The Insidious Ways Self Abandonment Harms Relationships
If you’re like most people, you’ve rarely if ever heard the term self abandonment. Yet relating to yourself and relating to your relationships in this way can cause untold – yet unnecessary – heartache.
The ways that self abandonment harms relationships, while insidious and truly destructive, have only recently been given credit for the havoc these patterns wreak in our love lives. In conversations about romantic relationships, you’ve surely heard abandonment issues, attachment issues, and even commitment issues discussed, but what about self abandonment issues. They are an even bigger problem.
What is Self Abandonment?
Self Abandonment occurs anytime we disregard, give up, or abandon what’s true, important, or valuable to us in order to do what we believe is the right, good, safe or appropriate thing. In its most common forms, self abandonment shows up as patterns of people-pleasing, conflict-avoiding, being overly responsible, or playing out good-girl / good-boy roles.
Ironically most self abandonment patterns arise because we don’t want to feel abandoned, rejected, or even judged by another. Yet, in our attempts to avoid abandonment by another, we have no choice but to abandon our own needs and desires. In turn, that very abandonment of self ultimately causes the failure of the relationship we were trying to protect.
We simply cannot give up or lose ourselves in any relationship and hope to have a deep, healthy, strong, or sustainable partnership. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Self-abandonment rocks the foundation of a relationship over and over again, eventually shattering it.
What causes Self-Abandonment?
Self abandonment issues and patterns arise for one core reason and it’s not something most of us like to hear. It’s the entire premise behind the statement, “You have to love yourself before you can love another.” But it’s not that we don’t love ourselves enough that causes the problem.
Self abandonment occurs because we do not value ourselves enough. The mindset behind not valuing ourselves enough is fed by all the stories and beliefs that we are not enough.
If we knew we were good enough, if we knew we were worthy of love, if we knew we never had to do anything to prove our worth, if we knew we were inherently good, if we knew our intrinsic lovability, there would never be a reason or motivation to set ourselves aside thinking either that someone else was more important than we are or that we had to earn our love.
In a nutshell, it’s our faulty thinking resulting from our misinterpretation of other people’s perspectives about us that drive us to self-abandon.
When we realize our value, our inherent goodness, then we automatically start loving ourselves (learning to love yourself never worked anyway – we can’t learn to love something – we simply experience loving something). And, when we know our worthiness, when we experience love for self, we naturally start honoring ourselves, we stop self-abandoning. Then our relationships will finally start to thrive, especially our intimate ones.
How does Self-Abandonment affect your Self Esteem?
Here’s the most insidious thing about the self abandonment cycle. Self abandonment is essentially caused by low self-worth, or in other words, low self-esteem.
So the negative self-image, the beliefs that we are not enough, combined with the low self-esteem start the self-abandonment patterns. This, in turn, drives us to behave in a self-abandoning way – over and over and over again. Then, every one of those moments of self-abandonment reinforces that we’re somehow less than, which then drops the self-esteem even lower, further perpetuating the self-abandonment issues. It’s a vicious cycle that not just harms, but destroys that which we value.
And, you can break the cycle.
Signs of Self-Abandonment in Relationship
Here are just some of the countless ways to recognize self abandonment and how it destroys relationships. You’ll find these grouped according to common relationship patterns, but first we’ll start with signs of self abandonment in relationships.
1. Resentment is a frequent feeling (and you’re not even sure what resentment is). The challenging part for most expert self-abandoners is that they don’t even know what resentment actually feels like, and hence don’t recognize it until it’s often too late. Merriam-Webster defines resentment essentially as “a feeling of anger or displeasure about someone or something unfair.” Therefore, when the other person in a relationship is getting more attention from you than you are getting from you, it will begin to feel uneven and unfair. That attention inequality inevitably hurts, creates distance, and yes, breeds resentment. Worse yet, resentment is the biggest killer of love.
2. You make the relationship most important. You might imagine that in a good relationship, choices would be focused on what’s best for the relationship. Yet, this is the perfect setup for disappointment and overreaction. If either of you make the relationship more important than yourself, you have to stop being yourself, you have to stop paying attention to what matters to you, all in favor of what’s best for the relationship. Although it seems completely backwards and non-intuitive, those in soul partnerships put themselves first and know that by being fully themselves, then and only then, will their relationship thrive.
