Abandonment, Breakups and Belonging

couple hugging each other

Breakups are hard … there is just no way around this fact. Breaking up is often hard even when you are the one ending the relationship! Even when you know that breaking up is the best thing you can do for yourself, it can be painful and emotionally disorienting. Breakups of all kinds, from the agreeable, friendly kinds to the knock-down-drag-out kinds, are likely to bring up issues of abandonment and belonging.

Regardless of how long the relationship lasted, you likely felt a sense of “belonging” with your partner. If only for a short time, you enjoyed a feeling of completion and connection that made you feel safe, known and wanted. If the relationship lasted a long time, then those feelings of belonging were likely to be more deeply etched into your psyche. During a breakup, feelings of belonging are drastically changed, triggering feelings of abandonment experienced from the past, as well as those felt in the moment.

Many people have gone through some form of abandonment during their childhood. It could have happened in the form of divorce, death, a parent leaving the family, traveling, work, war, addiction, abuse, adoption, etc. A lot of times, the ending of a relationship can be especially painful for people who have suffered an early abandonment. When we are little, we often suppress our hurt, scared, angry, confused, betrayed and sad feelings in order to survive and get through the loss.

Suppressed feelings don’t go away. They just hang out in a place within our memory that goes unnoticed by our conscious mind. This hiding place is what a lot of healers, therapists and mystics call the Shadow. When we undergo difficult moments, like breakups that draw us away from our experience of and striving for happiness, we begin to emotionally dip into the suppressed memories and feelings from the past. The feelings we experience in the “here and now” become even more intense. This is normal and natural, especially if one has previously survived a trauma.

Abandonment is traumatizing to children because we are naturally attached to our parental figures. We have a primal need to have that bond. It is nothing to be ashamed of, yet a lot of us do feel shame and may not even be aware of it. The shame associated with being abandoned is related to our lost sense of belonging. This can make us feel unwanted and different than others and so, in order to cope, we learn to hide and minimize the feelings we had as kids all the way into adulthood.

This suppressed feeling can explain why we so often feel a sense of shame when someone breaks up with us or when we are unable to make a relationship work. We feel ashamed for being “unwanted” and we feel shame in thinking that we failed to make a relationship last or in having made a poor choice in a mate. If you have never felt abandoned emotionally or physically in your past, you are rare and lucky. However, you may not be immune to feelings of abandonment and shame. These feelings can arise if you are unaccustomed to being rejected and someone chooses to not be in a relationship with you. Or you may worry about not living up to the potential of your family reputation/tradition for having solid and sound relationships.

Once we understand the full scope of why we feel the way we do, we can begin healing the core stuff that led us to this experience in the first place. Suppressed and unconscious grief from a past abandonment can attract to us similar experiences through relationships with people who will play out the previous drama with us. It could be that our spirits orchestrate the drama so we can become conscious of what needs healing in us through the experience of pain. Pain causes us to grow when we would rather just stay the same.

No one wants to go through life with a conscious or unconscious feeling of abandonment, shame and a sense of not belonging in the world. When a breakup triggers these feelings in us we have the choice to grow bitter or depressed and live as a victim – or we can feel our feelings and learn how to be there for ourselves. We can learn how to feel a sense of belonging from within. We can comfort the inner child that still feels hurt and lost due to events of long ago. It is amazing what a little awareness and allowing oneself to feel can do for a person.

The process of healing from a past abandonment and a present breakup can feel and look messy, but it is fertile ground for personal and spiritual growth. As we heal our wounds and let go of shame we grow into whole adults who are conscious and ready to have relationships that last. The first step is to mend the relationship you have with yourself by understanding what experiences and events have left behind a residue of grief that needs to be consciously felt, expressed, and let go of.

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