Have You Abandoned Yourself?
By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, Relationship Crisis Consultant.
When you hear the word “abandonment,” you likely picture being left behind in a physical sense. But have you considered the idea of abandoning yourself? Sounds impossible, right? But that’s exactly what it is when you sideline your dreams, overlook your intuition, and perpetually seek validation from others. It’s constantly dismissing your own needs, desires, and identity in the hopes someone will like you better. Trust me, it’s not a place where you want to be.
Where and How Self-Abandonment Starts
How does this journey towards self-abandonment begin? It starts when you learn—or, are taught—to prioritize the needs of others over your own. As you seek more validation by giving and doing for others, you neglect your own interests and goals. Or, if self-abandonment began in childhood, you were taught that your needs, thoughts, and feelings were secondary to a parent’s and told you were selfish to think otherwise. You become focused on making other people happy, or at least, pleasing them for the moment. You may not even think of what you want, having given yourself over to trying to meet the needs of others. You become who you think others want you to be rather than knowing who you are. You forget the very things that make you…you. It’s a slippery slope with no upside!
Next up, you may morph into a perfectionist. Initially, it seems beneficial. After all, who doesn’t want to strive for excellence? However, perfectionism can trap you in a cycle of never feeling good enough. You start criticizing yourself for every tiny misstep, and before you know it, you’re on a one-way street to self-abandonment. If you had a demanding, narcissistic parent, you’ll understand that right away!
Then comes doubting your instincts. You begin questioning your judgment, and this constant self-doubt erodes your self-confidence. Do you remember a time when you trusted your gut, and were in touch with your own wants and needs? When you didn’t have to think too long to make a decision? That, perhaps, seems like a distant memory.
In this state of self-abandonment, you might start seeking approval from others. Their opinions and feedback start molding your self-worth and become the mirror you use to view yourself. And if that approval doesn’t come, you do more to get it. That mirror can become very distorted over time and skew your thoughts about yourself…usually in a negative direction.
The final piece of the puzzle is becoming an expert at overthinking everything, second-guessing yourself, and letting others make decisions for you. You may be overwhelmed and confused, surrendering your life’s steering wheel to others. That, too, causes you to lose sight of your own journey in favor of someone else’s. That’s a high price to pay.
The Ripple Effects of Abandoning Yourself
Let’s not mince words here. Abandoning yourself can have serious consequences. You start believing—and behaving—as if others know more (even about yourself) than you do, undermining your own knowledge, instincts, and expertise. This belief alone can hold you back from achieving your true potential.
When you start suppressing your own needs, trying to please others at the cost of your own happiness, this can lead to burnout, resentment, and a constant feeling of dissatisfaction. You start living for others while forgetting yourself.
And the cherry on top? You’re left feeling unworthy and not enough, regardless of your achievements. This endless quest for worthiness through external validation is a gruelling marathon. Not only can it lead to issues like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem it can cause you to settle for toxic relationships, thinking that’s all you deserve.
Self-Abandonment, Co-dependence, and Toxic Enabling
Here’s where things get even more complicated. Self-abandonment often creates a fertile ground for co-dependent relationships and enabling toxic behavior.
Co-dependence is a complicated dance that is almost impossible to avoid when you have given up your SELF in favor of other people. As you ignore your feelings, you lean heavily on that external validation, especially from intimate relationships. You start deriving your self-worth and identity from being needed by someone else. You’re giving yourself away and the “takers” in your world pounce. And this happens even though it’s detrimental to your well-being!
You want another person to find you significant and want to be with you. In this co-dependent dance you are likely to find yourself enabling toxic behavior. You overlook, deny, or excuse harmful actions, often to maintain the status quo. You fear that setting boundaries or confronting the person might push them away, leaving you feeling even more abandoned. Too often, you erase the consequences for the poor choices of others, hoping they’ll think you’re kind, nice, and forgiving. AND, they’ll like you better for it. Worse, you may find yourself taking responsibility for the mistakes of others. That’s enabling!
This creates a toxic cycle of always taking a backseat to others, always being second…or last. Self-abandonment leads to meeting others’ needs first, depending on their approval and validation, enabling their harmful behavior…and spiralling further into self-abandonment.
Overcoming self-abandonment is possible! It’s a journey, though, not a destination. It requires patience, practice, and persistence. Let’s explore how you can navigate your way out.
1. Recognize your interests and goals: Start by re-discovering and acknowledging your passions. What is an abiding interest that catches your heart? What thoughts capture your mind and ignite your creativity? Which activities do you miss from earlier in your life? How do you want to spend your time? Let those things inform how you use your time. Prioritize your personal growth and don’t let toxic expectations or standards define you. Embrace your unique interests and set meaningful, achievable goals that align with your values.
2. Rethink perfectionism: Perfectionism is not a badge of honor. It’s okay to strive for excellence, but don’t let perfectionism rule your life. If you were raised by demanding, controlling parents, it may be all you know. But it’s OK to make mistakes. Not repeating them is the key. Embrace your flaws and failures. They’re not setbacks, but stepping stones to growth. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Forget perfect. It’s self-defeating.
3. Trust your instincts: Your experiences and insights are valid and valuable. You can sense things energetically. Your body has its own knowledge. Don’t let self-doubt dictate your actions. You know yourself better than anyone else. Trust your intuition and don’t shy away from asserting your thoughts and opinions.
So, what if your intuition is wrong occasionally? Recalibrate and regain your compass. Self-abandonment comes with adopting the way others think, feel, sense, and/or work as your own…or rather than actually living from your own. Decide what Is right for you. That might take some time.
4. Cultivate self-validation: Your worth is inherent and does not depend on others’ approval or recognition. Practice self-love and self-compassion. You are in charge of how you use your time and for what purpose. Discover what you need, what fulfils you and brings you joy. Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small they seem. Talk kindly to yourself. Talk kindly ABOUT yourself, too. P.
5. Take charge of your decisions: Overthinking and indecision can lead to stagnation. Empower yourself by taking informed risks and making choices that align with your values and aspirations. Know that everything is not serious, and much doesn’t need to be. If you make a decision that turns out poorly, you are on the path toward knowing yourself and your values again. You can course correct when you’re focused on your own needs for a change. Choose again and move forward.
Self-abandonment, co-dependency, and enabling behavior form a dangerous trio that can greatly impact your self-esteem and overall well-being. Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards healing and reclaiming your authentic self. The journey might be challenging, but with self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-love, you can break free from these harmful patterns and foster healthier relationships with yourself and others. Remember, you’re worth it!
Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Dr. Rhoberta Shaler helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples. https://www.EmergingEmpowered.com