“Abandonment” isn’t just being literally left on the side of the road.
Nor is it an overdramatized way of referring to not getting what we want or need.
The truth is, we often don’t get what we want or need, and we find a way to survive. It’s not necessarily “traumatic” to be let down (though of course it can be, depending on the context).
When I refer to “abandonment,” I’m very specifically referring to situations in which we depend on someone for something essential, and we’ve been reasonably assured that they’d be there with that essential thing…and they’re not.
Abandonment isn’t just about deprivation or disappointment. It’s about betrayal.
It’s about someone not living up to commitments that they made, or that it’s reasonably their responsibility to keep.
It’s not abandonment to just not get a thing we want or need— abandonment is about getting the rug pulled out from under us, and being forced to improvise in a situation that may be overwhelming.
Not all abandonment is necessarily life threatening— though sometimes it is.
Not all abandonment is necessarily due to premeditation or negligence— though sometimes it is.
Abandonment is defined by the experience of the abandoned— not the intention of the abandoner.
It may not be the case that someone sat down and thought to themselves, “You know what? I’m totally going to abandon this person to whom I made a commitment, just whiff on my responsibility to them.”
In fact, part of what makes abandonment painful is that it underscores how thoroughly unimportant we are to people who should, by rights, think and care about us.
Abandonment hurts because it drills into us the message the we are not important. We’re not worthy. We’re disposable.
The truth is, there are many reasons why we might be emotionally or even physically abandoned— and they all have to do with the abandoner.
Even if an abandoner’s thought process explicitly involves dislike or contempt for the abandoned, it is STILL the behavior of the abandoner that defines the experience.
We can’t “make” someone abandon us.
If we are abandoned, it is never a consequence of what we are or aren’t, how desirable or worthy we are or aren’t, how attractive or interesting or smart we are or aren’t.
If it is someone else’s responsibility to be there for us, if they have a commitment to be there for us, it’s up to them to figure out how to life up to that responsibility, to fulfill that commitment.
We can only be responsible for our commitments— not anybody else’s.
Abandonment isn’t just physical. It can be emotional or spiritual— and it’s very commonly financial.
It doesn’t particularly matter if it was someone’s intention to abandon us or not. The experience of abandonment isn’t necessarily impacted or negated if we’re able to say to ourselves, “Well, they didn’t MEAN to make us feel that way.”
Especially when we’re young, abandonment hits at the core of our self-concept.
Abandonment, especially repeated abandonment, can seriously chip away at our self-esteem.
When others aren’t there for us, especially important people in our lives, it’s hard for us to learn to be there for ourselves.
One of the most important life skills we’ll ever develop is having our own back. Refusing to abandon ourselves.
We learn to take care of ourselves by being taken care of.
When we’re not taken care of, we often assume we must not be worthy of care.
We come to expect disappointment. To expect abandonment.
The good news is, we can learn to be there for ourselves. We can learn to have our own back.
The experience of abandonment early in life doesn’t have to define the rest of our life.
But it certainly gives us a hill to climb when it comes to forming stable, realistic self-esteem.
It wasn’t your fault if you were abandoned.
Be there for yourself now.
Subscribe to the Doc’s free email newsletter!