6 Ways Being Abandoned as A Child Affects You
Healing Means a Place to Grieve
Did you suffer abandonment as a child? Were you neglected? The child of divorce. In foster care. Or left to figure things out on your own? If so, you may still be suffering the effects.
It’s never too late for help or healing. But that often takes a kind of trust that’s hard to come by if your childhood was hard. And, it also means being able to grieve.
Yet, sadness can seem immense, like you might drown in it. It’s hard to grieve alone.
If you can’t grieve, it affects your whole life. You’re living with a broken heart and might not even know it. Maybe you keep telling yourself, “get over it.” Or, not to trust again.
There are good reasons to think this way. But you have to admit, you aren’t very happy.
If you haven’t had help, it’s not at all uncommon to still be suffering. You’re doing nothing wrong. Children need secure love. Not broken promises. Or, betrayal.
When you didn’t have secure love, it can have lasting effects. But it’s not impossible to heal.
6 Ways Abandonment As A Child Affects You
1. Problems with Love & Trust
Children need someone to count on. At least one parent to turn to when something hurts. Being left by a parent, or both of them, for whatever reason, is very traumatic. Abandonment as a child leaves scars.
And, it’s even more devastating when no one notices how sad you are. You feel completely alone. You have no one count on. What do you do with all the hurt?
You have no choice but to go away from your feelings. To shut them down as if they don’t exist. Living with all the hurt and heartbreak is just too much.
Sometimes, you’re scared and lonely. though. But, who can you trust? You don’t want to need anything. From anyone. It seems like you can only count on yourself.
You have no control over people leaving. So how can you trust that others won’t? Deep down, you believe they will. A voice inside your head is on you all the time:
“Don’t open up. You’ll get hurt. It’s your fault if they leave. You always say the wrong thing. Don’t show any needs. You’re too much.” That voice goes on and on and on.
What is it? And, why is it there? You want to get rid of it. It won’t leave you alone.
2. Negative Voice in Your Head
The only way to “get rid” of that harsh voice is not to believe it. That’s easier said than done. The voice started a long time ago. Maybe even before you were abandoned as a child. There are three major reasons for it being there.
#1: That voice declares what you believed was mirrored about you as a child. When you’re abandoned or traumatized early, it’s hard to feel it wasn’t your fault in some way.
Even though it wasn’t.
So, that voice in your head, always finding fault with you, comes from never feeling good enough. Maybe even echoing ways you were criticized, yelled at, or treated cruelly.
Children believe it. Confidence and good self-esteem can’t grow that way. Nor can trust.
#2: Sometimes that voice intends to drive you, to “make you better,” more lovable, “good” in other’s eyes. It thinks if you are “perfect,” that’s what makes people stay.
No one is perfect.
You can’t feel good about yourself in such a negative space in your mind, any more than you could as a child. But you don’t know another way. Abandonment as a child hurts. And, getting help scares you.
So, that negative voice has another purpose.
#3: It thinks it’s protecting you.
Sound strange? It’s not, although it’s questionably helpful. But you believe it.
It screams out warnings. Rules. Restrictions. Dangers. “Don’t trust. Remember, better not open up. You know what will happen if you do — it’s happened in the past.”
It can be loud. It’s hard to block out the past. Or, your feelings. Things remind you. Of being abandoned as a child.
Sometimes you feel sad and don’t want to. Or you want love and don’t know how to find it. Sometimes this leads to self-destructive behaviors. Those take many forms.
3. Self-Destructive Behaviors
When you don’t know what to do with your feelings, you’ve got to find some way. Sometimes those ways aren’t healthy. Or they end up with you turning against yourself.
#1 You might try to blot out your feelings with alcohol or drugs. And, sometimes you have to use too much, trying to keep them down. You develop an addiction.
You don’t know any other way to manage.
#2 You have thoughts of ending your life. Or, you self-mutilate. Harming your body or wanting it all to end — is the only way you can imagine stopping your emotional pain.
A therapist who knows the trauma of abandonment as a child can help.
#3 You turn to sex. More, with strangers or people, you don’t get too close to. Sex might also involve drugs or alcohol. It’s a way to have some form of “love,” which often backfires.
You want love, but can’t really risk it. That’s what happens when you were abandoned as a child. Yet, when your attempts at some form of love don’t work, it can also leave you hurt (if you mistook it for love), or with a lot of shame.
There’s something else that happens when you need some kind of connection and don’t know how to find it. Or trust it. This often leads to choosing the wrong kinds of friends.
4. Choosing the Wrong Friends
When you’ve been hurt by love, abandoned as a child, (or kids have bullied you), it’s hard to know who is a friend and who is not. Trust isn’t easy to come by. You live with hard edges and walls.
You have to protect yourself.
