The Trauma of Parental Abandonment


What’s it like to be abandoned by your parents?  It’s awful and traumatizing, causing long term affects.  Those who’ve been through it usually end up on both extremes of the spectrum, either becoming their parents or being the “strongest” people to the public eye.

What do I mean by “strongest” to the public eye?  Not just from personal experience but by seeing so many others with the same background, these are the “independent” women.  They may be single moms.  They are work horses.  They rarely show emotion.  They appear so strong and confident.  But deep down, in the darkest of hours, nobody knows what’s really inside.

Now, I’m not saying that this applies to EVERYONE who’s been abandoned.  I’m just stating my experiences, the experiences of others with similar backgrounds and applying information I’ve read/learned from various psychologists.

In my case, my parents were married and we had what I would consider the “perfect, typical suburban life”.  At 13, my mom began having an affair.  I knew of the affair but never dreamed that it would result in the divorce of my parents.  That’s how “strong” our family was.  I literally remember having the thought, “mom’s going to be in trouble when dad finds out”.  That’s what my 13 year old mind knew.   You do something wrong, you get in trouble.  You don’t lose your family.  You just get in trouble and have to stop what you’re doing that’s wrong.

Then it happened.  The dreaded divorce talk.  What?  How could this be happening?  We were the center of our extended families.  We were the house the others came to when they had problems.  We coordinated holiday’s.  We were family.  Unable to TRULY process what was happening, I just went with the flow.  I never really stopped and thought about what it all meant.  Thinking about it would have meant “feeling it”.  I wasn’t about to have that.

So, we split.  Dad stayed in the house with my two brothers.  Mom moved in with my aunt and I was to go live with her at the end of the school year.  When I arrived, my “suburban mom” was gone.  Instead, I was introduced to a party girl/business woman.  Having been completely kid free for the first 3 months of her new life also, she had settled in well.

One of my first days at her house, I remember waiting for her to come home from work so that we could have dinner together.  That’s what we had always done.  Instead, she rushed in the door-brushed past me and declared that she had a dinner date.  Huh?  What about me?  I remember asking her what i was supposed to do for dinner and she snapped at me to find something.  “There’s no food in the house”, I proclaimed.  Apparently, I was wrong.  There was bread, butter and cheese.  That meant I could make grilled cheese.

Now, keep in mind what I said earlier.  My mom was a “suburban mom”, which meant that she worked part time and always had dinner on the table when my dad got home from work.  I had never learned or been taught to cook.  I didn’t even know how to turn the oven/stove on.  Could I figure it out?  Sure.  I had to.  However, that’s not how children are supposed to learn.  Upon telling her I didn’t know how to cook, she yelled “it’s not that f*cking hard-you just slap some butter on the bread and fry it”.  “That’s not fair that i have to eat grilled cheese while you have a steak dinner”, my pre-teen mind proclaimed.  “Yes, it is.  When you are old enough to date and have a man take you to a nice, fancy dinner-you can have steak.  Until then, you have to eat grilled cheese.”

I remember feeling nothing after that.  I literally had the thought, “OK Michelle.  Things are different now.  You are going to have to teach yourself a lot of things.  You are on your own.”.  And so it was.  That carried through into my adulthood and into my career.  I suspect the process is similar for others.  That and the need to show others how successful you can be so that you can obtain some type of positive attention.

Why am I sharing all of this?  I intend to to use my experiences in this blog to help educate others on the affects of abandonment, to share my healing processes in the hopes that others who need healing might find something that works for them and to utilize the wonderful forum that it is to continue processing for my healing.  My healing processes have been very personal and it’s time that I shared them with others.  Part of the problem with abandonment is isolating yourself from others.  Although healing personally is important, it’s also important to learn how to be open with others.  It’s important to not fear being open with others.

This post is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s just a little background on how it all started.  In the future, you will get more than just a post of situations that happened.  I intend to tie them into the healing processes.  I intend to show you how they affect all areas of your life.  i intend to share the wealth of knowledge I’ve gained regarding this subject.  Maybe you weren’t abandoned.  Maybe you don’t think you know anybody who has been.  But maybe, after seeing some of the effects, you will be able to help another who has been through this.

David Richo, PhD, is a therapist and author.  He also leads workshops on personal and spiritual growth.  In his book, “When the Past Is Present”, he talks about why abandonment survivors become so fearful of loss in relationships.  He states that “we may fear abandonment by a partner when a consequence that is only applicable to infants, death by desertion,  is no longer possible.”.  Process that for a moment.

When we are children (even teens), we are dependent upon our parents for survival.  The primitive part of our brain knows this.  When parents emotionally and physically abandon their children, the child is left essentially “fending for it’s life”.  Our primitive brain stores the memory of this situation and considers any threat of possible abandonment as a threat to your life.

I’ve talked with so many counselors/psychologists and done so much research on this matter, but it wasn’t until I hit that line in his book that so much of my behavior made sense.  After all, I’m a business woman.  I can be a tough business woman.  I’m outspoken.  I’m independent.  However, in a relationship, I can be a raving lunatic at the tiniest hint of what I perceive as abandonment.  It’s always bothered me that I can be so strong and yet have no control over this aspect of myself.   Once I took in this information, it made complete sense.

Now, I want to be clear on something I said.  When I say that I had “no control over this aspect of myself”, I certainly understand that we are in control of our bodies.  However, we often have to spend hours-weeks-months-years retraining (or training) our brains.  It can be done, but you have to be aware of what you are doing and why.  Then, you can learn and utilize tools to correct things.  Once you understand, truly understand, why you’re brain is functioning the way it is you can determine the best course of action to make a better life for yourself.

While I still suffer from abandonment issues, I’ve come a long way in my recovery.  The best any of us can do is to continually work on ourselves.  Never give up on yourself.  I’ve hit some lows that I never dreamed I could pull out of.  You can pull out of it.  You can gain awareness.  You can work on healing.  I know I will be.


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