3. Compromise is the name of the game. (NOT!) If you frequently compromise, that inherently means, you frequently give up something of value to you. By definition compromise means loss because it requires a giving in or giving up so that you can find a happy medium to agree upon. Compromise means one of you, or worse yet, both of you, loses, and no one likes to lose. Eventually, all the little times you compromised turn into a mountain of bitterness and disconnection. (Then couples wonder why they fall out of love and stop having sex.) Compromise, done often enough, silently destroys joy and love in connection.
4. It’s all about the we. If all the focus and attention is on the we, there is no place for the me. But the we is made up of two me’s. Those with lasting relationships understand how essential it is to care first for the two me’s who make up the we. In case you’re having trouble recognizing the “we” point of view, it often looks like doing everything together, sharing all the same hobbies and interests. If you get annoyed because you are working and your partner isn’t or you get frustrated because you are playing and your partner is working and you try to get them to stop so they can come play with you, you may want to pay attention and take some time to do something on your own.
5. You make their smile more valuable than your own / You take responsibility for their happiness. Yes, it’s natural to want your partner to feel happy, and when you make their happiness your responsibility, problems escalate. You’re bound to fail because no matter how hard you try, if they don’t want to be happy, they won’t be. Their mindset and internal programming are the sole determinant of their happiness. In the meantime, all your efforts to make them happy come at the expense of your relationship with YOU.
6. You buy into the ideas that “If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” or “Happy wife, happy life.” This is a specific variation of point 5, but we hear it all too frequently from shopping malls to HGTV shows to neighborhood chats. It caters to the idea that we all need to do whatever it takes to keep the woman, often mom or wife, happy. No one can make another person truly happen. Men and women dedicated to soul love relationships know that once they are happy on their own, their partners make it even better, like the whipped cream and cherry on top of the sundae.
7. We equate self-sacrifice with love. Certainly, there is a time and place for self-sacrifice. Setting our needs aside is normal and natural when there’s a crisis, after a birth or death, when a close family member is ill, or when there is a “harvest” to reap. Unfortunately, too many of us started to believe that self-sacrifice is a sign of how much we love someone. We get conditioned to believe that good women put themselves last. Over time this takes us on a direct path to resentment, which we know now is the biggest killer of love.
8. Providing for others seems to come more naturally to you. One of the most common ways we self abandon is through our propensity to give. Dr. Stephen Karpman pioneered our understanding of codependency through The Drama Triangle which shows how we might rescue others by providing for their needs (because we see ourselves as able to help, nurture and support), then become increasingly resentful, leading to blaming the person we tried to rescue (this is called persecution), which ultimately may lead to us feeling like victims in our relationships.
9. You (unconsciously) think your partner is the source of your security. The moment you feel like your future (happiness, needs, dreams) are dependent on your partner’s choices and behaviors, you will have to turn to self abandonment patterns. If they are the source of your security, then you have to do whatever it takes, at all costs to keep them in your life. It will require you to twist yourself into a pretzel to ensure they stay. Healing self abandonment happens when you discover that no matter what happens in a relationship, you’ll be ok. Then you are free to experience real love.
10. You make preemptive apologies. When we’re afraid, if even subconsciously, that our partner could leave, we’re driven to make sure they don’t. With this underlying fear we’ll want to make sure we never hurt their feelings, never upset them, or cause them any kind of discomfort. This will tend to create a hyper-vigilance against anything that could disturb the peace in the relationship. As a result, the fearful or insecure partner will try to cut off any upset at the pass by preemptively apologizing.
11. You’re almost always the first one to apologize in an upset. Building on the previous pattern, a fear that our partner could leave combined with any internal concern that we’re not good enough for our partner, will make it nearly impossible to relax in the face of an unresolved upset. Partners who run this pattern will be a fan of the relationship advice, “Never go to bed upset.” Which means that when this form of self abandonment runs the show, you will pay way more attention to what you “did wrong” than stand up for yourself in the face of poor treatment.
12. You go along to get along. With this pattern, you might say, if even just in your head, “Whatever you want, Dear.” When you don’t want to rock the boat, you must set aside your needs and wants to give your partner (or date) what they want. Even worse, men and women alike, assume – without asking – what the other person wants and they act (and self-abandon) to meet this assumed desire. Surprisingly, if partners checked out these assumptions in a relationship, they’d find them far from the truth. But in the face of assumptions and the lack of conscious conversation, self abandonment wreaks havoc.
