When my son was barely 6 months old, he fell sick. Sick enough to be whizzed away from the island where we live in an ambulance boat with me to spend three days in hospital where he struggled to breathe. He was pumped full of Ventolin to increase the airflow to his lungs and strapped to an oxygen mask. His wheezing pulled at my heart as he grew more and more tired, his little body struggling to do the daily thing we take for granted. For 24 hours, it was touch and go and so when we came home the whole family breathed a sigh of relief.
Except that my daughter, 2 years older than her brother was thrown into paroxysms of insecurity and abandonment which resounded in our lives for the next 6 months. My three days absence, the longest she had ever experienced, induced clinginess, crying and separation anxiety. The previously complacent dropping off at nursery became a quagmire of tantrums and unhappiness until such time that my partner, her father, took over the drop off because their relationship hadn’t been ruptured in the way ours had. As the first child, she keenly felt my absence and the space that her new brother took. Space that had previously been hers.
At two years old, say the psychologists, children are at their most egocentric and become frustrated easily when they cannot control their environment, which leaves them prone to jealousy. Separation anxiety is greatest at this age, so the introduction of a new baby at this time makes the regression more pronounced. The AlphaParent
When you’re in a open relationship like I am, you dig up a lot of childhood shit. And this ‘first child syndrome’, where time, attention although not necessarily love is perceived as being taken away from an existing partner to be redirected towards another, happens all the time. Let’s make no bones about it, time is re-prioritized. Attention is re-allocated. Your partners’ new relationships (with people who are now your ‘metamours’) don’t usurp your old one, but they may in the first instance at least, affect them adversely time-wise. What we perceive is often the truth. For this reason alone, those who are anti-non-monogamy will shut down those relationships claiming that you cannot sustain more than one satisfactorily.
But we are adults, able to survive without the care and attention of our partners and often better off for our independence. We have no claim on someone else’s time, nor any preordained right to the attention they give us. And yet the first pattern of love that we know is from our parents who took care of our needs almost without us even asking. Where their abandonment meant certain death. So when our partners redirect some time and attention that was previously ours towards another, we are immediately spun back into our childhood patterns of insecurity and abandonment. We wants it. We needs it.
The more extreme our childhood regarding these two phenomena, the more they will continue to resound through our lives and relationships as adults. I am not dismissing those fears and feelings as childhood experience. They are very real and not only because we still experience them as adults, but also because they are unhealed.
Throughout our lives we may have triggers which cast us back, which regress us into the feelings of helplessness that we had when we were children. The answer is not to get rid of the triggers or ask our partners to get rid of their new relationships, or even necessarily a request to get our needs met by a reallocation of attention. Sensible solutions for adults do little to heal childhood wounds. There is much work to be done in repairing our psyches with regard to abandonment, and rejection fears which the vast majority of us have because we were all children clamouring for attention as a matter of survival. The correct attribution of responsibility regarding the impact of these triggers is almost always achieved by a methodology called ‘owning your shit’. It includes compassionate and continuous communication without fault and blame, it includes constant reaffirmation of our self-worth by ourselves (as opposed to constant reassurance from our partners).
As a first and only adopted child, my need for control was strong. My desire for freedom in my relationships compelling yet my fears of abandonment and rejection almost prevented my ability to express non-monogamy in a polyamorous setting. I was unable to trust that my partners loved me and wanted to be with me, because I did not love myself enough. My inner child was still clamouring for the love and attention she had missed out on. My partners couldn’t heal my sense of insecurity, only I could. But what work there was…
Admitting my feelings of worthlessness which made me the most vulnerable I have ever been. Understanding why blaming anyone else for my self-esteem was counterproductive and prevented me taking responsibility for my own emotions. Disassociating myself from my identity as someone’s primary partner. Truly believing I was not selfish for loving myself.
And when I was finally in a place where I no longer needed external love and validation to prove my own self worth, I loved myself enough to enjoy the content of relationships I had without trying to restrict my partners’ freedom, I loved myself enough to state my needs free from monumentally heavy baggage and stopped trying to fight for the attention I once thought was rightfully mine.