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“I promise not to abandon you again. I will not put you in danger or stay too long in unhealthy situations. I want you to know you are safe with me and you are not alone. I got your back, always.” ~ Giselle Naidu
This is my daily commitment to myself.
I finally, emotionally, understand the significance of this commitment. It is a declaration of accepting responsibility as, “The One.”
“The One” is not a search outside oneself. It is a journey of reclaiming the abandoned child within and realizing that “The One” has been with us all the time.
Sometimes, it takes losing oneself to find oneself again. Buried under the pain and suffering is a vulnerable child crippled by unmet needs and frustrations, searching for nourishment but despairing that nothing is truly satisfying.
Self-abandonment is not only applied to the early trauma of childhood abandonment but certainly is exacerbated by it. It applies to all of us who feel detached, at times, to our inner processes or who continue to neglect ourselves despite the cracks in the shell that all is not well. The Encarta World English Dictionary defines “to abandon” as: “to leave somebody or something behind for others to look after, especially somebody or something meant to have personal responsibility.”
As I reflect on the difficult and struggling years of my life, I realize I had spent many of them abandoning myself, not consciously or intentionally, but certainly making others responsible for my own happiness. I blamed toxic environments but continued to stay in them. I blamed others for failing and letting me down but maintained these relationships at further cost to myself. I was trying to make up for the hurt with constant self-sacrificing, trying to fix or change others, and being overly responsible for things that were not my problem to fix. I was abandoning myself.
As children, we are dependent on our parents for our survival and when a parent is unavailable physically and/or emotionally, we as children can experience a deep wounding that can fester and have a major impact growing up. We may develop unhealthy behaviors in order to get our needs met. After all, something is better than nothing at all.
As children, we develop a plan to get our needs met by our significant caregivers in order to survive. This plan is not a conscious plan and it won’t be too sophisticated due to our age and lack of resources. Sadly, we continue using this childlike plan we made when we were six years old, as adults, as a means of getting our needs met. By hook or by crook, those needs will get met, setting up further difficulties in adulthood.
The difficulties arise when we are no longer children and when we continue to search for “a parent” in our relationships with others, particularly romantic ones, to heal us and give us what we yearn for—to be fed until we feel full. Sadly, this puts enormous and unrealistic pressure on some of our closest relationships. Others are struggling with their own wounding and realistically cannot provide us with what we need on a consistent basis. We needed healthy consistency in our childhood. Often it is never enough, and the more we receive the more we feel we want. So we continue to try and get our needs met by others with childlike strategies and behaviors.
Here are some common ways in which we can engage in self-abandonment.
This is certainly not limited to just these examples. I am sure that as we read these we can identify even more subtle ways in which we engage in self-abandonment:
>> We expect others to take care of our needs and our feelings and never clearly ask for what we need and often do not know what we need or want.
>> We want demonstrations that someone loves us, and so we try and get them to give us what we want often and keep the supply going consistently.
>> We get angry at others for not taking care of us in the way we want or not responding appropriately. We set up this constant cycle of frustration and anger when others miss the mark. We stay hurt and resentful.
>> We prioritize the needs and feelings of others above our own. We don’t believe we or our needs are important.
>> We set too rigid boundaries or have too porous ones when we abandon ourselves. We attempt to control others to get what we need or get others’ approval with our boundaries.
>> We create a dependency to avoid being abandoned by others.
>> Detaching and avoiding difficult or painful feelings by using food, drug and alcohol addictions, TV, social media, work, and other behavioral addictions to dull out the pain.
>> When we subject ourselves to the disrespect and inappropriate expressions of anger of others toward us and simply take it with no assertions that this is unacceptable.
>> We abandon ourselves by putting ourselves in harm’s way and real threats of injuries to self whether inflicted by others or by ourselves.
>> By not listening to our intuition or “Wise Mind” when making decisions that are either small or incredibly significant.
>> We abandon ourselves when we demand perfection from ourselves and bully ourselves with unrealistic demands for goodness, high achievement in work, and all other aspects of living, making no room for mistakes.
>> When we neglect to listen to our bodies when it cries out for rest, nourishing food, and exercise.
There are many ways we abandon ourselves and neglect to practice self-care. The core issue in these feelings of shame, depression, anxiety, guilt, and overall emptiness is an abandonment of self. Not attuning to our inner world and our needs and directing nurturing and compassionate acts of care toward ourselves results in further self-abandonment.
When we understand that we are, as adults, responsible for our inner processes and healing, we stop searching externally for those who are “The One.” There is no magical person who can make us whole.
This is not to say that external nourishment is unimportant. But when we practice self-care, we will identify the needs, appropriately soothe and regulate the feelings, and, if needed, find healthy external support. We will take ourselves to therapy. We will stop complaining that others fail us. We won’t choose to be martyrs, showing the world how much we alone can do. We will engage in our recovery and well-being and not expect others to do it on our behalf.
I want to share a practice that I learnt from my training as a therapist.
It draws from the original work of Dr. Richard Erskine who shaped my early learnings, and now, especially from my training with Dr. Robert Brockman. It might feel uncomfortable and even strange but it’s learning to listen attentively to parts of oneself, especially our inner vulnerable child. Listening with the intention of understanding and creating room for growth and healthy action.
This can also be a mindful, spiritual self-care activity.
1. When you feel really distressed and triggered, focus on that situation, and make a time to explore what’s going on for you. Be specific about what that situation is and how it is triggering for you.
2. Imagine you are talking to a vulnerable part of yourself. With your body, actually, imagine yourself moving toward that distressed part of you showing concern and genuine interest and listen for what feelings are being experienced. Ask yourself: “Where do I feel this in my body?” “What else do I feel?” Resist the urge to disconnect or be vague about what you are feeling. Remember you’re a loving and compassionate parent. You can listen to any feeling that is being experienced, even the most shameful ones.
3. With a tender and compassionate voice, really connect to that vulnerable part of yourself. What meaning is he/she making of this situation and these feelings, “I’m failing again,” “I have to be strong and keep my emotions in check.” Ask that part of you what they are needing. “I need time to rest. I’m feeling so tired.” I find it helpful to imagine that vulnerable child and speak to her as a nurturing parent.
4. Check in with yourself and really “get it”—see if what you heard is correct. There’s something so powerful about being understood. Validation is connection. “I get you and I see you and I am still here for you.”
5. Show your nurturing and compassion—even your concern—and explain that you know where this originated in your early beginnings. When we make the connection between our current unmet needs and beliefs and those that our inner child still carries. This is the rubber band effect between the present and the past.
Self-care is not bubble baths and spa treatments. It is not a burden of chores to tick off the list to earn your care from others. It is about being emotionally present and available to ourselves as a nurturing parental offering. It is a sacred offering we give to ourselves. When we choose to not abandon ourselves, we are responsible for the practice of self-care, especially the tuning in, to our emotional needs.
We might hear our “vulnerable self” saying, “Please take me to safer spaces than this.” It may say, “I need pauses in my day.” Or, “I need you to love me and stop pushing me away.”
This is not something we practice occasionally, or what we stop doing when we find loving relationships. This is a commitment through the ages of time. It is about showing up for the one who matters so much, you. I commit to never abandoning myself again, and I hope you do the same. When we can connect with ourselves, we can give permission for others to do the same. The world heals when we take responsibility for caring for ourselves.