Why we abandon ourselves and how to stop

Self-Abandonment: What It Is and How to Stop

Do you have a hard time trusting yourself? Do you hide parts of yourself – your feelings, beliefs, and ideas – in order to fit in or please others? Do you diminish or discount your feelings because you think they don’t matter?

This is self-abandonment.

We abandon ourselves when we don’t value ourselves, when we don’t act in our own best interest, and when we don’t encourage and comfort ourselves.

Notice how many of these examples of self-abandonment ring true for you.

Self-Abandonment: What It Is and How to Stop

Examples of self-abandonment:

  • Not trusting your instincts – second-guessing yourself, overthinking and ruminating, letting others make decisions for you, and assuming they know more than you do.
  • People-pleasing – seeking validation from others, suppressing your needs and interests to please others.
  • Hiding parts of yourself – giving up your interests and goals, not sharing your feelings.
  • Perfectionism – having unrealistically high expectations for yourself, never feeling worthy regardless of how much you do and what you accomplish.
  • Self-criticism and judgment – saying hurtful and mean things to yourself when you don’t meet your own painfully high standards.
  • Not honoring your needs – not recognizing that your needs are valid, failing to practice self-care, feeling unworthy of self-care.
  • Suppressing your feelings – pushing away uncomfortable feelings through denial, mood-altering substances, and avoidance.
  • Not acting according to your values – doing things to please others even if they go against your beliefs and values.
  • Codependent relationships – focusing on someone else’s needs, wants, and problems and neglecting yourself.
  • Not speaking up for yourself – not asking for what you need, not setting and enforcing boundaries, letting people take advantage of you.

Why we abandon ourselves

Self-abandonment begins in childhood. It’s likely that your parents or other influential adults didn’t meet your emotional and/or physical needs in childhood – they abandoned you emotionally or physically — causing you to feel unworthy and unlovable.

As adults, we tend to repeat these types of patterns from childhood because they’re familiar; we repeatedly choose partners and friends who mistreat, take advantage of, or don’t support us. And we do the same to ourselves. We don’t know how to be there for ourselves because no one was truly there for us as children.

Self-abandonment is a learned behavior, a way you tried to cope with unhealthy or dysfunctional family dynamics. Children depend on adults to meet their emotional and physical needs.

But when you live in an unpredictable, chaotic, or abusive family, you learn to hide your true self. You act like a chameleon, morphing into whatever role will keep the peace and help you avoid ridicule, put-downs, physical and emotional pain.

You learn to suppress your feelings and needs, that your worth depends on what you accomplish or do (and whatever you do, it’s never enough), that your needs, interests, goals don’t matter, and that you don’t deserve love and compassion.

Numbing our feelings with food is a common form of self-abandonment.
Numbing our feelings with food is a common form of self-abandonment.

Self-abandonment is a self-destructive pattern that can contribute to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and unfulfilling relationships. Abandoning yourself may have been a necessity during childhood, but it isn’t helpful anymore. So, let’s look at how you can begin to trust and value yourself.

How to stop abandoning yourself

In her autobiography, fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg wrote, “The most important relationship in your life is the relationship you have with yourself. Because no matter what happens, you will always be with yourself.” You need to be able to rely on yourself. And your relationship with yourself becomes the template for all the other relationships you form.

As such, we need to cultivate a loving relationship with ourselves – even if it feels uncomfortable and even if we’re not entirely sure how to do it. We need to start showing up for ourselves, allowing ourselves to freely express ourselves, and recognizing that we’re flawed but completely worthy.

You stop abandoning yourself and start creating a loving relationship with yourself when you do the following.

Allow yourself to have feelings and needs

Everyone has feelings and needs. You may not have been allowed to express them as a child (or even in some of your adult relationships), but you can now be a safe haven for your own feelings and needs. If you listen, your feelings will tell you what you need and when you meet your needs, you’ll be happier and healthier.

