Thursday, June 14, 2018

Childhood Trauma: Abandonment

by John Boodhansingh of Zero Mindfulness

Abandoned. (Or So It Seemed.)

When I was 5 years old, my dad went away for an extended business trip.

I remember nothing about this time.

Ten years later when I was in Boy Scouts, I went to a Summer Camp located an hour from my home. This was the first time I was supposed to be away from my parents for a whole week.

My dad had taken us up to the campsite, intending to stay over only for a night or two. As the time for his departure neared, my innards kept sinking lower and lower. I’d somehow conveyed this pain to him and he stayed another night.

He ended up staying an extra day or two beyond that, as well. I remember this because we’d gone up Sunday night and on Wednesday night (if I recall correctly) there were reports of a possible small plane crash in the area. We were all herded into the mess hall, and as all the other campers talked and sang lively camp songs with the camp workers, I cried my eyes out as my dad handed me tissues. I was scared to death like my life would probably end horribly at any moment.

Somehow, maybe because my crying allowed me to release some deeply-repressed abandonment pain, my dad left the day after but without me losing my grip.

The next year at Summer Camp, I’d felt some discomfort again around the time of my dad’s early departure, but it passed, and the week went on without issue.

“What If He Never Comes?”

While the Summer Camp abandonment issue has, to my memory, been the worst, there are some other incidents I’ve experienced indicative of abandonment trauma.

When I was in high school—located in the depths of Shittown, it might be said—I took a driver’s education class that didn’t end until after dark. And every week while standing outside waiting to be picked up, I would wonder if my dad was actually going to show up; if he was going to arrive before some hoodlum shot me or stabbed me, before the school's lights went off and the doors were locked, before I would give up and walk home (and hope I wouldn’t be shot or stabbed on the way).

Well, my dad showed up—he always did. A little late, at times, and this really caused the abandonment fears to chew away at me, but he always picked me up.

There are other abandonment experiences—or perceived abandonment experiences—I’ve had, but these instances are the most prominent for me.

Having now given you an idea of where I stand and what this is about, let’s look into other ways that abandonment originates and manifests, how it is carried generation to generation, and finally, the ways our society is maximized to cause abandonment trauma and how we can correct it.

The Origin of Abandonment

At an early age, one or both of a child’s parents leave the child for anywhere between one second and forever. The child perceives this separation as a monumental loss, a massive vacuum is created within, and then the child carries this vacuum throughout life while
  1. seeking to fill the empty space,
  2. fearing abandonment will happen again, and
  3. creating similar experiences.
It’s common to equate abandonment with a family in which one or both parents walk out on the other family members. However, the incidents vary, and they don’t have to seem, from an adult perspective, as “that big of a deal.”

In a few examples, abandonment trauma can arise when parents leave their kids at daycare while they go to work, when parents go out for only an hour or two, and even when parents simply walk away from their kids for just a moment.

A few years ago when I was at the grocery store, I saw a man whose daughter, around two years old, was sitting in a cart. Rather than simply pushing the cart and his daughter to the location where he was going just ten feet away, the man left them in place and began walking away when his daughter started shrieking in horror. Daddy! Daddy! Come back!

Completely oblivious to her obvious anguish (this itself a sign of both general emotional numbness and repressed abandonment trauma), the guy looked at his daughter with a smile and said, “Don’t worry. I’m right here.” He walked a little further and then stopped such that a large, middle-aisle display sat in the line of sight between him and his daughter. If she hadn’t been a mess already, the girl completely broke down in tears, clearly scared to death as though her father was gone forever.

Small as it must have seemed to the man, an adult, to the little girl this incident really was a big deal.

Abandonment Effects: During Childhood

When abandonment trauma is sustained, a child’s understanding of life becomes overwritten with profound, fear-based programming. What exactly this means and how it plays out will more or less vary from child to child.

If a given child’s birth is easeful, if the first several years of life are healthy, and if the parents have healthy self-images, such a child may have little to no trouble dealing with minor, or potentially even moderate, temporary parental separation. Contrarily, the poorer the conditions of a child’s first years, the harder even the briefest periods separated from one or both parents may be.

A child’s temperament is also a noteworthy factor. For instance, differently-aged siblings or even twins who were standing next to each other when their mother walked out the door forever could have very similar or very dissimilar reactions.

