Dr. Kevin Klar
Abandonment is the experience of being left or rejected; and this can be as a result of a physical abandonment (for example, a wife who is left by her husband or a child who is deserted by their parents) or emotional abandonment, where the emotional nourishment needed to make a child or adult thrive is not provided by the person whose responsibility it is to provide this in a loving relationship.
What is emotional abandonment?While physical abandonment is a tangible traumatic event, emotional abandonment can be more complex to identify, work through, or even perceive, as in some cases it can be subtle. While death, divorce, and obvious emotional abuse can lead to a child feeling this way, even slight nuances in family relationships can result in a sense of dysfunctionality.
A child whose otherwise loving parents are heavily committed to their work, for instance, could experience an impact on their self-esteem and their fear of being abandoned in some way. Often, this is only unpacked later in life, when other relationships seem to deteriorate in a regular pattern or cycle.
Emotional abandonment is not a standalone condition, such as depression, but it is a form of anxiety and will give rise to varied symptoms.
In relationships, a person who fears being abandoned will generally be overly concerned with meeting the needs of the other person, struggle to trust others or enjoy true emotional intimacy, push people away to have some kind of control over not being the one to be rejected, feel insecure in relationships and friendships, move quickly from one relationship to the next, be codependent and/or pursue unhealthy relationships.
When an emotionally scarred person tends to attract friendships and romantic relationships that are toxic, this is known as re-enactment and is a subconscious way of trying to resolve past trauma. Sadly, most get caught up in the negative cycle and cannot move beyond it, leading to further dysfunctionality that is passed on from one generation to the next.
A trained biblical counselor can provide input and support for a Christian who is navigating emotional abandonment, either due to childhood experiences or as an adult. Acknowledging the hurt that was endured and the pain that persists is the first step in healing and recovery.
It’s also important to show compassion to yourself; it can be easy to show compassion to others, but often, when it comes to how we view ourselves, we can be overly critical and harsh.
A child who has been the victim of emotional abandonment will often see themselves as being the problem, and that idea that something is “wrong with them” will follow them into adulthood. Compassion involves lifting that immediate blame away from the self, and perhaps actively forgiving the parent or person involved in causing the trauma in the first place.
Finding support from the Scriptures.
At the heart of healing from emotional abandonment is realizing and truly holding on to the fact that you are a child of God, and deeply loved by Him, regardless of how hurt you have been by people. Every person was made in His image and as a result, has value and is worthy of love. This is a foundational truth that sounds simple but can be difficult, as sinful individuals, to truly grasp.
A counselor can help you delve into Scripture and get to grips with this truth, which is the key to moving forward. Some Bible verses which can be helpful in dealing with emotional abandonment include:
Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me. – Isaiah 49:15-16, NASB
This verse is a wonderful reminder that God is the perfect parent; and that even if we have had the worst experience of childhood and have not felt loved by our mothers or fathers, we can never say that we are not loved by God, who explicitly states that He is not able to forget us.
We are so loved that He has written our names on His palms, and He is constantly close to us, closer than we can even imagine. Emotional abandonment can make a person feel unloved and unlovable, but it is in discovering and trusting in the true source of all love, God’s love, that we can begin a journey toward healing.
This is one of many calls in God’s Word to be courageous. We need to strengthen ourselves and be brave to accept the emotional abandonment which we have experienced and move through it; we cannot remain stuck in our pain. The great relief is that we don’t need to muster up this strength on our own, but instead, can rely on God being with us in everything we face and everything we do, and ask Him to give us the strength we need to face our psychological demons.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not be terrified nor dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9, NASB
Trust in the Lord with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5,6 NASB
We can cling to this verse when in the depths of despair and not knowing which way to turn. God promises that if we put our trust in Him, relinquishing ourselves to true submission to Him and His Word, He will cut a clear path for us and show us the way through.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, having cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares about you. – I Peter 5:6,7 NASB
Dealing with emotional abandonment can take time; healing might not come easily or quickly. But we are reminded in the verse above that if we continue to humble ourselves before God, coming to Him with our true needs and laying our souls bare before Him, at the right time, He will “exalt” us.
We do not know specifically what this exaltation (‘lifting up’) looks like, but we can be assured that, if we have been walking this journey in prayer, we will experience being exalted in due time. We will not remain in a low place forever.
We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying around in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. – 2 Corinthians 4: 8-10, NASB
This verse from 2 Corinthians lays out the experience of every Christian at some point in their lives. Our troubles do not necessarily look the same, but the reality is that we all experience hardship and suffering of some kind on this side of heaven. Unlike unbelievers though, we cannot be driven to utter despair by them, because we are alive in Christ, and have an unshakeable future hope.
Next steps for overcoming emotional abandonment.
Emotional abandonment can be a grueling burden to carry, but the benefits of working through the issue and coming out stronger on the other side will outweigh the pain of a life impaired by a psychological wound.
It also demonstrates obedience to Christ, who commands us to come to Him when we are weary and burdened, and give our loads to Him to carry; He is more than able to deal with our pain and use it for our good and His glory.
If you’d like the support of a Christian counselor to help you overcome the effects of emotional abandonment, please don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the other counselors in our online counselor directory.
“Grief”, Courtesy of Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Child with Arms Crossed”, Courtesy of Chinh Le Duc, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Facing the Future Alone”, Courtesy of Jen Theodore, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Touch the Sun”, Courtesy of Marc Olivier Jodoin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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