Friday Counseling Issues: Abandonment, Part 7

Anyone who has been abandoned, whether physically or emotionally or both, will have a visceral reaction to a picture like this:

One of the most difficult things for a person who has been abandoned is to learn to express all the emotion and loss, to  lance the boil of resentment, fear, guilt, and shame and let all the poison drain out. True healing cannot take place until this painful process has been accomplished.

So how does one go about it?  After all, a physical boil is easy to see, to treat, and to release.  Inner pain isn’t quite so obvious.  And especially for someone who has learned not to let anything show, it’s very difficult to learn to set those emotions free. What we need to understand is that until we do process our emotions, they will continue to poison our thinking and our behavior.

There are many different approaches, in therapeutic terms, to help a person heal from abandonment. Many have helpful techniques for understanding  what has happened and why the abandoned person is left with such a huge cache of negative beliefs about himself.  You can easily research  something like “healing for abandonment issues” on your favorite search engine and come up with all sorts of helpful books and programs.

Any competent therapist will have help to offer in dealing with abandonment. Sometimes, it helps a lot just to let your story come out of your mouth with a patient, caring listener.  Often, in the telling, we can find our own path to releasing the grief and pain.

From my Christian world-view, I believe that the best way to process and heal is to learn to forgive the one(s) who have hurt us so deeply. In the process of forgiving, we can let go of our anger and pain. One difficulty people often express to me is that they feel very guilty about being angry, because anger is a sin. They really don’t want to admit how angry they are.

I love being able to disabuse these people of the false belief that anger is sin. Anger, in itself, is not sinful; however, our behavior when we are angry is a different matter.   Ephesians 4:26 tells us to be angry, but not to sin in our anger.  There are things we should be angry about.  I am angry about pedophiles who destroy the innocence of young children.  I am angry when God’s Name is used as a curse. I am angry when women are violently abused by the men who claim to love them.  I do not, however, make it my business to castrate pedophiles, to stand on street corners and scream invectives at people who profane God’s Name, or to beat up abusive men. That is not my place; it is not helpful; and it is taking vengeance into my own hands.

Anger that is used to create good, to help others, to fight evil, is not sin. The Bible mentions God’s anger over 450 times, and He certainly has never been guilty of sin!

Once a person realizes that his anger is not sin, but is a normal and expected reaction to mistreatment, then the healing. forgiving process can truly begin.  Anger needs to be rooted out, and forgiveness is the best tool for doing that.  If anger is left to fester and simmer, then the person who holds it becomes bitter and, often, deeply depressed. I can’t emphasize enough how important forgiveness is in the healing process.

I believe this will be my last post on this issue, at least for now.  If you have further questions or comments, please leave them in the comment option following this post. Thanks to the many of you who have already responded with help and encouragement.  This is a difficult issue, not easily resolved, but in Jesus Christ we have the victory over all things.

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Friday Counseling Issues: Abandonment, Part 6

People who are plagued with fear of abandonment, or who have experienced it, find that it controls their thinking.  It is always at the forefront of their minds, even as they are in the process of developing a new relationship.  Because they  can be obessessed with the fear of being abandoned again, it becomes almost certain that they will cling to a new relationship so tightly that the other person feels smothered. Escape from such a cloying relationship becomes the goal, and the abandoned person is abandoned again. The cycle continues, with every repetition of the cycle convincing the person more deeply that he is unloved, unloveable, unworthy, and guilty.

The next thought pattern is to wonder why God has abandoned me, if indeed there is a God. When we can’t figure out any logical reason for our pain, it is in our nature to blame God, to deny His existence, to believe that He is a Being Who sits in heaven with a scorecard in His hand, keeping track of our bad behavior and punishing us in a variety of awful ways.

So the first thing I want to address, by way of help for those who deal with abandonment, is  how they think about God. It is always our thinking that, when we change the wrong and replace it with the right, will help us dig out of our despair.

First, we need to understand that God’s nature makes it impossible for Him to behave contrary to what He has said. It is one thing to believe in God; it is quite another to believe God. If we believe God, then we can appropriate His words into our lives in such a way that our lives will be changed.

What has God said?  “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the earth” (Matthew 28:20).

Here is a website that gives a list of ten biblical proofs that God will not abandon us:

http://www.thejourney2grace.com/index.cfm?i=11059&mid=1000&id=324730

Jeremiah 29:11 is a wonderful promise.

Do you struggle with fear, doubt, and discouragement because you were abandoned?  Do you have a sense of emptiness that you just can’t fill?  I want to challenge you this week to dwell on the scriptures I’ve given  you here.  Pray, asking God to help your unbelief; asking Him to help you understand Who He is. Don’t focus on the people who have hurt you. Focus on the God Whose plans for you are to prosper you, not to harm you; to give you a hope and a future.

And come back here next week for more help.