Of the typical adult perspective of a given incident not being “that big of a deal,” it’s important that circumstances not be judged incorrectly. Just because things appear “okay” to one’s self, another witness, or twenty other people, this doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t hurting tremendously. Equally so, a child could appear to handle pain well but has merely taken on a persona of “toughness” in order to cope.

I will say little in this section about specific examples of abandonment trauma as presented in childhood since you can find such examples littered throughout this article. But one thing I do want to mention is this: Imagine a situation in which a parent doesn’t leave forever, but the abandonment trauma still comes to be.

In such situations, the fear will remain that a parent could potentially leave. Depending upon the dispositions of both a parent and child otherwise, this could cause a child to avoid saying or doing certain things for fear the parent will walk out. (Note the guilt complex.) Whether the parent has no ill intention or is in the wrong but would never walk out, the child still may not speak or act in integrity for the sake of his or her imagined survival.

Abandonment Effects: Beyond Childhood

Guilt and the “Pleaser” Control Drama.
Some children who have been abandoned by one or both parents may come to believe that they must have done something wrong and their parents have gone as a punishment. There are likely no legitimate grounds for this, but this is the “I am guilty” belief that some children will take on as completely “true” and “real.”

We can imagine that this type of person might grow up and become a “pleaser.” Whatever energies a person carries, for good or ill, they attract to themselves people who resonate similarly. This person would therefore attract relationships (not necessarily intimate) wherein “pleasing” is part of the dynamic. The little girl whose father had abandoned her, now a grown woman, efforts tirelessly to satisfy men for fear of ever disappointing and possibly losing them.

Interestingly, because the woman attracts this type of man due to her abandonment trauma, it is very possible that this man also carries some kind of abandonment trauma.

He could be compelled toward this woman, a pleaser, because his own mother had left him. As such, he can’t see that the woman doesn’t actually love him and is only playing an egoic game. (She can’t see this either.) But he can see that this woman will hold him so close, that this woman needs him so badly, that she will—hopefully, seemingly—never leave him like his mother had.

“Men Are All the Same.”
But suppose the man’s mother hadn’t left him. Suppose it had been his father.

To whatever degree based on a variety of factors, children mimic their parents. So, if this man’s father had left him, the man as a child would learn “this is how men are” (rather than, with his mother’s departure, “this is how women are.”). The man would then become, to whatever degree, a mirror of his father.

There’s then the vastly heightened potential that no matter how much pleasing the woman could muster up, the man is still going to walk out on her one day.

Also, be aware that since parental abandonment trauma can translate from “father” or “mother” to “all males” or “all females,” respectively, the associated behaviors and mentalities can be reflected in relationships with friends, family, etc.

A boy/man whose father had left him could fear, say, that a male friend will leave him if he isn’t “good enough,” or he could reject his sister’s boyfriend fearing that the boyfriend is going to leave suddenly and hurt his sister.

Life Absent Relationships
A different way of looking at the negative relationship effects of abandonment trauma is this:

As a child continues into adulthood, it’s almost inevitable that this person will want to have intimate relationships. The trouble with this, especially if the person has a weak sense of self-worth, is that such relationships may never come to be.

Suppose a boy’s mother had abandoned him as a child. Even though in later life he might have a profound desire to love and be loved by a female, and even though he might get very close to being in relationships, he might also repeatedly self-sabotage.

Right at the cusp, right when it seems the stars are perfectly aligned and he’s going to ask the girl or the girl is going to ask him, some major difficulty arises (he gets a “perfect” job offer 900 miles away, he says something amazingly misplaced but at the time appears reasonable, or whatever) and the friendship crumbles.

In order to avoid the risk of going all-in and then being abandoned by this girl just as he’d been abandoned by his mother, he unwittingly trashes everything.


There are a few different ways to view abandonment as related to death.

The first is simply to point out that death of a parent (or perhaps another deeply loved one) is potentially a cause for abandonment trauma.

Whether a parent walks away from their kid sitting in a grocery cart, goes on a short business trip, or dies, the abandonment is not likely intended or imagined. Nevertheless, trauma happens, and unhealed trauma can have very painful consequences.

