Learning more about Abandonment – part 1 of 2

When I read the myth of Persephone, it resonated deeply. See my blog link to my goddess archetype understanding here;. I related to Persephone’s separation from her mother and subsequent personality traits. Persephone’s mythology could be seen as childhood abandonment. This blog post shares some of my insights from exploring childhood abandonment. Note: additional information on childhood abandonment trauma can be found at: Pete Walker and Complex Trauma Healing.


Disruption of the bonding between baby/child and parent (usually mother) during early childhood is not necessarily life threatening, but it is ego threatening. This loss of contact with parental figure(s) is an emotional abandonment – a feeling of being left alone without protection. The feeling of childhood abandonment can be the result of absentee workaholic parents, too many children vying for a mother’s attention, parental death, a release of a child to foster or adoption, actual child neglect, spoiling a child with insufficient limits, or as in my case, a multi-week hospitalization of a newborn (in the 1960’s health arena where parents were not encouraged, in fact discouraged, to spend time with the hospitalized child.) For me, the hospitalization was necessary (to save my life) and the emotional and physical abandonment was unintentional, but it is a reality I felt a need to address as I see aspects of this trauma in me still today.


When the basic (Maslow) safety need for holding (containment/protection) is not met in early days (as a baby or very young child), the child is left with complex trauma of feeling alone and never belonging; this reaction is hardwired in the brain (early neural networks/pathways formed). The emotional abandonment makes a child feel worthless, unlovable, empty, flawed. An inner belief is formed that, “I am unacceptable and unworthy because I was abandoned.” Faulty coping mechanisms (defense structures) are wired in and become unintentional patterns of behavior to avoid a repeat of the emotional pain of abandonment that a young child couldn’t process.


Essentially, an ongoing deep-seated abandonment fear impacts feelings of security/safety (a feeling that the world is unsafe place to explore), creates trust & intimacy issues (never feel like belong, belief that loved ones will leave you), and causes a persistent need to be perfect. “If I was perfect, they would not have left me. If I could only be perfect, they will not leave me again.”


This complex trauma results in a heightened awareness (hyper-vigilance) of being left out of activities or ignored by friends, of being not recognized/ appreciated for a contribution, and a large fear of making mistakes (not being perfect). Each of these become triggers for the abandonment fear. Some other specific behaviors of this ongoing abandonment fear:

  • Overly sensitive to any criticism – sparks feeling unworthiness/feeling inadequate
  • Seeking constant reassurance & external validation – because always feel not enough
  • Worry when don’t know where partner is (has he left me/abandoned me)
  • Self imposed social isolation because discomfort/stress in social situations, especially new social situations – fear of not fitting in, fear of making social mistake
  • Pushing for perfectionism, trying to meet expectations, being productive → all that so I will be acceptable and worthy of belonging
  • Excessive planning (obsessive thinking) – desire to control situation (because could not control the abandonment)
  • Excessive behaviors to fill that emptiness – being a workaholic, over controlling situations, over thinking things, addictions, excessive compulsions

But this wiring, these hardwired brain thought patterns, are no longer valid in adulthood. I am no longer an abandoned child in need of protection. A Healing Journey to re-wire these reactionary thoughts is needed. It is not an easy re-wiring as the patterns are deeply entrenched. In fact, I am feeling unworthy to even claim a need to heal, as my emotional trauma was not that bad – I am feeling “not enough” even here.

Do you recognize any of these hyper-vigilant triggers in your life?

More to come in part two as to what I’m doing with this learning.

Picture Credit: me – spring time in Florida has lovely blooms!

21 thoughts on “Learning more about Abandonment – part 1 of 2

  1. Pat – this totally resonates! I spent the first 10 days of my life in an incubator, which became the explanation from my mother as to why we were never close. On top of that, my father had a nervous breakdown right around that time and spent weeks in a mental hospital. My siblings often teased that “Dad went crazy because I was born.” He then outright abandoned my mother with eight children when I was about 7. Not all but many of the characteristics you discuss were true for me. I was fortunate to begin working through my abandonment issues at a very young age – and yes, I think therapy can be very helpful. Every once in a while one or another of these characteristics rears its ugly head but I am much more able to identify and handle them. I wish you well on your journey through this process.

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    1. Janet, When I hear other’s stories, I feel mine is so minimal I shouldn’t even talk about trauma! Compare & Despair in the wrong way. But it’s good to hear that you worked through the issues, and it’s even good to know that some of the characteristics might always be there. I am hoping by being more aware of all of this that I will be identifying my moments (I did recently!) and handling them better (that part will a work in progress!).

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      1. Pat – each person’s journey is different – you only know your own – and for you it was traumatic. I didn’t share my experience so you would compare & despair — but so that you will find encouragement in that others with situations that might SEEM “worse” to you work through their “stuff” – so can you!

