Understanding the pain of abandonment

When children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need – and certainly deserve – it is more natural for them to internalize fear. Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection is tantamount to abandonment, and living with repeated experiences of abandonment creates shame. Shame arises from the painful message that abandonment implies: “You are not important. You have no value.” It is the pain that people need to heal.

For some children, abandonment is primarily physical. Physical abandonment occurs when the physical conditions necessary for flourishing have been replaced by:

  • Lack of proper supervision
  • Inadequate provision of nutrition and meals
  • Inadequate clothing, housing, heating or shelter
  • Physical and / or sexual abuse

Children are totally dependent on caretakers to ensure safety in their environment. When the caretakers don’t do this, the child grows up believing that the world is a dangerous place, that people should not be trusted, and that they do not deserve to be positive. Warning and adequate care.

Emotional abandonment occurs when parents do not provide the emotional conditions and the emotional environment necessary for healthy development. I like to define emotional abandonment as “which occurs when a child has to hide a part of who he or she is in order to be accepted or not to be rejected”.

Having to hide a part of yourself means:

  • It is not normal to be wrong.
  • It is not normal to show feelings, to be told how you feel is not true. “You have nothing to cry and if you don’t stop crying I will really give you something to cry about.” “It really didn’t hurt.” “You have nothing to be mad at.”
  • It is not normal to have needs. Everyone else’s needs seem to be more important than yours.
  • It is not normal to have success. Achievements go unrecognized and are repeatedly updated.

Other acts of abandonment occur when:

  • Children cannot live up to their parents’ expectations. These expectations are often unrealistic and are not age appropriate.
  • Children are held accountable for the behavior of others. They can be systematically blamed for the actions and feelings of their parents.
  • Disapproval of children is aimed at their whole being or identity rather than a particular behavior, like telling a child that he is worthless when he is not doing his homework or that she will never be a good athlete because she missed the last take of the match.

Often, abandonment issues are merged with distorted, confusing, or undefined boundaries such as:

  • When parents don’t see children as separate beings with distinct boundaries
  • When parents expect children to be extensions of themselves
  • When parents are unwilling to take responsibility for their feelings, thoughts and behaviors, but expect children to take responsibility
  • When the parents self-esteem is derived from their child’s behavior
  • When children are treated as peers without parent / child distinction

Abandonment combined with distorted boundaries, at a time when children are developing their worth, is the basis of belief in their own inadequacy and the central cause of their shame.

Experiences of abandonment and boundary violations are by no means accusations of a child’s innate goodness and worth. Instead, they reveal the wrong thinking, false beliefs, and altered behaviors of those who hurt them.

Yet the wounds are deeply struck in their young hearts and young minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of emotional wounds must be understood and accepted so that they can heal. Until that happens, the pain will stay with them, becoming a driving force in their adult lives.

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About Palmer Mohler

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