Second, abandonment is a deeply-embedded trauma. This repressed energy and any resultant fears will carry from childhood to death if unhealed.

Consider, for instance, the person who avoids anything that would displease an abandoning parent. This person will forever speak and act in a self-protective way, even past the death of the parent they’d feared being abandoned by. This is for the reason that the child is not ultimately affected by the parents, but by his or her own internal struggles.

The third and final item regards blame.

Blame often pairs with this trauma because death-related abandonment is experienced with ideas of:
  • “You left me too soon.”
  • “I need you here, but you’re gone.”
  • “You’ve deserted me.”
  • “You didn’t give me enough time to prepare.”
  • “You were too young.”
  • “It’s not fair.”
  • “I can’t live without you.”
As much as a person with this trauma would claim that their struggle is about the deceased, in their refusal to let go they’re actually proving that it’s about them. And when we have something that is so focalized around “me, me, me,” there’s necessarily a “you, you, you” attached to it.

Take note that this “you, you, you” isn’t always the deceased one. Ultimately it is, but reactively it may not be. Sometimes people who carry abandonment will blame others for not filling in the gap left by another person’s absence, for not being an adequate replacement.

Rather than accepting a person for who he or she is, the person will be blamed: “Why can’t you be more like [So-and-So]?” “[So-and-So] would have done this; [So-and-So] would have said that.” The abandoned ones may have no ill intentions, but they blame and it hurts, nonetheless. Stemming from a mindset based in unhealed trauma, their rationale for guilt-tripping someone else appears to them as completely legitimate.

Cycles of Suffering

Just as the external world with its celestial bodies, four seasons, etc. operate in a cyclic fashion, so does our inner world. And because this inner world is the source of our external experience, whatever is within it must repeat.

Depending upon the severity of incidents, cycles will operate on daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and/or generational terms. They may also occur when triggered by certain situations which may or may not be in alignment with a specific cycle. For example, in an “easeful” sense, you may frequently ask girls on a dates and they may all say no when “off-cycle,” but the time you really like a girl and get really close only to inadvertently blow it all would likely be “on-cycle.”

Repressed trauma is a major cause of cyclic experience, for these painful circumstances must repeat until we see them, understand why they’re there, and heal them. It’s not uncommon for a given issue to repeat itself, say, every 7 or 10 years in the same month, the same week, and even the same day.

I began this article by mentioning my dad’s business trip when I was 5 years old. Although I remember nothing about this time, I find significance in the fact that (not knowing specific dates) it had happened almost exactly 10 years prior to the camping incident. At 25 years old (I’m now 33), I can’t recall anything major, but right around this next 10-year mark I had a spiritual awakening that could have made a healing difference.

Born into a Culture of Abandonment

Our society runs rampant with abandonment issues. This is so because people are so emotionally numb.

How can we know we’re emotionally numb? Because our ways are generally destructive, and many times we don’t even know it.

Whether it’s our treatment of the Earth, animals, or fellow humans, most of what we currently say and do we would end immediately if we’d begun honoring our true emotional needs.

The crap we’ve been saying and doing to each other—for eons—seriously hurts when we can feel, and no one who can actually feel has the desire to harm anyone or anything. What a person does to another, that person does to his- or herself. When able to feel ourselves, we feel others.

Had that guy at the grocery store been truly able to feel, he’d never have left his daughter. He’d have instantly respected her pain, if not intuitively known beforehand that his walking away could hurt her, and he would have taken her with him.

Look at the way our civilization operates (at least here in the US where we do everything to maximize suffering):

Not long ago (I’m unsure the exact practice now), when children were born in hospitals, they were promptly taken from their mothers and tested or put in another room or whatever. The “wisdom” was that “it’s unhealthy” for mothers and newborns to touch or breastfeed just after birth. (Postpartum depression, anyone? Plus, breastfeeding is absolutely critical for the physical-mental-emotional well-being of both mother and child.) Accordingly, the baby could not be with the father, either.

Nowadays, newborns arrive home, and mothers hardly have a chance to hold their babies before their maternity leave ends and they have to either return to work or lose a job they may need for their survival.

So, they go back to work for eight or more hours per day, and all the while, their children are left at a daycare center in the hands of complete strangers. The father’s been away at work the whole time.

