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 really 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.
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 in order 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.
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:
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.
Allow yourself to be creative, quirky, and uniquely you.
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, commit some time to rediscovering what you like and what matters to you.
Treat yourself with 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, who ever 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Stand up for yourself
Another important aspect of self-love and trust is advocating for yourself. 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.” Clearly, this isn’t the foundation of a healthy relationship with anyone. To learn more about setting boundaries, you can read this blog post or use the practical exercises in my workbook Setting Boundaries without Guilt.
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.