Friday Counseling Issues: Abandonment, Part 5

A person who has been abandoned, whether physically or emotionally, tends to develop habits of self-harm. Usually, these habits involve substance abuse:  Alcohol, drugs, cutting, sexual promiscuity, obesity. Because he believes he is not worth loving, he doesn’t care much about taking care of his health. 

abandoned-dream

The tendency to try to bury the hurt and fear under alcohol, food, sex, or drugs is very strong.  Of course, doing so only creates more problems and makes healing slower and more complicated. 

Along with self-abuse comes the need for constant, excessive reassurance.  This need is not, of course, restricted only to those who have been abandoned. We’ve all known people who seem to need  to be told often and with feeling that they are ok, that they are loved, needed, look wonderful, have talents and gifts, and so forth. And we all know how draining it is to  be in the position of the one who must always give the reassurance that is demanded, without ever getting anything back. The inevitable result of such a relationship is that sooner or later, the one who is always required to give reassurance will drift away to find a healthier relationship. Once again, the abandoned person’s self-perception is validated; she is not worthy of being loved, of having friends, of being cared for.  In a twisted kind of way, she feels kind of good about being proven right.

Some who counsel in this area believe that abandonment and narcissism are closely related.  That’s an interesting theory, and makes some sense to me.  The truth is, when any of us focus  on our misery to the exclusion of anything else, we are truly putting ourselves and our needs first and foremost.  “No one else loves me,”  goes the inner monologue, “So I will focus on loving myself.” Because no one wants to be around a person who is fixated on his own value, needs, appearance and popularity, he is quickly abandoned again.  It’s a circular pattern, like a snake eating its own tail. 

Self-esteem becomes part of the dialogue here as well, in psychological realms. If you’ve been following my Friday Counseling Issues posts for some time, perhaps you’ve already read how I feel about the whole concept of self-esteem.  If not, you can go here.  Scroll down to the bottom–I think there are four posts–and read to the top. My position is not popular in today’s mental health arena, just so you know ahead of time and won’t be too shocked 🙂

Next week, we’re going to look at some ideas to help yourself if you have abandonment in your history. 

 

 

Friday Counseling Issues: Abandonment, Part 4

Today I want to touch briefly on two important features for those who have experienced abandonment:  A sense of insecurity, and a tendency to withdraw or isolate.

 No one does insecurity better than someone whose world has been rocked by the departure of a  person who was always supposed to be there.  An unexplained departure is so damaging because the person who is left alone never gets his questions answered.  Most of us tend to look at ourselves negatively in this type of situation, and it isn’t long before the one who was left behind begins to believe (a) he doesn’t deserve to be loved/happy and (b)she will never  find anyone who could possibly love her forever because she has so many flaws.

Remember when you were a little kid, if you were blessed to have both parents in a loving, committed relationship, how you always thought of them in tandem?  Almost as if it were one word, “MomandDad” just always went together. When something happens to destroy that unit, a child has a hard time processing the reality. If one parent just takes off, the chlld is left believing it was all his fault. He will grow up to be very clingy in his relationships, holding on to people very tightly so they won’t ever leave him. Of course, most people don’t want to be held that way, and they eventually will leave the relationship either in fact or emotionally, and the person who is insecure is left to deal with even more insecurity.

Because the abandoned person feels insecure and inferior, he will have a tendency to avoid social activities. He will withdraw from relationships that seem to be demanding more of him than he is willing to give.  He will walk out on a relationship before the other person can do so, hoping to avoid the pain of loss, guilt, and shame that he feels every time someone drifts away.  The best way to avoid being hurt by other people is to withdraw from them,  goes their thinking.  And if the abandoned person leaves first, then the other person cant. abandon him.

Just a couple of comments here, and I’m done.  Most of us don’t make it through life without losing someone along the way that we thought would always be there for us.  Our best buddy in second grade moves across the country. A beloved grandparent dies when we are almost too young to understand death. Parents divorce, reducing the day-to-day contact we  crave with one or the other parent. A sibling gets sick and dies.  A dearly loved dog or cat needs to be put down.  A boyfriend/girlfriend who swore undying love one week is hanging out with someone new the next week, leaving our hearts crushed and confused and swearing we will never love again. These are difficult life experiences from which we learn, and grow, and become wiser.

But when  a loved, trusted parent just walks out? That’s a different kind of loss, and one that leaves the victim always wondering what he did or didn’t do to cause it. Still, it is possible to redirect one’s thinking into more positive patterns, placing the blame where it belongs:  On the one who left.



Friday Counseling Issues: Symptoms of Abandonment

The second, and perhaps most pervasive, symptom for those who struggle with abandonment is that of guilt.  It is not unusual at all for the victim of personal assault or other mistreatment to feel a strong sense of guilt or responsibility while the perpetrator feels little or none.

