What Is Abandonment?

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What is abandonment? Are you feeling like you are suffering the emotional and psychological pain of unresolved abandonment issues from your past in the here-and-now? Do you feel stuck? Do you feel like you just can’t find the right partner? Are you lonely? Do you feel less than everyone else? Do you have a sense of something inside that causes you pain - pain that you find ways to distract yourself from? Pain that you may drink or take drugs or feel a need to be highly chaotic and intense relationships to avoid? To one degree or another everyone experiences some feelings or perception of abandonment in childhood. Some, however, are more injured or wounded emotionally and psychologically than others. As  a life coach I work with many who are not happy, feeling stuck, have not been able to successfully have a happy and healthy relationship and often don’t understand why. Over-focusing on partners and ex-partners or even still the judgments or values of parents instead of looking within. Does this sound familiar? Would you like to stop hurting? You will benefit from understanding abandonment and its lasting issues.

Abandonment is often misunderstood by many. It is much more than emotional or physical abandonment. Too many people think that of abandonment in such narrow ways they fail to realize how it may well apply to them. Abandonment, unresolved abandonment sits at the core of emotional suffering, hopelessness, depression, polarized thinking, distorted thinking, feeling worthless, feeling helpless, feeling needy, codependence, personality disorders, dysfunctional and/or toxic relationships, abuse, and not really knowing who you are or what you may want out of your life. Unresolved abandonment will keep you stuck in the past when what you need to create positive and healthy change in your life is an awareness of your feelings of unresolved abandonment and how they are holding you back and why.

Abandonment has often been thought of by many to be of a physical nature – as in desertion and neglect or primarily of an emotional nature – as in when a child is not nurtured or given the necessary attention and healthy love to feel safe and secure.

Abandonment is:

  • a feeling
  • a feeling of disconnection
  • a feeling of loss
  • an aloneness and longing loneliness
  • intense feelings of being devastated when a relationship ends
  • fearing loss so much that one is too afraid to even risk being connected
  • a mother leaving her child
  • a father leaving his child
  • death of a pet
  • loss of a job or career
  • moving
  • a boy or girl realizing they are homosexual and fearing rejection
  • being rejected
  • lack of purpose
  • not knowing who you are
  • a child’s agitation in response to emotionally unavailable parents
  • death of a loved one
  • loss of a friend
  • a woman alone after her husband cheats on her
  • a divorce
  • a cold distant parent
  • a family’s “don’t talk” rule
  • being emotionally, sexually, or verbally abused

Abandonment is a deep and abiding wound at the epicentre or heart of human experience. It is a painful and empty feeling.

We will all experience some type of abandonment or other in the course of our lives. What makes an abandonment experience, in adulthood, devastating to the point it may render us stuck and dysfunctional in one way or another is the degree to which we have an unresolved stockpile of abandonment issues from childhood.

If one has experienced the most prolific and painful wound of all, the core wound of abandonment without any balance for that experience, any subsequent loss and/or abandonment in life can turn your life upside down. Each and every loss or abandonment is experienced as it happens with the added pain of layers and layers of repressed pain and unresolved grief.

In her book, The Journey From Abandonment to Healing, Susan Anderson writes the following, “What is abandonment? people ask. Is it about people in search of their mothers? Or people left on someone else’s doorstep as children?”

“I answer: Every day there are people who feel as if life itself has left them on a doorstep or thrown them away. Abandonment is about loss of love itself, that crucial loss of connectedness. It often involves breakup, betrayal, aloneness – something people can experience all at once, or on after another over a period of months, or even years later as an after shock.”

“Abandonment means different things to different people. It is an extremely personal and individual experience. Sometimes it is lingering grief caused by old losses. Sometimes it is fear. Sometime if can be a n invisible barrier holding us back from forming relationships, from reaching our true potential. It sometimes take the form of self-sabotage. We get caught up in patterns of abandonment.”

Anderson adds that, “Abandonment is a psychobiological process.” She points out that brain science continues to shed new light on biological and chemical processes that contribute to our response to loss.