Just a few years ago, I attended a Halloween parade at a daycare center. As the children—ranging in age from several months to maybe 6 years old—paraded around with the daycare workers, their parents and other family and friends stood there smiling, laughing, and taking pictures.

At first, this may sound enjoyable, and to some extent it was—who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing a 3-year-old in a Wolverine costume? However, there were so many kids who were crying their eyes out, who were looking hopefully for mom and dad but not finding them, who had found their parents but their parents kept telling them to go back to the parade without them. (Thankfully, some parents could feel enough to join their kids.)

Far from all, but enough of these kid were clearly hurting. What was also clear is that few people present had a clue of the suffering these kids were going through. The incident was one that I’m sure looked good on paper and sounded good to talk about, but to actually witness, at least for an empath such as myself, the emotional energy of the event was in no way pleasant.

They’re So Common We’re Blind To Them

Throughout the life of a child, there are usually countless instances with potentials for abandonment, especially if there’d been moderate-to-heavy trauma around the time of birth.

Two of the most common are things we may not give a second’s thought to because they are so common.

The first is when parents leave their children, maybe for an extended period, maybe for a full work day, maybe only to go out to dinner.

Depending upon the fragility of a given child, separation from one’s parents can be very traumatic. When a parent drops his kid off at school and the kid completely loses it and cries his eyes out while saying he doesn’t want to be there, what he’s indirectly saying is: Please, don’t abandon me! I’m scared to death! Please, respect my needs!

But numb parents can’t and don’t feel this; they don’t hear the subtleties. “Oh, you’ll be fine,” they say with a smile. There’s trauma in the making, but the parents are clueless. Later in the day the parents might ask their kid how his day was, and the kid might truthfully say that it was good. This doesn’t mean, however, that he hadn’t repressed new or reinforced old trauma earlier in the day.

In our typical American malaise of emotional numbness and mental disarray, our perception of trauma is often that someone’s intestines have to be falling out or they’ve got to be in full-blown psychosis (or both). The self-disconnected parent therefore thinks nothing is wrong since his “emotional” or “wimpy” son didn’t come home missing an arm and spurting blood from his shoulder.

One might argue that such a school situation is okay because kids need to be broken away from their parents. Pay very close attention to what this phrasing actually means. Children shouldn’t be broken away by force (however subtle), but allowed to break away when they’re willing. And they will, easefully, when the time is ripe, assuming there’s no prior abandonment trauma.

The second common thing is the usage of cribs rather than cradles; strollers rather than sling wrap carriers.

When children are born, they need to be held in human arms as much as possible; they need to be wrapped snugly and comfortably, a reminder to them of the safety and comfort of the womb.

What parents often do instead is place a layer of “people clothes” on their babies and then lay them into wide-open cribs with a blanket lightly draped over them. When they go places, rather than holding their children close, parents place their kids into strollers such that the children can no longer feel or even see their parents.

Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin by Ashley Montagu

There’s a book I’ve read that I feel very strongly every person in the universe—especially those who have children or intend to have children—should also read. The name of the book is, Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, written by Ashley Montagu.

In case you didn’t immediately click the above link to buy the book and begin reading it before you’ve even finished this article, here’s the link again: Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin.

This repetition may seem silly, and to some extent it is, but it’s also my way of expressing how important I see Ashley’s book as being.

When I’d recommended the book in the post, “Childhood Trauma: Fetal Development and Birth,” I’d said the following:
The value of love, affection, warmth, and tactile interaction (including breast-feeding) between mother and child immediately at birth and, at the least, in a child's earliest years cannot be overstated. Touching does an outstanding job of making this point clear through the utilization of clinical experiments (both animal and human), subjective experience, and studies done on cultures ranging from the first-world to seemingly stone-age indigenous.
You may have noticed that our society is really far off the “healthy” mark for just about everything. We must therefore make a conscious effort to understand what we’re doing wrong and why and then take preventative measures against abandonment (and other childhood traumas).

While all change begins within one’s self, we don’t always have to dig deep and change doesn’t necessarily have to appear huge in order to make a huge difference.