13. You say you’re fine when you’re not fine. In other words, you hide your true emotions from your partner. In this version of self abandonment, you come to believe that you’re too much or that your partner can’t handle your feelings. You might also believe that being angry doesn’t serve or that your partner won’t actually care if you’re hurting. At the deepest levels, you dearly hope your partner cares about what your feel, but another part of you is too afraid your relationship won’t weather the emotional storms. So you stuff it, and stuff it, and stuff it again. Eventually you can’t feel the hurt anymore, but nor can you feel the love either.
14. You try to do it right. In relationships where this plays out, you might see one partner who has a perfectionist streak. That partner will be afraid that if they make a mistake, if they’re messy, or if they don’t have it all together, their partner will somehow abandon them. The stress of this pattern is immense and, usually, every once in a while, the bearer of the weight of perfection will “lose it,” exploding in frustration, grief, and even uncommon rage.
15. White lies start to feel “worth it.” Even when a couple agrees they will always tell the truth to each other, self abandonment patterns will start to make those small little fibs feel easier than telling the truth. This leads to an ugly downturn in trust which in turns erodes the entire integrity of the relationship.
16. Withholds become the norm. Withholding information from our partner isn’t a direct lie, but lies and withholds are close cousins. When we withhold information such as our preferences, or our choice to meet a friend for a drink, or something we purchased that we don’t think they’ll approve of, or, as we said before, our hurt feelings, we send a message to our psyche that we’re not worth it or our relationship can’t handle who we truly are and what we truly desire. The first time a withhold happens, it might not seem like a big deal, but again, each one of these times subtly and silently creates a rupture in the connection of love.
17. You don’t know what your boundaries are. Boundaries for many can sound like a nebulous concept. Others struggle to understand that they can have boundaries in a marriage. Having boundaries in its simplest form means that we know what we’re willing to accept and what we’re not willing to accept in a relationship. In dating, deal-breakers are our first form of boundaries. If we don’t know what we require in a relationship or, equally, if we don’t know what we’re not willing to tolerate, then we are bound to abandon ourselves and not even know it. If you’re upset with your partner and you’re not even sure why, they have likely crossed a boundary that you are not even aware of. To have a strong relationship it’s essential that you learn your boundaries, articulate them, and then honor them.
18. We don’t speak up or take action when our boundaries are crossed. It’s been said that a boundary without consequences is simply nagging. If we have a boundary, which again means we are not willing to accept a particular behavior or situation in our lives, then when that behavior or situation arises we must articulate our boundary. We need to let the other person know the boundary has been crossed so that they may adjust their behavior. If they choose not to disregard our setting of a boundary, then we must remove ourselves from the situation. If we don’t remove ourselves, our boundary appears to be just a wish. Internally we may want it to be a boundary, but our inability to stand up for our boundary externally is simply one more way we create harm to ourselves and our relationship through self abandonment.
19. They don’t treat you the way you want to be treated. When someone we are dating, or in a relationship with, isn’t treating us the way we want to be treated, as much as we might not want to admit it, we are allowing them to treat us that way. This is why, as we said in the previous point, that in order to avoid self abandonment we must clearly know our boundaries. No matter the reason, any time we put up with, or tolerate, behavior that isn’t honoring who we are, we are once again self-abandoning.
20. You feel taken advantage of. If you feel taken advantage of in any relationship, it’s an immediate indicator that you have several self abandonment issues at play. Someone can’t take advantage of you, in a relationship, unless you let them. Resentment is brewing and you are definitely self-abandoning if you hear yourself say, “I’m always doing everything for everybody else, when is someone going to finally do something for me?!”
21. You make up (and buy into) excuses for their bad behavior. This kind of self abandonment attempts to soothe our inner ache when we continue to put up with something we’re tired of putting up with. It’s an attempt to justify our tolerance. It’s a way to make ourselves feel better when we’re being undervalued or disrespected by two people, first by them and then by ourselves.
22. “No” seems selfish and unloving. If someone asks us to do something for them, it seems that many of us internally turn that request into an obligation. As long as we are consenting adults in relationship, then there really are no obligations. You don’t have to do anything. And when you remember that, then and only then do you have access to true generosity. Generosity is when you give for no other reason than to just give. There are no shoulds, expectations, or “being good” motivations behind it.
