The abandonment wound seems to be an under-represented area in mental health. Just like complex trauma is not listed as a diagnosis in the DSM, neither is abandonment mentioned as a cause for some of the mental illness issues experienced by people.
I often write about narcissistic abuse. One thing I noticed about narcissistic abuse is that it can cause an abandonment wound in the victim. Oftentimes people think of abuse as involving some sort of physical, verbal, or sexual violation; however, many victims of abuse are not even yelled at. Some victims of abuse are simply neglected and ignored. Not many people in the helping professions address the injury caused by rejection or desertion.
Emotional abandonment is the result of a significant person discarding you, dismissing you, devaluing you, or not acknowledging you. This type of invisible injury causes great harm to the recipient. In fact, the term “recipient” is ironic because often the recipient receives nothing; which is the problem.
Receiving nothingness from a loved one is an emotional abandonment that cuts deeply in the heart of the target. No one sees it and it tends to go underground in terms of abuse. Victims simply feel empty and invisible.
Victims of overt abuse may not comprehend, initially, how it feels to be invisible because they often wish they could hide and become unseen. However, it is a mistaken belief that being invisible to a significant other, or even to a non-significant other, is a good thing. People need to feel that they matter to others.
Being invisible to your loved one is an existential wound. It causes you to feel that you don’t matter and questions your right to even exist. Research has found that one of the primary ways to injure a person is to remove him or her from significant human contact; particularly communication.
One form of narcissistic abuse involves the control of communication. This can happen in many forms – crazy-making conversations; stone-walling; diatribes; not addressing an issue; unwillingness to resolve a conflict; ignoring; etc.
The silent treatment, a common weapon of narcissists and other emotional abusers, causes deep feelings of abandonment in the recipient. Some people are so hurt by recurring incidents of the silent treatment that they turn to substance abuse, anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication, or even suicide to escape the emptiness.
The abandonment wound can also be caused by an absent parent. When one of your parents has chosen to not be in your life, this cuts deeply. There is no easy explanation to be found by those who’ve been abandoned by a parent. Some try to make the best of the situation, ignoring that fact that they don’t have this parent in their lives; but the damage is still the same. There are life-long consequences to parental abandonment.
People learn to cope in different ways. Some pretend it doesn’t matter; some question their worth; others may be openly angry. With abandonment comes defense mechanisms.
In order to heal from any type of loss, there is only one main solution – grief. If you have been abandoned, either permanently or temporarily, then you are hurt. The only way to heal an emotional hurt is to grieve. Here are some steps you can take to grieve from the loss caused by abandonment:
- Write a letter to the object of your abandonment. Tell him/her all your feelings of sadness, anger, rejection, confusion, etc. This letter is not to be given to the person; it is written in order to process your feelings.
- Write a letter to your feelings of longing. Rather than focusing on the person who has hurt you, focus on the feelings themselves. Focus on where the hurt is stored in your body. Draw a picture of your longing. Creatively identify how you experience your longing. Sit with your feelings.
- Let yourself feel. In fact, go in to your feelings. The more you allow yourself to experience the feelings of grief, the quicker will be the healing process.
Once you have identified your grief and have processed through some of the feelings there are some other imagery exercises you can to do heal yourself as well. These are described below:
- Identify the part of you that is hurt. This can be labeled as your, “hurt inner child.” If the source of your hurt occurred in adulthood, this does not matter because the wound of abandonment most likely put you in a regressive state of mind. You have likely regressed emotionally to a younger, more helpless age. Use imagery and visualize this inner child.
- Now imagine the part of you that is healthy and compassionate. This part of you is going to be instrumental in your healing. He/she must come to the rescue of your inner, hurt self by offering love, time, empathy, hope, and encouragement.
- In addition to the hurt part of yourself, identify your coping mechanisms – particularly any personas or sub-selves that act out; the part of you that is trying to compensate for the hurt experienced by the abandonment of your loved one. Identify parts of you that are trying to respond to the hurt in an unhealthy manner.
- Talk to your inner hurt, abandoned child. Assure him/her of his/her value and worth. Be present for him/her in a real and tangible way.
In the end, no matter who has hurt you, no matter how affected you may be from the resulting injury, you still have a life to live. Even if you have an ache in your heart for the missing person, you can still thrive in life; find hope and love, and live well. You do this by honoring your feelings, acknowledging the loss, validating the consequences of the loss, and enjoying your life.
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