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The Truth of Abandonment: How Abandonment Affects Our Relationships With Others

The Truth of Abandonment: How Abandonment Affects Our Relationships With Others

The Truth of Abandonment:

When we think of abandonment, we usually think of a child being physically left by a parent or caretaker. However, we can be abandoned even when there is someone physically there, but emotionally absent. Abandonment takes many forms and leaves internal scars which impact how we see ourselves and how we relate with others. These marks impact how we see ourselves and how we feel towards ourselves. How we perceive others view us become truths about who we are, who we are in the minds and hearts of others.

Why is it important to talk about abandonment? Why does it have such an impact on ourselves?

Humans come to the world with a nervous system that still has much to be developed from childhood until our early adult years. At birth, our survival kit comes with basic reflexes that need of others to respond to. We cannot survive without the care of others. For this reason, part of our survival kit is attachment. If our caretaker cares for us and we connect with this person, then I can survive.
Our brains are wired to attach, to establish an emotional connection with someone, an emotional bond that will assure our care. When we do not have others to care for us (emotionally), our brain triggers an alert, we enter survival mode, panic mode. In this mode, we can fight, we can withdraw, or we can freeze and or paralyze. All these reactions have an impact on our interactions and relationships with others.

When we are rejected by others, we feel worthless. A child that is constantly abandoned or rejected begins to shape beliefs about him/herself such as: “I am not good enough,” “I don’t matter,” “my life is worthless,” or “I am not wanted.” Now, these become our perceived “truths” about ourselves, which in turn re-triggers the panic mode because, again, for our nervous system we cannot survive alone. If we are not wanted; we are not seen, we feel as if we are nothing. This reality, for our nervous system, means death as we are not able to survive without the care of others.

How do these perceived ‘truths’ about ourselves impact us and our relationships?

These painful perceived truths about the meaningless of our lives become part of how we see ourselves in relation to others which impacts what we hear, what we see, and who we choose as romantic partners. Think about this for a second…. What would this truth be for an individual who finds him or herself in an abusive relationship? Most likely, this truth says something like: “I do not matter,” “my feelings do not matter,” “I am nothing.”
Part of the abused individual believes s/he deserves to be treated that way. Without realizing it, this person is making choices where this truth is true… “it is ok for others to treat me this way, they are all I have, and it is all I know.” Of course, we are not quite aware of this statement and we rationalize this situation and stay stuck in an abusive cycle where we are left in the victim position over and over, hoping always that things will change and get better.
How we relate with others when we have experienced abandonment can be by becoming needy of others that treat us in ways we do not really deserve, or we can also shut down from others and keep people at a distance. We can become closed off to emotions, closed off to anyone that wants to get close because our truth tells us that we will be abandoned, that if we were to let someone closer, they would know that we are worthless and will leave us. So, in order to avoid the pain of being abandoned and reminded that we are worthless (at least according to our perceived truth), we rather not let anyone close.
How we see ourselves, what we say to ourselves about us, and how we feel towards ourselves have a huge impact on how we relate with others and who we choose to relate with. This “choice” is not conscious or something we do willingly. This is why it is so important to learn about ourselves, to be aware of how past relationships have impacted us (starting from childhood) and shaped the ways we perceive ourselves and our relationships with others.
This post was written by Carolina Castaños, Ph.D. Dr. Castaños is a bilingual, award-winning Marriage and Family Therapist with 18 years of experience and a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is world-renowned for helping couples, families, and individuals heal from past wounds, and guide them to establish safe, deeply connected relationships.
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