After many years working as a clinician, and after sitting with more than 400 couples seeking help with their relationship, I’ve come to very much agree with Dr. Margaret Paul’s statement, “One of the quickest ways into relationship distress is self-abandonment.”
Predictably, this goes along with the theme of “wellness” described on a different page on this website.
Should we work together, I’m going to press you hard on the questions, “To what extent have you abandoned yourself in recent years?” “In what ways have you pushed your own desires, needs, wants, and values aside thinking that doing this is in the best interests of your relationship?”
We’re going to work hard at helping you find yourself again, love yourself again, and take really good care of yourself again.
In advance, here’s an enlightening article by Dr. Paul. She strongly makes the case against self-abandonment. I want you to carefully think about this from the perspective of your own life, whether you’re in an intimate relationship, or not.
By Dr. Margaret Paul
December 31, 2006
The Encarta(r) World English Dictionary defines "abandon" as: "to leave somebody or something behind for others to look after, especially somebody or something meant to be a personal responsibility."
As adults, our own wellbeing is our personal responsibility.
Do you abandon yourself, making others responsible for you, and then feel abandoned by others when they leave you or don't take responsibility for you?
As an adult, another person cannot abandon you, since they are not responsible for you. We can abandon a child, an ill person or an old person - someone who cannot take care of themselves. But if you are a physically healthy adult, you can be left, but you cannot be abandoned by others. Only YOU can abandon you.
What are the ways you might be abandoning yourself?
How often do you judge yourself with comments to yourself such as:
"You are not good enough." "You are inadequate."
"You are stupid." "You are an idiot."
"You are ugly." "You are not attractive enough."
"If you fail, you are not okay."
"If someone rejects you, you are not okay."
"It's all your fault that...."
"You will never amount to anything. You are a failure. You are not reaching your potential."
...and so on.
Just as a small child feels alone and abandoned when a parent is harsh and judgmental, so your own inner child feels alone and abandoned when you judge yourself. Self-judgment not only creates inner feelings of aloneness and emptiness, but it also creates feelings of anxiety, depression, anger, hurt, fear, guilt and shame. Then what do you do when you have judged yourself and created all these painful feelings?
Ignoring Your Feelings
When you feel alone, empty, anxious, depressed, hurt, angry, jealous, sad, fearful, guilty or shamed - what do you do? Do you attend to your feelings, exploring what YOU are telling yourself or doing to cause them? Or do you ignore them by staying focused in your head rather than your body? Do you avoid your feelings with some form addictive behavior, using food, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, TV, work, shopping, Internet, sex, anger, blame and so on to numb them out?
When you ignore your feelings by staying in your head or turning to addictive behavior, you are abandoning yourself. Once you have abandoned yourself, it is very common to project this self-abandonment onto others and feel abandoned by people or by God. Yet, as a physically healthy adult, the feeling of abandonment is being caused by you, just as many of your other painful feelings are being caused by you.
Making Others Responsible for You
Once you judge yourself and then ignore the pain you have caused, or you ignore the pain caused by others or by life events, it is quite likely that you then turn to others for the love and approval that you are not giving to yourself. Your inner child - the feeling part of you - needs love, approval and attention. When you abandon yourself with your self-judgments and ignore your feelings, the wounded child part of you turns to others for the love you need.
Because the child part of you is desperately needy for love, you likely become manipulative to get that love - getting angry and blaming, or becoming overly nice or compliant and trying to do everything right. You have handed your inner child away to others for adoption, hoping another person will give you the love you so desperately need. You become addicted to approval, attention and/or sex.
The more you make others responsible for giving you the love, attention and approval you need, the more your inner child feels abandoned, leading to more addictive behavior to fill the emptiness and avoid the pain of your self-abandonment.
The way out of this is to start to practice Inner Bonding - paying attention to your feelings, putting your attention inside your body instead of always focusing outside. The moment you feel badly, consciously decide that you want responsibility for causing these feelings and then notice what you are thinking or doing that is causing your pain. Your painful feelings that come from your thoughts are your inner guidance system's way of letting you know that what you are thinking is not true, and is not in your highest good.
Ask the highest part of yourself, "What is the truth?" Notice how you feel when you attend to your feelings and tell yourself the truth rather than judge yourself, ignore yourself, and make others responsible for your feelings.