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      2. I’m becoming more aware when my mind goes to the Compare & Despair and I can stop myself and not spiral into the “not enough”. I think it’s so weird that I even do it with “bad things” – my cancer wasn’t bad enough, my trauma wasn’t severe enough. I do appreciate your sharing your journey and it did give me a TON of encouragement. Sorry my first reply didn’t communicate that enough!

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  2. This makes so much sense about childhood…and the even earlier times of babyhood. I am a child born in 1949 and remember VIVIDLY having to stay in hospital aged 6 without a parent. I remember Dad visiting. That was it. And when our daughter was very small, in 1971, our GP decided she needed a hospital stay to have minor surgery the next day. WE didn’t stay with her. I still shake my head at that. Sigh. I could allocate a few fears of mine to what happened but I can now also bring myself back to the now thanks to all of the skills I have learned too. Great read. Denyse

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    1. Denyse, I do think awareness is helping “bring me back into the now” as you say. I think when we understand some of the why we think the way we do, it makes it more like an acceptance. Yes, I want to change things, but I beat myself up less when I slip back into old thought patterns. I am also more accepting of others when I see their defense mechanisms in action. Acceptance and compassion. Two things I’ve not been that great on in my life, but getting better at!

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  3. Thank you for sharing your journey and your studies with us, Pat. It is amazing what the infant brain absorbs and the protections it puts in place. It’s also pretty great that we can purposefully change our thought processes and our behaviors. I am impressed by the work you are doing.

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    1. Christie, I am a firm believer that we can change our thinking patterns. I just wish it was a bit easier. I slid into trigger reaction really badly just recently and felt like I had done nothing to shift patterns. Of course that was the “inner critic” telling me I wasn’t good enough even in this work. LOL. So yeah, a work in progress.

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  4. I’m a product of at least 2 generations of alcoholics in my paternal lineage and there’s mental illness on the maternal side. It’s taken years to work through what was passed on. This always rings in my ears – what isn’t transformed will be transmitted. I’ve been determined to transform. Professional counseling has been helpful.

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  5. Yep, I can claim a couple of those behaviors. I can also most likely attribute them to ‘abandonment issues.’ My relationship with my mother has always been strained. When I realized that our unhealthy relationship was affecting my relationship with my own daughter, I set some boundaries and have never regretted it. The funny thing is, I really don’t want to analyze our problems anymore. I am resolved to accept our new normal and keep moving forward. I like who I became when I let her go.

    Pat, thanks for writing about topics that resonate with all of us to some degree. I look forward to Part 2.

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    1. Suzanne, I’m always hesitant when I get into topics that can be considered so personal and it’s nice to hear that it resonates with others. I think knowing we are not alone in life’s challenges makes them more bearable. I’m encouraged by your comment about liking who you are when you let something go. I think I’m finding that out about myself as well.

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  6. This is interesting. I told you I related to Persephone and now I need to reread that post to remember why I felt that way. But I definitely see myself in what you describe here. I don’t recall feeling abandoned as a child but maybe I was emotionally. As of late, I’ve been trying to deal with the guilt I feel because I don’t miss my mother. I over analyze it and wonder if counseling would help. Life can be so complicated!!!

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    1. Someone suggested to me the other day that I might benefit from counseling to better understand my triggers and shift my reactive behavior. It’s not a bad idea! Living with guilt, fear, resentment… none of that is healthy. I’m working on acceptance and awareness.

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  7. Wow, this resonated with me so hard. I grew up with a mother who didn’t really want children, but that’s what women of that era did, particularly if like my mother, had no interest in a career. There was no warmth, no interest in the children, only harsh criticism and constant complaining that children required new clothes or shoes that took money away from her buying knickknacks and taking trips without her children.

    There were so many negative messages I absorbed, even at 61, I’m still working on throwing those out and realizing those were my mother’s own insecurities and projections, that there was nothing wrong with ME. She didn’t alternately ignore or belittle me because there was something wrong with me, she did it because her own insecurities were triggered.

    Because all the negativity happened so early in my life, these old patterns are pretty hard wired and require extra mental effort to overcome even now, even though I know they aren’t true.

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    1. Chris, Yeah the hard wiring is there for sure. It took me 4 days last week to realize my abandonment fear had been triggered. I was a mess until that awareness came; now I can look at what happened a bit more clearly. I like how you talked about it – extra mental effort. I do believe that being more aware of my triggers will help me shift my thinking patterns over time, with effort!

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  8. Whoa. This could have been about my mother. She had polio as an infant and grew up trying to embody sainthood. It was hard work being the daughter of a saint, but I know I’m not the only person to have this kind of childhood! Thanks for writing about this. It’s very important.

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    1. Thanks for the positive support of a really tough topic. I do believe it helps to know we are not alone with feeling things like this. Even a 61 year old can learn to heal the child within!

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