What is abandonment? The question seems simple enough. Some people are unfortunate enough to lose the support of a parent or significant other, often during childhood, creating feelings of abandonment.
What is abandonment?
The Wikipedia definition supports this view:
Emotional abandonment is a subjective emotional state in which people feel undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded. People experiencing emotional abandonment may feel at a loss, cut off from a crucial source of sustenance that has been withdrawn, either suddenly, or through a process of erosion.
In a classic abandonment scenario… the object of one’s attachment is the one who chose to break the connection.
If someone we care deeply about ‘chooses to break the connection’ abandonment happens. If they don’t, it doesn’t. On the surface it’s a simple on/off situation, and most of us are fortunately in the ‘off’ category.
Not so fast.
Exploration of the unconscious reveals that abandonment is much more multi-layered—and much more prevalent—than this superficial definition.
Three layers of trauma
In The three layers of trauma – ancestral, generational, current-life I describe how all human suffering and dysfunction originates in three layers, or emotional strata, within the unconscious:
- Current-life trauma—traumas that occur during our lives, such as being abandoned by a parent or guardian as a child. This trauma is ‘front and centre’ in our lives
- Generational trauma—inherited from recent ancestors, usually parents or grandparents, from traumas that occurred in their lives. This trauma tends to be moderately buried, quite present yet hard to identify
- Ancestral trauma—inherited from distant ancestors, from traumas that occurred during the distant past. This trauma tends to be, deeply buried ‘background trauma’, very hard to identify but can exert great force
As we peel away the layers of the unconscious, we discover that abandonment can be caused by inherited traumas just as much as current-life events.
As we peel away the layers of the unconscious, we discover that abandonment can exist in any of these layers—and always exists in the ancestral layer. Let’s look at how abandonment plays out in each of these strata.
1. Current-life trauma
The first point about current-life trauma is that emotional abandonment can happen without physical abandonment.
The second is that the break may be involuntary—the most obvious instance being the sudden death of a parent. The Wikipedia phrase “chose to break the connection” doesn’t recognise this distinction.
My case involved both of these scenarios. In 1932, my grandmother had an affair and was ejected from the family. My mother was emotionally crippled and suffered arrested development that she never recovered from.
During my childhood, my mother did everything a mother should—except that I had no emotional sense of nurturing. I felt abandoned: “undesired, left behind, insecure”. I couldn’t reconcile this with the physical evidence of her presence—and blamed myself. It took me nearly half a century to resolve this paradox and understand the true scope of abandonment in my life.
This example shows that current-life abandonment can exist without a source that meets the current definition.
2. Generational trauma
Abandonment due to generational trauma occurs when we inherit unprocessed feelings of abandonment from our immediate ancestors. The mechanism for this is called epigenetic inheritance.
In my case, I not only inherited my mother’s unprocessed abandonment but also a double dose from my father. He experienced abandonment at the age of 4 when his mother died, and as a young teen when his father walked out of a second marriage and disappeared. (See Living with ghosts – confronting generational trauma)
Because it’s embedded in our DNA right from birth, generationally inherited abandonment is hard to shift. I’ve written more on this below.
Generationally inherited abandonment may or may not be present in your life. If you have feelings of abandonment with no obvious source, check your family tree. You may find something in the last 2-3 generations. You’ll find a framework for doing this in 7 Steps to identify family skeletons.
3. Ancestral trauma
Ancestral abandonment is similar to generational abandonment; only it’s older and deeper. We are dealing with core emotional wounds that have been passed down over many generations.
The key abandonment here is what I call the mother wound. It’s the original emotional separation from our physical mothers, from the earth—Mother Nature—as a bountiful provider of all our needs, and from the Cosmic Mother or Great Mother—our sense of belonging to the universe.
This ancestral wound also has a sexual dimension. The original separation from our physical mothers also broke the template for healthy sexual expression that should form as a result of a healthy mother-child relationship.
An abandoned world
As far as I can see, the four-sided ancestral abandonment of the mother wound is present to a greater or lesser degree in everyone.
Its existence can be inferred from a society that is so emotionally irresponsible that we’ve created systems that are environmentally, economically and—above all—emotionally unsustainable.
We have abandoned the environment to exploitation and destruction. We’ve abandoned our children to inherit an economy that will force many of them into lifelong financial servitude just to survive. And own wellbeing by systematically anaesthetising our feelings to avoid the awful, gaping reality: we have abandoned the world.
The Oxford English Dictionary begins its definition of ‘abandon’ as follows:
- Cease to support or look after (someone); desert.
- Leave (a place or vehicle) empty or uninhabited, without intending to return.
- (abandon someone/something to) Condemn someone or something to (a specified fate) by ceasing to take an interest in them.
We have emotionally abandoned our selves and the planet, without intending to return. In so doing, we’ve abandoned future generations to inhabit an emotional, economic and environmental wasteland because we—due to our own mother wounds—ceased to take enough of an interest to effect genuine change.
Most of our feelings of abandonment are submerged, like the wreck of the USS Kittywake off Grand Cayman that I’ve had the pleasure of snorkelling over. The Kittywake was sunk to create an artificial reef to regenerate the ocean floor. We need the same kind of vision to heal our personal and collective abandonment.
Healing abandonment follows the same laws of emotional mechanics as clearing other aspects of the unconscious. It starts with Releasing Unconscious Shame to access the buried feelings and begin the painful work of transmuting them.
On my Shop page you’ll find toolkits to help with ancestral and generational trauma, as well as healing the mother wound.
Abandonment is such a shameful experience it can cause arrested development. I’d recommend reading How shame affects arrested development to understand what’s involved in restarting the mother-child development process.
The other point here is that Deep emotional blocks need impacts to dislodge them. In my case, I was carrying a ‘quadruple whammy’ of abandonment issues, both generational and current-life. To free those feelings from my unconscious required a powerful experience of abandonment. Painful though it was, it liberated the trapped feelings to surface for healing.
Image: USS Kittywake, Grand Cayman