Emotional abandonment is a hidden pain that many people carry but don’t realize how it affects them now. They may think of abandonment as being physically separated from a loved one, or perhaps neglected. But emotional abandonment can be just as painful because the one who is abandoning you emotionally is still present w ith you.
People often first experienced this dynamic as children, and now the resulting problems may carry over into adult relationships. An experienced Christian counselor can help you determine if you have experienced emotional abandonment and how you can heal from it.
Emotional Abandonment in Childhood
All of us are born with basic needs since we are created in God’s image. God has designed families to meet these needs for us. However, many children did not experience the fulfillment of these needs, which can lead to problems in adulthood.
These are the needs all of us have, starting in childhood:
- To be loved
- To have companions
- To be nurtured
- To be valued
- To be listened to
- To be understood
- To be appreciated
- To be accepted
- To receive affection
If a child experiences a disconnect from his or her primary caretaker, which is usually the mother, he or she can suffer many hurts. For a child to develop in a healthy way, he needs his mother to be attuned to his emotions, then to reflect them back to him.
He needs his mother to be aware of his needs and meet them in a timely way. But if she does not meet his needs due to a lack of empathy, preoccupation with her own needs, or emotional coldness, he can feel rejected and isolated.
Emotional abandonment can also occur with a parent who gives a lot of attention, but it is not the type of attention the child needs. For example, a parent may invest much effort into a child’s sports activities, when the child prefers the arts. Since the child’s primary needs are not met, she feels emotionally abandoned even while her parent lavishes attention of the wrong kind.
Parents may also emotionally abandon their children through control, criticism, unfair treatment, or devaluing a child’s experience or emotions. They may also cause a child to feel abandoned by treating him in ways inappropriate for his age, such as assigning adult-level chores too soon or confiding in a child as if he were an adult. This type of abandonment causes the child to take on too much responsibility, which stifles his own needs for the sake of the parent.
All parents make mistakes that sometimes fall into the category of emotional abandonment. A child’s development may not be harmed by a few of these incidences over time.
However, if emotional abandonment forms long-standing patterns, it can have negative impacts on the child’s self-esteem and sense of security. As the children grow into adulthood, they may exhibit patterns of codependency or experience issues with intimacy due to unhealed emotional abandonment.
Your counselor will help you look at possible reasons for your parents’ emotional abandonment. Sometimes the parent did not learn how to be emotionally available in her own family. Other times the emotional abandonment is due to stress, addiction, or mental illness.
Your parent may have had a work schedule that did not allow him to spend much time with you. In some cases, parents intentionally withheld affection and communication, perhaps due to selfishness. If your parent did not cultivate a mutual interest with you, you may have felt a sense of abandonment too.
The good news is that a caring Christian counselor can help you heal from the abandonment you experienced as a child. You can learn to identify current behaviors that are linked to past abandonment, then reprogram your thoughts and actions with principles in God’s Word.
When you don’t process the emotional abandonment you experienced as a child, you may see carryover problems in your relationships. Unresolved resentment toward your family of origin may cause irritability, withdrawal, or neediness at work, in your friendships, or your family now. With your spouse, you may experience a fear of intimacy, which can harm the quality of your relationship.
If you are feeling ignored, disrespected, not listened to, or left out in your current relationships, you may be repeating the cycles of emotional abandonment you learned growing up. Resentment, withdrawal, criticism, and disappointment can all be signs that your relationships are suffering from problems that developed in childhood. However, you can learn new ways of relating to others as you heal from the wounds you experienced as a child.
Recovering from Emotional Abandonment
You can recover from the hurts you experienced as a child by seeking God as your Healer, and meeting with a Christian counselor who will guide you through the healing process. Here are several tips to help you recover from emotional abandonment.
Study God’s Word It’s important to study God’s character by reading the Bible daily. The more you learn about God, the more you will realize that he isn’t like the people who let you down as a child. He is trustworthy, kind, gentle, encouraging, and loving. He is always present and cares for every detail of your life. God wants to hear your prayers and spend one-on-one time with you every day. His loving presence can fill up the cracks of your broken childhood experience.
By learning to accept God’s unconditional love and support, you can heal from your abandonment wounds. He can handle all the emotions you have as you share them with him in prayer. You can gain the spiritual healing you need with the help of a Christian counselor.
Keep a Journal
As you start your journey of healing, it can be immensely helpful to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings. Journaling will help you uncover memories that have been buried for a long time that need to heal. It can help you track your progress over time.
You can learn where you need to make progress and where you need to celebrate victories. Your journal can be a springboard for fruitful discussions with your counselor, who will help you work through all the feelings you write down.
Embrace the Grief Process
Grieving is something most of us have not learned to do very well. But you must grieve the losses you experienced in childhood to fully heal. Your counselor can guide you through the grief process, which involves steps of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before you reach acceptance. The grieving process is painful, but it’s a good kind of pain that produces strength and promotes healing.
Change Your Relationships
Though your dysfunctional relationships from your original family may not be able to be reconciled, there is still hope for the relationships ahead. With a qualified counselor’s help, you can learn to identify any dysfunction in your relationships now.
You can role-play ways of changing the unhealthy relationship dynamics into healthy ones. Your counselor will help you learn to trust God more so you can rebuild trust in your relationships with others. You can learn to make better choices in relationships and connect with others who will offer love and support.
Christian Counseling for Emotional Abandonment
Since emotional abandonment is a complex, deeply rooted problem, it may be too difficult for you to manage on your own. Meetings with a Christian counselor will provide you with trustworthy, nonjudgmental insight you can’t get yourself. You’ll also receive biblical guidance on how to address your problems now. Contact us today to begin the recovery process.
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