To begin, practice identifying your feelings throughout the day. If this is new to you, it can help to use a list of feeling words (such as this one). Then ask yourself, “I’m feeling ___________. What do I need right now?”

The objective is to stay present with your difficult feelings, rather than to abandon yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Meditation is another tool that can help you cultivate acceptance of and tolerance for your feelings. Many people enjoy meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer.

Be authentic

Try not to hide parts of yourself out of fear of disapproval or judgment. Not everyone is going to like you – and that’s okay. Don’t shrink or change to please others. Express who you are through your work, creative pursuits, your hairstyle and clothes, your hobbies, interests, and passion projects. If you feel out of touch with the real you, spend some time rediscovering what you like and what matters to you.

Practice self-compassion

Everyone deserves care and comfort when they are suffering. Often, we’re great a doing this for others, but we minimize our own struggles and fail to love ourselves when we need it the most.

On her website, self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff, Ph.D. suggests, “Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?”

Most of us weren’t taught about the importance of self-compassion as children, so we need to teach ourselves these skills as adults. And if your parents didn’t show you compassion, this may feel quite foreign. It will get easier and more comfortable with practice.

The basic tenants of self-compassion are:

  1. Notice when you’re struggling. Noticing your feelings and your body sensations (muscle tension, aches and pains, rapid heart rate, and so on) will help you notice when you’re experiencing a disappointment, loss, or hard time.
  2. Recognize that everyone suffers, has difficulties, and makes mistakes. When you do this, you feel connected to others through your struggles rather than isolated and inadequate because of them.
  3. Mindful awareness of your negative feelings. The goal is to be aware of your feelings, but not to judge them. You want to give them space, but not let them define us.

You might also think about what concrete actions you can take to comfort yourself. I’ve written several articles with ideas for practicing self-compassion that you can find here and here.

Stand up for yourself

Another important aspect of self-love is standing up for yourself or being assertive. I know it can be scary to assert yourself and set boundaries. Most of us are afraid of offending or angering people – and afraid that we’ll be abandoned if we do.

But the alternative — letting others walk all over you — is self-abandonment. It’s saying, “Other people’s needs and wants matter more than mine. And I will accept disrespect, invalidation, and blame because I don’t think I’m worthy of anything better.” This isn’t the foundation of a healthy relationship with anyone! To learn more about setting boundaries, you can read this blog post or watch this short video.

How will you start to show up for yourself?

Will you listen to what your body and feelings are telling you?

Will you prioritize self-care?

Will you do what feels right for you even if others disapprove?

Will you comfort yourself when you’re having a hard time?

Will you set boundaries without feeling guilty?

It doesn’t matter where you begin, just take one small step today to value yourself.

©2021 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Photos courtesy of Canva.com.

Examples of self-abandonment

This site is for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended to nor should it be used to diagnose or treat any mental health or medical issues or advise you on your particular issues, questions, or decisions. You are solely responsible for how you use the information provided on this website and the consequences of your actions.

Sharon Martin is a psychotherapist, writer, speaker, and media contributor on emotional health and relationships. She specializes in helping people uncover their inherent worth and learn to accept themselves -- imperfections and all! Sharon writes a popular blog called Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism: Evidence-Based Skills to Help You Let Go of Self-Criticism, Build Self-Esteem, and Find Balance and several ebooks including Navigating the Codependency Maze.

8 thoughts on “Self-Abandonment: What It Is and How to Stop”

  1. This was like a lightning bolt for me. This unfortunately describes me to a tee. Thank you for this insight and direction for healthy healing.

  2. this article is an answer to a lot of my problems based on self-abandonment! really good information! thank you!

      1. I have been thinking of this concept a lot. It’s not so black and white, but realizing more of the self abandonment part has opened a door for me that has been empowering. I was able to reframe a doctor’s appointment and my triggers into a much more empowering way that I have usually experienced usually putting me down in the dumps. I am excited to how this unfolds for me. I can usually handle people leaving, etc., but now I see more clearly the development in my lifetime.

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