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Who’s Abandoning Who?

"I feel abandoned," is a phrase I hear often in couples work.  Of course, abandoned isn't technically a feeling.  It is an expression of your interpretation of what someone is doing to you and it implies that important feelings and needs are up.   The feelings are likely; hurt, lonliness, fear, sadness, and/or dissappointment.  The needs are likely for connection, consideration, dependability, reassurance, and/or love.

Abandonment has been one of the biggest pieces of karma with which I have worked.  I call it simply, my abandonment trigger.  Through counseling I became aware of the ways in which my parents abandoned me when I was growing up.  While, this has been important to realize, what has been more important is seeing the ways in which I have abandoned myself.

When you hear yourself say, that you are being abandoned, it can be helpful to check in with whether or not you are abandoning yourself.  In this context I am defining abandoning yourself as disconnecting from your feelings and needs and making decisions accordingly.  When this is done consistently over a period of time, you are left feeling depleted and depressed.

You might have all sorts of reasons for setting your feelings and needs aside.  For example, you might say one or more of the following to yourself: -I shouldn't be upset, it's not that big of a deal 
-I agreed to do this so I just have to do it 
-S/he will be happy if I just go along with it 
-No one else is feeling this way, I shouldn't
-I am the bigger person, I don't have to talk about my needs
-No one wants to hear my feelings and needs so why bother talking

Often these voices are in the background guiding your decisions little by little.  When this goes undetected you might find yourself suddenly feeling angry and resentful and accusing someone close to you of abandoning you or not caring about what you need.

I remember an instance when I found myself in just such a situation.  I made a decision to participate in something that I convinced myself was a fit for me, but in reality was not.  I recognized the abandonment trigger when it went off, feeling the anger, hurt and contraction.  I named it to my partner, but neither of us could get to the real trigger.  A couple of days later through journaling I saw how I had abandoned myself by making decisions in hopes of pleasing others, especially my partner.  I reconnected with the needs that were truly alive for me (which had nothing to do with my partner) and immediately the trigger dissolved.  Suddenly my partner was just doing his thing with no intention to abandon me, which, of course, had been true all along.

Certainly there are times when someone agreed to be there for your needs and leaves without notice that abandonment is truly happening.  What's likely happening more often though is the fear that someone will turn away from you in a moment of vulnerability, or that you are turning away from your own vulnerability.  Use words like abandonment and other like them* as a cue to check in with your interpretations, feelings, and needs.

This week listen for the voices of abandonment.  Each time you hear them turn toward your experience with compassion and curiosity.  You might say something like, "It's okay to feel this feeling, it's okay to have these needs."  "What am I telling myself right now?"

*click here for a list of faux feeling words in a handout called "Feelings" that blame:

You can also find these words here with the associated feelings and needs:

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3 Responses

  1. Apr 30, 2015
    Annika Fjelstad

    Thanks that was helpful. I'm in a situation where the person is telling me that I'm controlling her. My sense that there must be a parallel narrative around what are the true feelings underneath "I'm being controlled" are that would be helpful to unpack. The person does not feel a sense of being in control for legitimate reasons: aging, loss of health, loss of independence. What can intervene in helping to separate loss of control and holding other people accountable for that loss of control.

  2. Apr 30, 2015

    This approach to faux feeling words appeals to me as it encourages deeper exploration of what's going on without making it "wrong" to use the word in the first place.

    Also, I would really like to take the class you're offering on boundaries, but I'm not local. Any chance that you'll be offering a distance version at any point?

  3. Apr 30, 2015

    Glad to hear it Tricia.

    Yes, I have had a few requests for an online boundaries course, so I will look at scheduling that very soon

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