Dysfunctional families and parents come in many styles and carry out many different dynamics. One of the most damaging styles or dynamic is one where as a child you are abandoned or you live in fear of abandonment. This can be actual physical abandonment or emotional abandonment. Threats of abandonment are damaging also and are also common in these families. You may have lived in fear of being abandoned if you did not please your parent or caregiver.
This fear often manifests itself as depression as you feel helpless to control the impending abandonment. You may have suffered stomachaches or headaches as a child, signs of anxiety. You may not have known if the threats were real or if your parents were using these threats as a disciplinary technique. As a child you really shouldn’t have to think about that. You ideally would be in a safe and nurturing environment where your behavior was corrected in a constructive manner.
This parenting dynamic can be carried out by one parent or both. When parents fight with each other and one then threatens to leave all the time it creates fear and uncertainty. When a parent storms out of the house in anger you wonder if they are coming back.
If you are adopted or are from a step family or divorced family where one of your parents did not uphold contact or care with you after leaving you may suffer from attachment disorders or other emotional difficulties having to do with abandonment. You may have blamed yourself for the parent not sticking around. You feel if you had been “better” your parent would still be there.
Even the death of a parent can trigger symptoms, as well as the loss of a parent who is hospitalized for long periods. Even though this situation was not deliberate by your the parent, it may have felt like you had been abandoned. If everyone in the family was focused on the ill person, your emotional needs and fears may not have been addressed.
When actually abandoned, the idea or core belief is established that you are unlovable or unwanted.
If your parents used this technique to discipline it is likely that they suffered from an attachment disorder or other emotional difficulty themselves, starting in their own childhood. It was imprinted on them also that if you don’t please the parent, love may be withheld. A belief that they then passed on to you.
If you grew up under these conditions you may not handle separation well, as you expect to be abandoned. That pending abandonment feeling can be fueled by very subtle things, like your partner being distracted or non-attentive. When in relationships, there is a pervasive feeling and belief that the other person will eventually be gone. These trust issues tend to hang on for life if not addressed.
Here are some examples of the kinds of statements heard in these dysfunctional households:
- I am going to call the orphanage and give you away if you don’t behave
- I am going to call the snake farm and see if they’re hungry today.
- I don’t care what you do; I give up on you.
- Do you want me to stop this car and put you out?
- You can all stay here, I am leaving. Fend for yourselves.
Below are 19 emotional difficulties commonly experienced by adult children of abandoning/emotionally unavailable parents:
- Abusive relationship
- Anxiety Disorders or symptoms
- Attachment Disorders
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Care-taking and Codependency
- Chaotic Lifestyle
- Clingy/needy behavior
- Compulsive behaviors may develop
- Desperate relationships/relationships that happen too fast
- Disturbances of mood, cannot self-regulate and experiences emotions in extreme
- Extreme jealousy and possessiveness
- Lack of confidence, self-esteem issue
- May be poor at self-soothing
- People-pleasing behaviors to detriment of self.
- Poor coping strategies
- Relationship problems
- Trust issues
If any of these describe you or if you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions it is likely that you feel bad about yourself. You may be being treated for a biochemical disorder or feel you have a mental illness. The sad part is that given what you experienced, how your brain dealt with it is normal. That is the way anyone would feel when abandoned. It does not mean something is wrong with you. It means something was wrong with your caregivers care-taking abilities and it created emotional distress for you.
Your brain developed coping mechanisms designed to protect you. It developed distrust in order to not be hurt again. It developed anxiety to be watchful for the same reasons and so on. It told you to develop strategies for hanging on to people so you wouldn’t be left alone. Even if those strategies might not be great for you in the long run. Remember, the underlying powerful emotion driving these developments is fear. Fear can make us do funny things. Not funny ha ha but funny as in hard to explain.
Understanding this is critical to your well-being. It does not mean you have to reject, confront, blame or punish your parents in some way. It just means you have to gain insight into what was the true starting point of your current emotional difficulties in order to develop a clear path to feeling better. As a child you couldn’t do much to escape your distress but as an adult you can conquer it by understanding its roots and putting it in it’s place.
Sherman, A. (2017). 19 Lasting Effects of Abandoning or Emotionally Unavailable Parents. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/dysfunction/2017/07/19-lasting-effects-of-abandoning-or-emotionally-unavailable-parents/