need to assume that its a relationship doomed).If your relationship is healthy right now, and you enjoy it right now, and you believe that it will last a good long while, then why not stick around? (But, if, on the other hand, its not a relationship in which you feel you can be yourself and grow, then you may need to reconsider the value of your relationship for your life).
    Theres a great book, by Janet Woititz, Struggle for Intimacy, which is short and a GREAT book for adult children in relationships to read.
    Putting your significant other aside, when you think of your future — do you see yourself happy, productive, truthful, and all that? Before you start to imagine your future with a companion, be sure you can imagine your own future on your own first.
    My two cents — :-)
    Heres that book – $9 bucks -

  16. Jan says:

    Wow – this really hits home for me. I’m sitting here in tears. I also moved at least 13 times before I was in high school. As a child, I saw it as fun, a new place, often a better place than the last one. I now know it was my mother’s inability (financial and other) to remain in one place and establish a solid home and consistent environment. I recently divorced and moved out of the only real home I’ve ever known or owned. Just that piece of it has been devastating to me.
    I’ll be a frequent visitor to this site!
    Thanks so much!

  17. amy eden says:

    Im so glad that post resonated. Its tough stuff. Unquestionably.
    Divorce is so, so very painful and bewildering because youre not just coming to the end of a relationship and major life phase with someone but the uprooting and relocation is so hard, so scary, and seems to also call up all the old unprocessed childhood events and all those moves and relocations. It feels like too much to bear. Even when we think we dont remember the enents from childhood, our bodies and psyches sure do. And when theres a crack, it all blows through. You will absolutely survive this. Then you will absolutely improve on your life with your next act, even if it takes a while to get back on your true feet.
    Sent from my iPhone

  18. m says:

    This is too funny. I’ve always had the urge to flee when things start to feel overwhelming, or when I feel that I will be judged by someone or when people expect something (really anything) from me. I’ve daydreamed on many occasions about just getting in the car and driving, doesn’t matter where, just away from here. Far far away. I always figured it might be part of the need to isolate, but I never linked it to the ACOA issue until now. Thank you for helping me understand myself a bit better :)

  19. Avrdream says:

    Thank you for this insight. I have just had my relationship with an adult child ended – via e-mail from another city! I didn’t understand it since I thought we were doing fine. This helps me understand.

  20. amy eden says:

    Avrdream – Ugh, break-up by email? (Perhaps it’s the only way they could muster the courage to end it? Who knows.) Right — you might think things are fine, because AC’s are programmed to make people think everything is fine.
    You know, if you attracted an AC, you might want to consider reading up on adult children of alcoholics, just to be sure to find out why – I really recommend the Kritsberg’s book “The Adult Children of Alcoholics Syndrome,” is a great, 101 in the topic!

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