separation and divorce counseling in santa rosa, california
coping with feelings of abandonment during separation and divorce unhealthy attachment and dependency on spouse in marriage
Shonnie Brown, marriage and family therapist in sonoma county
Licensed Marriage &
Family Therapist
LMFT #30787
405 Chinn Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
Santa Rosa: 707-526-4353
Healdsburg: 707-526-4353
Email: shonnie@sonic.net

Contact me for

LifeStory Therapy™:

therapeutic writing specialist in sonoma county Click here for more info

Separation/Divorce Support Group for Women

santa rosa separation and divorce support group Ongoing / Weekly
Click here for more info

Recommended Reading

recommended coparenting web sites and books on Co-Parenting
and Divorce
books and resources about infidelity and marital cheating on Infidelity

Articles by
Shonnie Brown:

feelings Ten Ways to Use Therapy in Becoming Your Own Advocate
feelings "I Just Can't Help What I Feel!"
therapeutic writing classes Writing: A Healing Art
writing as therapy in santa rosa, california Uncovering Trauma Through Therapeutic Writing: Part Two
divorce support groups in sonoma county Recession Depression
Facebook and narcissism Facebook: Healthy or Unhealthy Narcissism?
recession depression counseling Healing and Recovery in a Divorce Support Group: Part One
santa rosa group therapy for divorced women Healing and Recovery in a Divorce Support Group: Part Two
coping with trauma with therapeutic writing Uncovering Trauma through Therapeutic Writing
unhealthy attachment and dependence in marriage Divorce and Attachment Issues
mother daughter relationship issues Adult Daughters and Their Mothers: A Tenuous Bond
Divorce Poison book about co-parenting 5 Co-parenting Interventions from "Divorce Poison"
writing for therapy and anxiety relief Writing as Therapy
coping with infidelity and betrayal in a marriage The Affair, Part 1
therapy to deal with husband or wife affair The Affair, Part 2
marriage and family therapist in the santa rosa area The Power In Being Wrong
co-parent empowerment group of sonoma county Inside a COPE Group: 1
help in mediating co-parenting issues Inside a COPE Group: 2
children raised in two different households Inside a COPE Group: 3
therapy for shyness, self-esteem and social anxiety Moving Beyond Shyness
good parenting practices for divorcing couples Parenting During Divorce
support groups for separated and divorced men and women The Role of Support Groups in Divorce Recovery
the stigma and shame of divorce The Stigma of Divorce
coping with one-sided divorce and feelings of betrayal and abandonment The Unilateral Divorce




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Divorce and Attachment Issues

by Shonnie Brown, MFT

Alyce came to my separation/divorce group full of shame and regret about her own infidelity and her husband's subsequent decision to end their marriage. The more she delved into her feelings, the more she became aware of panic at her very core. She described feelings of "no longer being tethered to the earth," and "free floating without any ground." Returning each day to an empty house was terrifying. She had lost her "secure base", her attachment object, not realizing that the idea of his simple constant presence in her life was holding her fragile self together despite the quality of their relationship. Her secure base was, in actuality, an illusion.

We confront this illusion regularly in my groups. With divorce recovery, as with any major life loss, developmental processes and normal grief responses are interrupted to the degree that the person is insecurely attached and/or lacking the ability to internalize the image of loved ones. Thinking in terms of attachment theory (John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth) and object relations (Margaret Mahler, etc.), I observe a full range of attachment responses to spousal loss.

In Alyce's case it was apparent that the very deepest attachment issues had been triggered and that she had no ability to comfort herself internally. With no internal comforting mechanisms, the abandoned person often feels suicidal, depressed and completely without coping skills. Frantic attempts to fill the void through alcohol, drugs and indiscriminate sex are common responses. Alyce needed new external attachments (friends, structure, church, etc.) as she began the slow work of building the inner resources she'd never known. Unfortunately, this work was very scary and she left the group prematurely rather than continuing to use the group resource as a new attachment object.

Another client, Michael, was originally very fearful of leaving a wife who greatly inhibited his healthy developmental need for growth. After considerable therapy, he finally let go into the unknown. Leaving his home and moving into a small, temporary space was frightening, as his home and his wife were both very strong attachment objects. But, as he acknowledged his fear and loss of structure, he simultaneously began creating a vast network of relationships based on old and new interests. He began saying "Yes" to offers he had declined for "decades" and had longer and more varied conversations with people in coffee shops and at parties. He learned that at heart he was an adventurer of sorts, and by saying "Yes!" to life, he kept surprising himself and liking himself more and more as he did.

Interestingly, after a couple of years of marital separation, Michael's ex was still clinging to his memory (the illusion of the constant object) as her secure base even though they barely had contact. I understood that her denial and resistance to forming new attachments was another response to the panic of object loss. While Michael had been in a new relationship for several months, she was still focused on their reconciliation as a shield against the void. Because Michael still struggled with object loss himself, he colluded with her fantasy by remaining a bit ambiguous in their conversations, not daring to mention the dreaded "divorce" word. In our continuing work, he focuses on developing the ability to tolerate truly letting go.

Pamela felt completely abandoned when her husband left their long term marriage for another woman. She came into the group with significant pain and rage addressed towards her ex as well as his family. She didn't shy away from expressing her anger in group, while she simultaneously worked on developing her spirituality and creating a network of loving friends. Within a short couple of months, she was focusing on her future, laying the past relationship aside more and more. Knowing that most people who have been thus betrayed and abandoned have such a difficult time moving on and creating new attachments, I asked how she had succeeded in staying grounded and connected during this most challenging time.

"I adopted a litter of kittens," she told the group. "It's hard to be angry, to keep your heart closed and to not feel connected when you have five little furry ones purring in bed with you each night. I feel needed and animals are very grounding.

"And, though I may never really trust a man again," she continued, "I am busy creating a real network in which I can be fully passionate about my spiritual growth and surround myself with like-minded friends."

Pamela's response is a healthy one. Having a long history of abandonment, she recognized that she was left without structure or an attachment object and took decisive steps to attend to feelings of emptiness and unboundedness. She is working hard at an interesting job. She has set financial goals for herself. And she is "filling her nest" with literal warm fuzzies.


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