I was shy and withdrawn as a kid. For many years I didn’t understand why this behavior was such a huge part of my personality. I wouldn’t find out the reason for it until I was well into adulthood.
Although shy, I loved to dance, so if music was playing somewhere within earshot, I would cut a rug. I truly come alive when I dance. I should have been a performer.
Shyness followed me into adolescence and early adulthood. By then, I had entered the workforce and adapted to being around all kinds of people. I had honed my interpersonal skills and learned to straddle the fence of introvert/extrovert well. I revealed my true self only to people close to me. I was not an imposter, I just did not allow everyone to know me on a personal level. I was selective about who I allowed to see me. I let people in depending on my comfort level with them, and they seemed surprised to discover I had a personality.
“What a ham!”
“So…you really aren’t quiet, as I thought.”
“You are hilarious! I didn’t know you were so funny!”
I was no social butterfly. A wallflower was more like it. I was most comfortable in intimate settings. I didn’t care for crowds, and receiving lots of attention from people made me feel self-conscious. Unless I was dancing, of course.
One day, I had an epiphany. I realized I was shy and withdrawn because of fear of abandonment, which is described as “abandonment fears typically stemming from childhood loss … can also result from inadequate physical or emotional care,” according to GoodTherapy.org.
There were many situations I experienced as a youth that contributed to my fear of abandonment. The situation that affected me most deeply was my parents’ divorce.
My parents split when I was two years old. I do not remember ever knowing my father. I had never seen or talked to him.
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago. I lived with my mother and two brothers. My father lived on the same side of town. One day, my older brother took me to visit him. I think we caught a bus to his house, but I am not certain. I don’t remember walking the entire way there. However, I do recall clear skies and moderate temperatures; I was wearing a lightweight jacket, so maybe it was springtime.
I remember my brother and I walking down the street side by side. I smiled and looked down as I walked, counting cracks in the sidewalk. When I lost count, I skipped over them.
As we walked, I grew nervous and did not know what to say to a man I had never known. Would I call him dad or daddy? Finally, we reach the doorstep of a white two-story house with one big picture window on the first floor, and two latticed windows on the second floor. My brother rang the doorbell. A woman with a fair complexion and short wavy hair answered the door. She wore a long, dark brown one-zip robe. Fleece or terry cloth, I believe. Upon seeing my brother and me, she smiled big and warm and welcomed us inside.
Upon entering, my brother and I were in the living room; there was no foyer. We walked to the middle of the room and sat on the couch and waited for my father to appear. The strange woman, still smiling and spreading warmth, disappeared into a room in the rear of the house. While we waited, I gazed at my surroundings. There was another couch directly across from where we sat. To the left was a reclining chair, and in the middle of the furniture there was a cocktail table. The living room and the kitchen were connected. You only had to walk a few feet and you were in the kitchen area. Dark walnut color cabinets lined the walls, and a light bulb covered by a greenish-brown, square, stained-glass globe created a soft hue effect. I remember feeling snug and cozy. The refrigerator was the color eggshell. I only remember this because the strange woman opened its door before disappearing into another room.
A few minutes later, a man appeared who looked exactly like my brother: smooth, mocha complexion with perfectly symmetric features—brown eyes, pug nose, and full lips, and a crown of dense, soft semi-curly hair. He wore a green workman’s jumpsuit with his name stitched in red on the left lapel. Alonzo. Amazing, I thought. I smiled and said, “Hi, daddy!” He sat on the couch across from my brother and me. I don’t recall if he ever greeted us with a hug. I only remember that he looked at me and smiled and said in a booming voice, “Hey…” He said something else, too, but I don’t remember what.
My father, brother and I exchanged small talk. I told him I will graduate from eighth grade in a few weeks. “That’s great,” he said. He told me he would buy me a graduation gift. I was excited. I smiled from ear to ear. Things were going well, I thought. After a short while, my brother and I left. I don’t recall how we said goodbye, but I know that I left my father’s house feeling very happy having finally met him. As I walked alongside my brother, I thought about the gift my father would give me. He did not know anything about me, so I wondered what it would be.
I smiled as I counted cracks in the sidewalk on the way back home. This time when I lost count, I started over again.
Graduation day came and went. No call from my father. No gift. I felt angry and hurt. Deceived. Manipulated. I promised myself that I would never allow him to disappoint or to hurt me again. I kept that promise. I never saw my father again.
I was 13 years old.
That incident arrested the development of personal relationships in my life for several years. Through many trials and tribulations, I discovered my fear of abandonment stemmed from not having a relationship with my father. Upon realizing this, I began to read about this phobia and reflect on situations in my life that served as contributors. The most important thing I learned to do to heal was to acknowledge the pain and hurt my father’s absence created in my life, and to challenge assumptions I adopted as a way to protect myself emotionally. I no longer assumed I was unlovable because my father was not around; I discarded the belief that if I disagreed with a romantic interest, he would no longer be interested in me; and I acknowledged that my friends could spend time with other people and it did not mean they did not value our relationship.
The shy little girl afraid of being abandoned still lives within me. Only now when she visits, I treat her with compassion, understanding and love. I assure her that those unfortunate situations were not her fault and they cannot hurt her anymore. She listens. I hug her. And she smiles.
© 2018 wickpen