A minute ago, I had mentioned cradles and sling wrap carriers. In reading Ashley’s book, you will understand how important it is that such devices be used instead of cribs and strollers. If a parent so much as makes the decision to do one or two of these “small” things, it is a wonderfully positive step toward a healthier, abandonment trauma-free child and therefore a healthier, abandonment trauma-free world.

Correcting Course

Right now as a collective, we’re in between a rock and a hard place. Many of us carry abandonment trauma to one degree or another, and we’re most likely unaware of it. With this in mind, I want to present several courses of action that can be taken to prevent and heal this deep hurt.
  1. Intend.
    Intend to see the truth about abandonment in both your personal life and the collective. If your intention is pure, life will show each as individuals what they next need to see, if anything. Don’t discount the power of this first step.

  2. Get help, and help yourself.
    See a healer of some kind: a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a hypnotherapist—you must decide based on your own needs and awareness. Also, do some self-help. This will serve you in countless ways and will make any external help you get all the more profitable.

  3. Ask yourself: "Why am I in this relationship?"
    Quite frankly, this could initially cause more abandonment hardship because it brings forth the truth in a world of lies. But this must be done simply because we each need to know our personal truths and live in integrity with them.

    To date, I have written six marriage-related blog posts. While I don’t expect anyone to take these on word-for-word as their own personal truths, I can’t help but think that a lot of people (married or not) could do themselves a lot of good by reading them and working at least some of their insights and inquiry into their lives.

    The occurrence of parental separation and divorce plays no small role in childhood abandonment trauma. If people would question themselves deeply to understand why they truly want a given relationship, if they could see their subconscious motives, they’d be all the wiser and thus able to either improve their existing relationships or choose more adequate partners.

  4. Educate yourself.
    Aside from Ashley Montagu, the late Alice Miller, who I’d mentioned in the post, “Pedophilia: Forgiving the Unforgivable,” wrote a number of outstanding books regarding trauma.

    Be sure to educate yourself from sources other than, for example, the Big Medical/Pharma establishment. This may sound peculiar to some, but unfortunately, this group can generally be found directly accountable for causing early-childhood trauma and other major causes of human suffering.

    “Authority” usually doesn’t know the truth (or they suppress it if they do). What they have is influence—influence that makes them extraordinary sums of money, and thus power, and thus an appearance of knowing the truth, and thus more influence.

  5. Follow the indigenous.
    Learn about the ways of healthy, peaceable indigenous groups. Such people carry troves of wisdom—wisdom that is ancient yet as appropriate today as ever.

    There are plenty of resources available discussing these “hidden” cultures, what they do, and why they do it. Ashley Montagu’s book, Touching, is a great resource for this.

  6. Develop compassion and self-understanding.
    Stop doing what hurts—stop doing what hurts you, and stop doing what hurts your kids. For example, if you’re about to walk away from your child and she starts crying, imagine if you were her. How would you feel if your parents had done that to you? Or if you can remember, How did you feel when your parents had done that to you?

    Listen to your children. Listen for their sake, but listen to them so that you can also learn to listen to yourself. Hard as it might be to accept, mother and father usually don’t “know best.” Parents know what they know, don’t know what they don’t know, and all too often stubbornly hold onto both and blame the resultant discomfort on their kids.

Lost and Found

As maturing humans, we must do all we can for each other to prevent abandonment trauma. All the while, we must also recognize the following:

Ultimately, abandonment is not about who abandons us or who appears to abandons us: It is about the fact that we've abandoned ourselves, if simply by choosing to incarnate into the "Earth-human-in-duality" experience.

Not knowing who we truly are at an early age, we depend upon others—primarily our parents—to provide us with that definition. But when one or both of these others leave, so our definition goes with them.

Anyone who has done enough self-healing can tell you, "I've only ever released what wasn't me, and in doing so I've only ever become more of who I truly am." Abandonment hurts so badly because when it happens we are in no way prepared for it internally; we don't realize that "who I am" has nothing to do with who we perceive our parents to be or about who we are in relation to them.

And so, while abandonment may seem a curse, and on some levels is, it is also one of life's greatest blessings in that it's a monumental guidepost back to our true selves. Abandonment is life's way of saying, "You keep looking for home, for who you are, 'out there.' Stop. Home is right where you are, where you've always been."

As much as it may not look like it, abandonment is actually the path home, the path to the real you.

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