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Why would someone who has been abandoned feel so guilty?  It’s because, in his mind, there is no other possible explanation except his own:  I must have done something; I must not be worth staying for; it’s my fault, and no one will every truly love me. She will be convinced that she has been abandoned for some wrongdoing or just  because she is not loveable. She would continually analyze her appearance, behavior, intelligence, and so on to figure out where she had messed up. This type of erroneous thinking settles in quickly, and the victim becomes guilty of something that was never his fault.

If there is no one the abandoned person can turn to for help, no one to talk with to express these negative thoughts, then the thoughts become set in cement. A pattern of negative self-talk sets in that is completely untrue, but the person who was left behind believes all of it.  That belief colors all of his relationships, and especially intimate relationships. He becomes so convinced that he is not loveable, not worth staying for, that he actually develops behaviors that push people away.  His negative beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies, and the cycle of guilt and shame continues.

The cure?  Recognizing negative beliefs for the lies they are; taking steps to learn to spot the lies and replace them with truth. Sometimes, it is just easier to accept blame ourselves rather than to face the truth that the person who left was the one with the lack of character.  We don’t want to believe that a loved parent or spouse, for example, was actually able to just walk out on us for reasons that had nothing to do with us at all, but everything to do with that person’s lack of commitment and character. Perhaps there were mental/emotional/spiritual problems that were unrecognized.  Whatever the cause, the result is a great deal of pain for those who are left behind, and getting good pastoral or professional, Bible-based counseling is a very good idea.

Friday Counseling Issues: Abandonment–Worthlessness

When someone you love, and you thought loved  you, walks out of your life, it leaves you feeling worthless, unimportant,  unworthy of their love, time, or consideration.  It is easy to generalize the deserter’s behavior and carry the blame yourself,  generalizing the behavior onto everyone else who comes into your life. The irony, of course, is that you then go on to attract the sort of people who will, indeed, abandon you.

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Here’s the thing. There are some specific thinking errors that are plaguing you, and will do so until you recognize and correct them. And yes, you can!

So first, let’s look at who the victim was and who the perpetrator was in this first desertion, which happened early in your life. Perhaps your mother or your father left the family with very little notice and no excuses given.  Perhaps you stood at a door or a window, watching that parent leave, not understanding that  he or she would never return.  Perhaps the leaving took place while you were asleep, and you woke up to an empty house that never felt right again.   However it happened, the chances are pretty good that you, the victim,  took the blame on yourself. Your thinking was full of “What did I do?  Wasn’t I good enough? I promise, if she’ll just come back I’ll always be good!  Didn’t I make him happy? Weren’t my grades good enough for her?  Is it because I’m not pretty/handsome, not thin, not tall, not brilliant?”

 There was no one there to straighten out your erroneous thinking, because everyone else in the household was also caught in the trap of shock and hurt. You probably internalized all your fears and feelings, never burdening anyone else with your questions. As you grew up, you found it harder and harder to let people in to your life, not trusting anyone not to hurt  you again.

And sure enough, the first guy or girl you dated, the one you thought understood you and would love you forever, walked out on you. And so the cycle continues. What happens over time is that you become more and more convinced that you have nothing to offer anyone, and so you hold on so tightly that people do eventually leave you.

What is the first thinking error?  It is that you were to blame. You are believing that somehow you, as a child, had the power to force your parent to leave the family. You have convinced yourself that  your parent had no other choice, that because of you and you alone that person had no option but to leave. You weren’t worth staying for.

What you don’t see, or perhaps can’t see, is that the adult who deserted you was the one to blame.  That person could have chosen to stay, but was too selfish, distraught. perhaps depressed, to make the best decision. And once it was made, there was no going back.  No one, not you nor anyone else, was holding a gun to that parent’s head forcing him or her to walk out the door.  No child has the power to control the parents’ choices. It was not your doing. The one who left is the perpetrator, not you. You were the innocent victim of a selfish, dysfunctional adult.

That’s enough to think about for now. To be continued next week.

New Counseling Issues Topic: Abandonment

One of the most difficult emotional problems people carry is a sense of abandonment.  Perhaps one or the other parent left the family with no notice, when the person was a young child. Perhaps there was a sudden and unexpected death. Perhaps a parent was physically present, but not emotionally present, as the child was growing up. There could be any number of other reasons a person grows up feeling abandoned and carries those emotions into adulthood.

Adults who carry this sense of abandonment can show a variety of symptom including guilt, worthlessness, insecurity, withdrawal, bad habits, a need for excessive reassurance, self-complacence, and self-mutilation. They often are drawn into unhealthy friendships or love relationships in which the other person holds all the power. Their fear of being abandoned is so strong that they desire to leave the relationship, but hesitate to do so for fear of hurting the other person in the same way they themselves are hurt. Instead of leaving, they sometimes begin to mistreat the other person to the point of making the other person want to leave. Their worst fears have been realized as they face yet another abandonment.

As we look at each of these symptoms, my prayer will be that anyone who is reading, who struggles with feelings of abandonment, will realize that God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). He is the One we can depend upon, no matter what, Who never betrays our trust.