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Too often, people who were neglected or abused as children learn to become small. They walk away from their interests, needs and desires and become reactionary people who depend on others for their happiness. This process of stepping away from your inner needs is known as “self-abandonment” and can keep you from living a happy and fulfilling life.
What Is Self-abandonment?
The “self” in self-abandonment refers to your needs. Self-abandonment, then, is abandoning your selfhood for some other means.
In essence, self-abandonment is a loss of agency and character. It can happen because of traumatic experiences, fear, anxiety or environmental or genetic causes. People often learn self-abandonment behaviors to protect themselves from harm or embarrassment, but they can lose out on their dreams, hopes and ambitions as a consequence.
What Does Self-abandonment Look Like?
Anytime somebody makes themselves small, neglects their own needs or prioritizes others’ needs above themselves, it is a form of self-abandonment. Of course, this isn’t always problematic. Putting others’ needs above your own is often a healthy part of a relationship, and sometimes your own needs and desires must be set aside for the greater good. But when these behaviors become the norm rather than the exception, self-abandonment may be a concern.
Examples of Self-abandonment
The following behaviors are examples of self-abandonment:
- Putting on appearances: People experiencing self-abandonment will frequently modify their behavior and speech to fit the room, even among friends and family. For this reason, it’s common to hear people experiencing self-abandonment be described as “chameleons.” They rarely show their true colors and are frequently cloaked in camouflage.
- Neglecting your own needs: Self-abandoners will attempt to push their needs to the side to appease others. They may never take the time for self-care and often don’t feel like they deserve it.
- Seeking validation from others: Constant people-pleasing and seeking validation is a sign that you aren’t comfortable with yourself. Since self-abandoners have neglected their selfhood, they cannot gain a sense of self-satisfaction without having the approval of others.
- Constant self-criticism: Feeling like you have to be perfect and not being able to treat yourself with kindness is another effect of self-abandonment.
- Codependent relationships: People who experience self-abandonment often struggle to find fulfillment and purpose from within, so they may focus on others to provide this for them. This can often develop into severely codependent relationships, where a person’s happiness depends on another person’s wants, needs and desires.
- Living contrary to your values: People experiencing self-abandonment often find themselves living and behaving in ways they feel guilty or remorseful about but can’t seem to find a way to break free from them.
- Becoming small: Not speaking up for themselves, failing to set boundaries and letting other people take advantage of them are ways people can experience self-abandonment.
If any of these examples resonate with you, you are likely experiencing some level of self-abandonment.
Self-abandonment in Relationships
Self-abandonment can happen in the context of a relationship. It can be a relationship with a friend, family member or romantic partner. People who engage in these behaviors trade their authenticity and selfhood for a sense of connection and sacrifice their well-being as a result. Often, people who show patterns of self-abandonment find themselves in relationships where this is expected, even though it is harmful.
In romantic relationships, self-abandonment typically appears as one person being constantly attentive to their partner’s needs rather than their own. They may not make many decisions in the relationship because of the emphasis on their partner’s desires and wishes. It could be as simple as one partner always picking the restaurant when they go out to eat or as serious as making long-term decisions like marriage or having children without honest consideration of the other person’s desires. Ultimately, these patterns can further stifle a person’s sense of self. It prohibits them from pursuing their interests and hobbies and can lead to resentment, contempt and frustration.
Why Does Self-abandonment Happen?
Self-abandonment can occur as a response to:
- Social anxiety
- Peer pressure
- Abusive relationships
- A lack of confidence in yourself
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) refers to the core problem of self-abandonment as a lack of self-trust. People who show these behavior patterns either don’t trust themselves to succeed and thrive on their own or doubt whether others will accept their behavior.
Unfortunately, the more a person adopts these patterns, the greater the problem becomes. According to NAMI, they may eventually lack a firm understanding of their needs and desires. Their self-concept becomes blurred, and the only clear path forward is further down the road of self-abandonment.
How To Stop Abandoning Yourself
If the descriptions and examples of self-abandonment have resonated with you, you’re likely feeling the consequences. You may feel unfulfilled, anxious without a clear understanding of why or restless in your life and ready to make a change. Learning to stop abandoning yourself may be the solution you need to get back on the path to mental wellness.
- Practice self-care: Self-care is time dedicated to addressing your needs, fulfilling your desires and authentically exploring your selfhood and interests. The very nature of self-care is orthogonal to self-abandonment, and even discovering what your preferred self-care practices are will be enlightening.
- Analyze your behaviors: Before making a decision, stop and ask yourself, “Why am I choosing this path?” For self-abandoners, the answer is often shame, guilt or the demands of others, according to NAMI. By bringing the reasons for your actions to light, you can work to change them — and focus on making more decisions for yourself.
- Embrace your authentic self: Part of learning to stop abandoning yourself is celebrating and sharing your inner experience with others. This could mean speaking up about your opinions, advocating for yourself or simply showing your true colors.
- Get your needs met: This could be as simple as getting some rest after a long day at work, spending more time with friends or taking time to exercise.
- Seek professional help: Looking for a therapist or counselor to help address self-abandonment can help uncover the cause of your self-abandonment behaviors and help you flourish.
One way to seek professional help and track your progress is by installing Nobu, a comprehensive mental health app that helps you track goals, explore your inner world and connect with licensed therapists who can help you understand your symptoms and work to address them.
Nobu can help you practice self-care, learn more about mental health and track your progress on your recovery journey. Best of all, it’s free to try in the App Store or on Google Play today.
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