But you don’t really know how. And, you also live with a lot of anger, aware of it or not. That anger makes you tough. Or you try to be. Banishing the sensitive kid that you were, before you were abandoned.
Maybe you befriend people just as tough as you are. The ones that get their power by being bullies. Like the bullies who bullied you? Trying not to care?
Or, you’re the one always taking care of other people.
Since you’ve shut out all your needs, you find people in your life who need a whole lot in a way that you can’t. Since you can only rely on yourself, you also give too much.
And, you feel suffocated and trapped in many ways.
You can’t be yourself. You have to give what you think people want. Or deny your needs and feelings in one way or another. You hide. Or lie. To people. And to yourself.
Probably, you don’t see any other ways out.
You don’t think people will like you for the real you. Can’t trust anyone if you need anything, so you try not to know you do. Fear does a lot of things.
Mostly, when you’re devastated and abandoned as a child, it makes you distrust. Even those who want to help. Something you’ve learned not to believe in.
So, if you’re scared and can’t trust, what’s another way to get power over the fear?
5. Building Self-Protective Walls
Maybe you aren’t one for drugs or alcohol. Or self-destructive thoughts or behaviors. Yet, you’ve had to protect yourself from the fear there isn’t anyone to really count on.
You’ve built hard walls around yourself. Closed down to love. Not believing it’s there. Or that you can have it. Or not really trusting it completely when love does show up.
Maybe, you’ve let very few people in. Can’t let them know you. If you have, there’s a limit. Because usually, having to be tough, means not letting yourself be “needy.” At all.
You think there’s something terribly wrong with any kind of dependency. There’s not. But, if you’ve been abandoned and hurt, there are reasons for thinking that way.
Maybe you even think that being tough is the best defense you have?
That way, walls intact, no one can hurt you again. Yet, you know what the biggest problem is? You end up abandoning who you are. The real you. The “you,” hidden inside.
And, especially — the you that might really like to have someone to tell your feelings to. Even, someone to lean on. At least, once in a while. Toughing it out alone is hard.
6. Toughing It Out Alone (& Tired of It)
In fact, toughing it out alone is exhausting.
You were alone as a child. Then you didn’t have a choice. Now you don’t know how, or where, it’s safe to open up. You might find yourself wanting to. Maybe you’ve tried.
Maybe, in your trying, you’ve chosen the wrong people and been hurt again. That only confirms what that voice in your head tells you: “Watch out. You can’t trust anyone.”
When you’ve been hurt as a child, the possibility of love can feel lost, even when it isn’t.
There might even be love in your life that you can’t fully let in. Maybe you’re so wary from the past, that actions are misconstrued. Become betrayal in your mind.
Then, you feel there’s no other choice but to turn away and stay shut down.
Is that true?
Not everyone is like those who abandoned you, even though it might seem like they are. Remember places where there was (and is) love. That can’t be taken away.
Unless you stop letting it into your heart.
If you’re tired of being alone and you can’t get out of this conundrum on your own, reach out for help. There are therapists who understand what you’re going through.
And, also, how much sadness and fear you live with every day.
How to Get Help & Heal
It’s important to find a therapist who knows about abandonment as a child. And, gives you a place to feel and grieve. Grieving goes a long way to finding the real self you’ve shut out. Maybe never knew you had.
What do you look for?
Interview therapists until you find someone who “gets you.” Give it a couple of sessions (unless there is a red flag right way) to see if this is someone you can trust.
You should hear things that make you feel understood right away. That this person understands how abandonment as a child affects you. And, might offer a safe place for your feelings. Even though trust takes time.
The therapist you choose should know how and why you can’t immediately trust. Or show feelings. Must see the negative voice. Understand your self-destructive behaviors.
And, never judge.
You need someone to get how hurt you are. Someone who knows the ways hurt becomes a prison. And, can make you feel safe giving up your walls. When you can.
Someone to help break through the icy shell that blocks out all the hurt. When you can trust they are there — to emotionally hold your pain. And, you know, you’re not alone.
A Place for Feelings & Grief
When you find this kind of therapy, then you can begin to feel the feelings you’ve blocked out. Your sadness and your anger. You can talk honestly about all your feelings.
To a therapist who helps you face the reality of the past, not blame yourself anymore, and sees the negative voice in your head for what it is and why it exists.
In a therapy that offers you a safe haven for your feelings, you can finally cry. And, grieve, for all that you lost as a child (and after.) You’ll feel a freedom you haven’t felt.
And, out of this, you’ll also find happiness and the real self you haven’t been able to be. A self you will feel safe bringing to all relationships. Or you’ll leave them if you can’t.
Yes, now you can. If you stick with it and have a place for your feelings and your grief.
This piece was written for and first published on my Moving Forward blog.