Susan was four when her parents had an argument and her mother left, taking her little sister and leaving her behind. Although her parents later patched up their differences, Susan had nightmares for months.
Many times she awoke convinced that she no longer had a mother to protect her. From here a pattern of abandonment began that continued into her forties.
It also created another pattern – that of over-giving and striving to do good in the hope of being accepted, valued and loved.
When a child is abandoned, the perceived messages can be: I am not lovable; I am not valued; there must be something wrong with me.
The way a child perceives how a parent perceives him or her can be internalised as an unconscious truth, such as “I am bad.”
Once this happens it becomes what John Bradshaw calls “toxic shame”, which makes any kind of therapy a daunting and terrifying experience. Always at the back of a person’s mind is the question, “What bad things are they going to find out about me?” often causing them to flee in fear of having this shame exposed.
Abandonment can take many forms: death, desertion, emotional and physical neglect, a lack of caring, rejection, withdrawing love to control and discipline a child. It creates deep feelings of insecurity. Abandoned children often marry early hoping to find the security and unconditional love they didn’t receive in childhood.
But the cycle of abandonment can be broken.
M. Scott Peck, in his bestselling book, A Road Less Traveled, says that when the gifts of self-disciplined role models, a sense of self-worth and a degree of trust in the safety of their existence have “not been proffered by one’s parents, it is possible to acquire them from other sources, but in that case the process of their acquisition is invariably an uphill struggle, often of lifetime duration and often unsuccessful.”
It takes tremendous courage to heal, to go into the pain of the past and confront every lie that once was perceived as truth. It is also possible to find security within the self and to learn to value oneself enough to develop the necessary self-discipline to reach one’s goals. With this comes a sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
Healing the past takes a commitment to love oneself unconditionally.
First published in the Ballarat News, March 22, 1995