Being selfless is a good quality to have. But when does that selflessness turn into self-abandonment?
Self-abandonment is neglect. It’s disregarding your own needs, wants, emotions, and well-being. It’s hiding parts of yourself in order to fit in or please others. When you don’t value yourself, you abandon yourself.
According to Sharon Martin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, self-abandonment is a learned behavior from childhood. “When you live in an unpredictable, chaotic, or abusive family, you learn to hide your true self. You act like a chameleon, morphing into whatever role will keep the peace and help you avoid ridicule, put-downs, physical and emotional pain. You learn to suppress your feelings and needs, that your worth depends on what you accomplish or do (and whatever you do, it’s never enough), that your needs, interests, and goals don’t matter, and that you don’t deserve love and compassion.”
Self-abandonment is a destructive pattern, one that ultimately hurts you. Here are some examples of self-abandonment:
Not trusting yourself or your instincts.
You second-guess yourself. You’re an overthinker. You (try to) avoid making big decisions out of fear that you’ll make the wrong one. You believe other people know more than you.
Suppressing your feelings and needs.
When you invalidate your feelings and neglect your emotional needs, you are abandoning yourself. Maybe acknowledging your emotions makes you uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t like to talk about your feelings because you don’t want to upset anyone or make them uncomfortable. You prioritize others’ emotions over your own and this can lead to feeling exhausted or like everything is bottled up.
When you don’t value your emotions, you are ultimately abandoning yourself.
You pretend everything is fine to avoid a fight and to avoid being a burden. You want to keep the peace. You don’t want to make anyone upset or uncomfortable. You believe that asking for the bare minimum means you’re needy and greedy and annoying. You put your partner’s needs and desires before your own.
It’s not selfish to want the best for yourself. It’s not selfish to choose yourself and to put yourself and your needs first.
Not setting boundaries.
There are a number of things people who have self-abandonment issues do instead of setting boundaries: overcommitting and taking on responsibilities as a means of pleasing others, constantly being available to others, avoiding conflict, people-pleasing, sacrificing self-care, ignoring your own values, and allowing others to disrespect your boundaries.
Neglecting your physical well-being.
When you neglect your physical health and well-being — not eating properly, not getting enough rest, skipping exercise (even if that’s going on a 30-minute walk), neglecting personal hygiene, not taking breaks, not engaging in activities you enjoy, or engaging in substance abuse — then you are ultimately abandoning yourself. This is all self-care. It’s about intentional actions to nurture the home you live in (your body).
Having low self-worth.
You set high expectations and standards for yourself, and when you don’t meet them, you are disappointed in yourself. You feel ashamed. You feel incapable. Not enough. You retreat into a low self-esteem and self-worth mindset. You have no confidence in yourself — not only do you not believe that you can achieve anything, but even if you do achieve that thing, you never feel satisfied or like it was good enough. You never feel good enough.
It’s important to recognize these patterns of self-abandonment. Be gentle with yourself on this journey towards more self-compassion, self-care, and self-love. Seek support from therapists or from loved ones. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. You got this.