23. Your “yes” isn’t really a yes. Unless you have full and complete access to express your authentic “no,” at any time, in any place, with any person, you actually can’t have an authentic yes. A true yes is predicated on having a choice. If you don’t feel like you can say no, then there is no choice, and hence there is no yes either. Healing self-abandonment issues requires developing and expressing your authentic no.
24. It’s hard to be happy if they’re unhappy. If you struggle to maintain your own joy and happiness when your partner is sad or struggling it means your emotions are dependent on their emotions. This indicates a level of enmeshment, where one or both of you have lost sight of where each of you ends and the other begins. True unity requires true sovereignty. You can, of course, offer compassion and empathy and your emotions need to remain independent.
25. Never going out for the night or away for the weekend without them. Self-abandonment and co-dependency go hand in hand. Relationship where these two patterns play out can appear as if the two partners are joined at the hip, but their clothes are on. And they’re definitely not making love. Every single human being needs time to themselves. Remember from earlier we said, unity requires sovereignty. Said another way, interdependence requires independence. In order to be true partners, each person must stand separately and independently. Self abandonment is a given when partners do everything together because no two human beings can actually have all the same needs, wants and desires all the time.
26. We’d rather be imposed upon than to impose upon another. A perfect example of this is when you go to the movies that your partner likes because they don’t like the ones you like. This is a simple, yet all too common, version of self abandonment. Often when one partner knows the other partner doesn’t like a certain kind of movie, that partner can feel like it’s an imposition to ask their partner to watch something they don’t really like. Ironically, the same partner who won’t “burden” their partner with the request to join them for a chick-flick or action-adventure, will often spend many an evening with their partner watching movies they don’t really enjoy.
27. You don’t want to be an inconvenience or burden. Similar to the above point, one of the reasons we self-abandon is because we’re concerned about being an inconvenience or burden to another. Many of us have been conditioned to believe if we are strong enough, we won’t need anything from anyone. Typically, underneath the fear of being an inconvenience is a fear that we’re not worthy of such generous love. Allowing ourselves to ask for and receive support (which actually could be an inconvenience for another person), requires accepting that we are inherently worthy to receive, requires knowing we are inherently worthy of these expressions of love. (Plus, remember our partners are often energized, fulfilled, or nourished through giving to us – as long as it’s not unconscious self-sacrifice).
28. You have sex when you don’t really want to. As we’ve said in different ways above, any time we go against what feels true or authentic for ourselves we are self-abandoning. It’s no different when it comes to sexuality. If we give in to our partner’s desire for sex when we’re not actually into it, we’re unconsciously saying to ourselves “your feelings don’t really matter.” On top of that, we (and our partner) are settling for so-so sex, and this is one of the main reasons couples eventually give up on sex. It doesn’t have to be this way. We heal self abandonment in the bedroom by talking about what we need and desire when it comes to sex.
29. You fake orgasm. It may seem like faking an orgasm is a simple way to care for yourself and your partner, but it really rolls up several of our self abandonment indicators into one. It’s a little white lie combined with a withhold of what you really need all rooted in an attempt to make your partner’s experience more important that your own. After a fake, we often are left feeling like we were cheated, by ourselves and our partner, and we’re breeding yet more resentment. And, we risk killing the trust we have for our partner by setting them up to not feel or acknowledge our true desires during a time they are sexually aroused.
30. You don’t know what turns you on. Some people know with explicit detail what arouses them sexually, and many others can find their bodies and its arousal completely mysterious, and even frustrating. This is another case of self abandonment happening through unintentional self-ignorance. If we don’t know what arouses us, we dramatically limit our pleasure. Every body, every single body, is designed for pleasure. When you learn the sexual rhythms of your body, you express those rhythms, and let yourself receive the pleasure of them, then your relationship with you deepens and your relationship with your partner deepens. (Hint: the strength of the relationship with you dictates and determines the strength with another.)
31. You don’t ask for the STD testing you want before having sex. Quite often when engaging with a new sexual partner, we may ideally want to know their sexual health status. Yet, even though we want to know, we may default to their lead and if they don’t bring it up, we don’t either. When we are afraid to be authentic this early in a relationship, it doesn’t bode well for the longevity of the connection.
32. You settle for less foreplay than your body needs. Let’s face it, men and women have different needs and desires when it comes to foreplay. In general, heterosexual women are much slower to reach peak arousal than their male partners. Yet, those same women can feel guilty for “taking so long” and, in that misplaced guilt, they self-abandon. It can feel easier to have sex less aroused, or even in discomfort, than take a chance on expressing their true needs and desires. Just because it feels easier doesn’t mean it’s not self-abandonment.