As I write about in my ebook, The Legacy of Abandonment in Borderline Personality Disorder, for the young child who experiences a core wound of abandonment there are memory imprints where there were no words or developed cognition to otherwise interpret, understand, and remember the trauma of the abandonment. So the fact that the psychological and/or emotional pain of abandonment is underpinned by biological and chemical processes on a physical level not only makes sense but greatly contributes to the legacy of the woundedness of such a prolific and lasting injury.

Abandonment literally means to completely and finally leave, physically or emotionally. Abandonment is a surrendering of responsibility to a child. It is a withdrawal, a discontinuation of care, nurture, love, and/or support.

Abandonment on a psychological level is a detachment from the kind of emotional involvement that means one is emotionally available to and for one’s child.

Being emotionally unavailable to take care of the physical and/or emotional/psychological needs of a child can result from a mother being simply inexperienced, or depressed, being addicted to drugs and/or alcohol,having her own unresolved abandonment wounds threaten to rise up as the baby cries for comfort. The abandoning detachment may result in a mother or primary care-taker’s inability to cope effectively with the neediness of an infant or with the demanding nature of an infant. It may mean that a mother or care-taker has low frustration tolerance. It may mean that a mother or care-taker doesn’t know how to effectively cope and meet many of her own needs and when a young child’s needs compete, if you will, with her unmet needs, the result from the mother or care-taker may be any degree of anger that ranges from impatience to frustration, or from hostility to agitation, or from annoyance to rage.

Young infants will pick up on impatience, annoyance, hostility and agitation. They do not have to experience outwardly expressed anger or rage or yelling to get a sense of a lack of nurture and to feel and experience abandonment.

Abandonment is also present for any child whose parent is not only inconsistent but incongruent in their response to the needs of the child. Being there one time when a young infant cries, then not being there the next five times, then being there again sort of thing will result in a child feeling abandoned and leave that child struggling to feel safe with any sense of attachment to that parent or care-giver.

Abandonment is often not one huge negating or abusive act. It can often be a series of failures on the part of the parent to meet the needs of the young child. Anything less than dependable, consistent and congruent reasonable nurture, support, and soothing, will more times than not result in an abandonment experience and cause the child to have abandonment anxiety.

Abandonment of a child also happens when one abuses a child in any way shape or form, be it once, or be it continually. Sexual abuse, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional and/or psychological abuse, spiritual abuse, threats, intimidation and any and all attempts to in any way control a child (other than setting limits in a healthy care-taking way) all constitute the abandonment of a child. Even parents fighting among themselves, yelling, screaming, and swearing are emotionally/psychologically abandoning the needs of their children.

Children need to be safe and need to feel safe. They need security and relative predictability in their care-givers/parents.

The impact of abandonment, in and of itself, can and does create personality disordered people. It matters. It is real. It is not just, if it is at all, some all-too-sensitive proclivity on the part of the child. Children are never to blame for what they experience when they are too young to even decode what that experience means. They are not, however, ever, too young to feel the results of abandonment – namely, fear, anxiety, need-frustration, discomfort, lack of being soothed, and terror to name a few. These young infants/children cannot decipher these feelings. They are taken in and on by the child as the child’s fault. They are, as the child gets older, internalized. They are experienced as shaming. They interfere with the child’s ability to develop in healthy ways psychologically.

Abandonment, in all its forms, changes very young lives. It interferes with and impedes normal healthy development. Abandonment sets the stage for relational difficulty at best and Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (in some people, both) at worst along with years of deep intra-psychic pain and inter-personal relational dysfunction. Abandonment negatively effects one’s ability to emotionally and psychologically mature to be age-appropriate relationally. This has a very negative and painful consequence in relationships in adulthood until and unless this unresolved abandonment is addressed.

You do not have to be diagnosed with a mental illness or personality disorder, however, to have impacting unresolved abandonment in your life that you will benefit from becoming more aware of. Abandonment and its consequences among humanity manifests itself on a spectrum. Unresolved abandonment does keep people stuck in negative core beliefs from childhood that can be the root of self-sabotage, professional or career sabotage, and/or relationship sabotage as well.

If you feel unhappy, stuck, blocked, lonely, like you are not accomplishing your goals, or that you are depressed or things just can’t change, you will benefit from life coaching with me to talk about thought patterns, relationships patterns, decision-making skills or lack therof to name but a few signs that you may well be dealing with unresolved abandonment in your life.


© A.J. Mahari – All rights reserved.

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