Navigating emotional abandonment



What is abandonment? Often when we hear the word “abandon” we associate it with buildings that are vacant. Sometimes we may think of animals or children who have no home.

Webster’s defines “abandon” as something being given up completely, discontinued; to leave or cease to support. I would further this definition by adding the emotional health element.

I define emotional abandonment as a condition when an individual faces chronic adverse experience(s) for which they do not posses the necessary protection for their emotional wellness. For example, many children in foster care may exhibit signs of emotional abandonment.


How do you know if emotional abandonment is something you may be facing?

Loss is never something that can be taken well 100 percent of the time. Often, when we think of loss we associate it with death. However, we do not think about how our environment affects our perception of loss.

For example, someone who experiences sexual abuse, domestic violence, or street violence may develop a perception that the world is an unsafe place. This mentality is followed by strong beliefs of not deserving positive attention or adequate care and of mistrust in others.

Shame and fear are often exhibited strongly in individuals with emotional abandonment. Often not having the abilities or support to understand their situation, for such individuals shame is a natural emotion. They may feel the need to “hide” a part of themselves, not being able to be comfortable with who they naturally are.

Some people decide to shift personalities and/or identities, often depending on the environment they are in. This is a coping mechanism of adjustment to develop a sense of safety.


Looking at emotional abandonment from a community level

Emotional abandonment is a significant form of trauma. I contend it is one of the most overlooked elements to Black folks emotional wellness. Rather than talk about it on a community or individual level, we have this cloud of abandonment that sticks with us.

On a community level, we live in a world that is extremely anti-Black. Often leading our Black folks as a collective, we are lost and seeking unity. On an individual level, the traumatic experiences we have are so complex that abandonment is almost a normal condition of being Black.

Everyone one may not be aware of or agree with this notion. It is more prevalent in some than in others. I just ask that we think about this critically. Using logic to become aware of this is just the first step, and maybe even the most difficult.

As Black people, we are quick to find other methods to escape the social ills we face on a daily basis. It is always easier to deal with our emotional pain by not addressing it directly.


How to deal with emotional abandonment

So, how does one deal with this notion of being abandoned emotionally? What can one do? When does one know they have been emotionally abandoned?

Oftentimes we do not have protection for such issues. Many people find it difficult to have intimate relationships, to parent, and to perform occupations when they have experienced enough emotional abandonment.

The best method to address this is to seek meaningful relationships in which you feel comfortable discussing your experiences. Sharing your pain is one of the heavy medicines to address emotional abandonment. It is a journey in healing.

However, the journey starts first with you being open and honest about your own feelings. This is easier said than done, but we must address our pain.


 Brandon Jones, M.A. is a mental health practitioner. He welcomes reader responses to or follow him on twitter @Universal Jones.