33. You keep going even though you’re feeling complete. Building on our previous point, many of us have been conditioned in heterosexual partnerships that sex is complete when he comes. Women, on the other hand, do not always orgasm during sex. She can be completely satisfied – and truly complete – before either partner comes. If she lets herself feel obligated to continue until he orgasms, she’ll find herself doing whatever she can to make him come, because then she’ll be done. In those moments, she abandons her experience in favor of his.
Self-abandonment through Self-Betrayal
34. You don’t know what really makes you happy. The longer our pattern of self abandonment goes on, the less and less likely we are to know what makes us happy. After spending years or decades worrying about others, it’s natural and normal to lose track of what we enjoy. If you can’t easily answer the question, “What makes you happy,” it’s time to start healing your self-abandonment issues.
35. When someone asks what you need, you usually don’t have an answer. Similar to our previous point, when we focus on what everyone else needs there is no space or time to pay attention to our own needs. When we get that disconnected from our own needs, we have become deeply entwined in a self abandonment cycle. Knowing our own needs and being able to quickly recognize when they are not being met is key to breaking free from the self-abandonment cycle.
36. You feel numb. In other words, your feelings are elusive or, even better said, you’ve felt so many uncomfortable feelings that your body simply finds easy and efficient ways to keep you from feeling anything. This can also look like sadness or depression. Depression, repressed feelings, and self-abandonment go hand in hand. Sometimes it can feel easier to reject our own feelings rather than deal with them. Yet, when we numb out, deny, or avoid our own feelings, we can’t show up for ourselves, nor can we show up for our partner or our relationship.
37. Settling for better than nothing. If you’ve stayed in a relationship that you know isn’t really your heart’s desire while telling yourself, “It’s better than being alone,” you’ve actually once again said to yourself, “What you want isn’t important.” That relationship can be nothing but a disappointment to both people.
38. You try not to be picky, needy or high-maintenance. Anytime we try to be something or not be something it demands some level of inauthenticity. It requires us to deny parts of ourselves or pretend that we are different than we are in hopes that the other person will like us, love us, and remain in our lives. Plain and simple, inauthenticity is self abandonment.
39. Resignation has set in. This is one of the biggest indicators of self abandonment. To be resigned is to have given up all hope. We l can only feel resigned about something that truly matters to us. So to be resigned, we had to give up on ourself. We have to tell ourselves it doesn’t matter. But it does matter. If it didn’t, there would be no reason to feel resigned. If you’ve reached a feeling of resignation in your relationship, and if any part of you wants that relationship to recover, it’s critical to get support.
How to Heal Self-Abandonment
As you’ve seen through all of the illustrations and examples above, when we are masters at self abandonment, our actions and our unconscious internal dialog reinforce the faulty idea that, “I don’t matter.” Most of us tend to think that it’s others’ actions and words that are saying, “You don’t matter.” But it was never them, it was you. Their actions might have reflected your thinking, but it’s the way you hold and value you – internally, that determines your experience externally.
That is not by any means to blame you for your experiences, but to show you that you have the power to change all your external circumstances. Our mindsets, our habits, our patterns are all shiftable. You can change. Your life can change.
You heal self abandonment by creating a genuine intimate relationship with you. In creating this relationship with you, you discover what real self-love is, and you learn to honor you.
Then the magic happens.
When you have that kind of relationship with yourself, it’s as if the world conspires to say yes, you are that amazing, that worthy. It’s when people on the path of soul love start saying, “Oh my god, my life. I never imagined it could be like this.” And, both men and women alike might find tears of awe creeping into the corners of their eyes.
Healing your self abandonment issues doesn’t just change your life. It changes the lives of all those around you too.
You see, as much as self abandonment hurts you. It also hurts those you love. It harms your relationships by weakening them from the inside out. The unconscious buried resentment destroys whatever love, connection, and intimacy might have been there. And, again, as you’ve seen in all these examples, if you don’t stay conscious, the self-abandonment patterns can start playing out in your very first dating connections.
The truth about Self-Abandonment
People with strong relationships with themselves, don’t self-abandon. And, they are not arrogant or conceited. They are the people we look up to and admire. They have a strong sense of self-worth, they won’t settle for less than their heart’s desire, and through their open-hearted sovereignty they create deep soulful relationships that last.
*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.