As a child, it’s hard to conceive why a parent isn’t around or doesn’t treat you with love, care, trust and respect so we determine that for a grownup to behave in this way, we must have done something “really really bad” or just flat-out been “unlovable”. Once we stop using the same childhood reasoning habits and become more mindful of the destructive coping mechanisms that we originally designed to protect us and to make us “more lovable”, on some level we still struggle to conceive why the abandonment happened. We might get things logically but emotionally a part of us wonders:
But why didn’t/don’t they at least try? Why is it that I’m always the one that has to try? To make allowances? To be super understanding? To put aside the past and my own feelings?
In adult life, we strive for accolades. The author wants the book deal not ‘just’ to be self-published; the singer wants an album on a label not ‘just’ what they’ve created off of their own back; the hard working person wants the acknowledgement, the awards or maybe even just the shift in behaviour of their co-workers so that they feel more appreciated and validated; the one who has achieved a lot wants what they deem as their pinnacle of success— to have their ideal romantic relationship and to feel safe and secure. None of these desires are strange but sometimes we don’t stop for long enough to question why they matter and what we think will happen to us. When we experience our desires, we might enjoy them but sometimes, they don’t take the form that we imagine. We thought it would feel so much better or be that much easier, and yet it isn’t.
Since I started writing Baggage Reclaim ten years ago (yay!), part of my self-exploration has caused me to regularly reflect on why an explanation or that love matters that much. What difference would it make?
The explanation which can often be very light in comparison to the weight that we’ve carried, will only really cover so much, especially because a lot of the pain is self-imposed. Even if we get an explanation, we analyse that too and often try to look for more answers. When they don’t cover it and we’re still holding out for them, we look for other inappropriate substitutes to do it and the self-blame habit continues.
We are never going to be able to ‘fully’ understand abandonment.
We want to take away the pain or cause the periodical grief feelings that often catch us off guard to disappear forever. We think understanding and validation is the solution even though no matter how much we investigate the past, we can’t change it. We can change the narrative about those events and the judgements so that we change our present and future because ultimately, how we judge us for who that person wasn’t is the deciding factor.
The grief feelings won’t ‘vanish’. They show up from time to time no matter how good we feel about us because there are times, whether we had our parent around or not, that our younger parts feel vulnerable or when grief shows up as a result of an experience. Loss reminds us of other losses. This pop-up pain is an opportunity to grieve the loss from a different angle and heal even further, grounding and growing us. It’s too much to expect to be permanently rid of certain feelings, especially because feelings guide and direct us on what we need at that moment.
We can empathise with our parents (once we’ve cut the proverbial cord instead of seeing them as being reflective of our inadequacies) but we’ve gotta stop trying to figure them out because on some level, no matter how small it is, that little kid inside thinks that the key to peace and validation is in their pocket.
Trying to understand others to the nth degree doesn’t bring peace.
As I said in the last podcast, we often understand far more than we give ourselves credit for but we don’t like what we understand, especially if we’re judging us for it, or it means the end of a fantasy or us having to take action. We need to accept all of what we know and stop guilting and berating us for acknowledging our experience or what we know. If we don’t, we’ll just keep repeating variations of the experiences.
If you’ve struggled with abandonment, you likely already know that it turns you into someone who is reflexively guilty and prone to comparison so you have to be very conscious, aware and present.
As a kid, you feel guilty for missing the parent and still loving them in spite of their absence or treatment, especially when your other parent is still there. Or you feel bad because you have a step-parent so surely you ‘should’ be OK. If the remaining parent is angry or miserable, you take the rap for that too and then feel guilty for wanting to be a kid or to express your own feelings. Or you feel bad for no longer caring or for being angry. By blaming you, you wonder if sibling pain is your fault too. Envying your friends and others triggers guilt but then you feel worthless due to comparison. You feel guilty for feeling sad and lost even though you’re not alone or there are “bigger problems in the world”. You might associate the confusion and grief of abandonment with a lack of gratitude for being taken in or kept, so you push down feelings and then wonder why you feel so depressed and lonely. You wonder if there’s something wrong with you for not being more “over it”.
You feel guilty for speaking your mind or giving a voice to those feelings because, well, it seems that a lot of society are very uncomfortable with children no matter how old they get, flagging up their pain or their experience. You feel guilty for not being able to wipe your memory or for not being OK with the lies that everyone else is, or for feeling anger and disappointment about the entourage of people who keep propping up your parent but who never truly empathise with you, often assigning you the responsibility of building bridges.
It’s not your fault. Never was, never will be. There is nothing you could have done to change your parent. Your worth has nothing to do with their actions. You can start to consciously choose the direction of your thoughts and the direction of your life. Whatever answers you seek in them, you are the only one who can give you permission and choices.
Three-quarters of my life was about abandonment and the last decade has been about reclaiming me from that story. I’ve learned that you have to consciously redefine yourself after spending a period of time defining you based on your perception of an experience and/or other people’s behaviour.
I’ve had to consciously question guilt, blame, shame, fear and obligation each time they show up at my door. I’ve learned that we can be very hard on ourselves and our inner critic is sneaky. It goes from busting our chops for not being “good enough” and for still being affected to giving us a hard time for not being “affected enough” and for not being The Good Daughter/Son. That’s when you realise that the inner critic is nonsensical and to stop giving it so much airtime.
I have a scar on my right leg and inner left thigh from a childhood skin graft for a birthmark that I was born with that it was felt had the potential to be cancerous. For a long time, the scars were another indicator of my damaged status and I anticipated the stares, questions and snap judgements. At some point they stopped being a focal point. I stopped judging it. I have to go out of my way to notice the scar. I’ve accepted it and so closed off that area of self-rejection. When I do remember it, it’s because something else I associate it with, brings it to my mind. Remembering, acknowledging it doesn’t mean I’m not OK.
Ten years down the road from that summer that woke me up to myself and what the real meaning of my experiences were, that’s where I’ve gotten to with this whole abandonment thang– I’ve stopped judging the scar of abandonment and hating on it and me. I’ve stopped shaping my life around it. I forgive my younger self for being so tough on me and as a result, feel less shackled to the past and the parent hunger pangs have faded out. My parents are my parents but I am my primary carer. The scar fades bit by bit over time and the proximity of the pain, actual or remembered, recedes further into the distance…. as long as I take care of my thoughts and my actions right now which help me to take care of me.
Take care of you.