Remember when you were 16 and you went to a party? You got ready with your friends and you all agreed that you would stick together no matter what. And then, at some point in the evening, you found yourself standing there alone. Can you remember that feeling? Abandoned. Solitary. Maybe your belly was churning or your heart felt like a sinking brick… You felt hurt, unwanted, and betrayed. How could they do this to you? And maybe you even wondered if they really were your friends at all. Remember? Fast forward a few decades and let me introduce you to Jan, a lovely woman who started her coaching journey with me in a state of frustration and disappointment. “My daughter (24) and I used to hang out a lot and do things together. She always used to leave me little love notes around the house saying how much she loved and appreciated me. Now she's gone off to university and we barely communicate. She doesn't want to talk on the phone so it's just text messages. And sometimes she doesn't answer me for days. I know she's read them but she doesn't care enough to respond. She has abandoned me.” Ooh, what a tender feeling… I felt my heart clench. You too? You know, any of your close relationships can trigger a sense of abandonment, especially if you’ve felt abandoned in the past. But “abandoned” isn't technically a feeling; it’s your interpretation of what someone is doing to you. It’s your perception, the picture you’re seeing, which may or may not be accurate. It is also a sign that certain feelings and needs need your attention. Feelings like hurt, loneliness, fear and sadness. Needs such as belonging, reliability, reassurance and love. Sometimes we have a hard time acknowledging our feelings and needs. If you hear yourself saying that you are being abandoned, check in with what you're hearing.
Maybe part of you is dismissing your needs, saying things like, I shouldn't be upset, it's not that big of a deal, I agreed to do this so I just have to do it, they will be happy if I just go along with it, I don't have to talk about my needs, or no one wants to hear about my feelings so why bother talking?
Maybe part of you is denying you have any feelings about this, saying, Who me? I’m not afraid, this doesn’t bother me, I’m not sad, it’s fine with me, it’s just the way things go.
But when you question these voices – Why shouldn’t I be upset? Is it true that I’m fine with this? Does it really have to go this way? – you make room for the emotions to flow through you and your needs to come to the surface to be seen and met. Otherwise, it’s a sliver festering beneath the surface. And if you're allowing these voices to guide your decisions, there’s a good chance they’ll be leading you to anger, resentment and making accusations that someone is abandoning you and not caring about you. Pause and notice whether your decisions in the moment are in reaction to what’s unacknowledged, or whether they are true to you and honour your real needs.
Self-Abandonment One of the ways to work with a perception of abandonment is to change your habits of abandoning yourself. We all do this to some extent. We disconnect from our feelings. We put everyone else’s needs above our own or pretend we don’t even have any needs. What about you? In what ways do you tend to abandon yourself? Take a few moments to say them out loud or write them down. And what’s one area you could start changing - one habit you could break, one response you could adjust, one thing you could stop telling yourself - to stay true to yourself? Fear When we say someone has abandoned us, it’s often because we fear that they will turn away from us when we’re vulnerable. We're afraid they won't be there for us and we'll be alone. I invite you to say hello to your fear about your kids leaving you. Turn toward it and let it tell you all that it’s imaginings. Let it squeeze your heart and send you under the covers. And soon you will be out the other side, wiser. Entitlement Another thing that arose in my conversation with Jan was resentment and entitlement. "After all I've done for her, she can't even take 15 seconds to send me a text? I've given her so much, sacrificed so much. I homeschooled her and put hours and hours into making that a good experience for her. I devoted evenings and weekends supporting her in her athletic pursuits.” She was a bit embarrassed to admit this but, in this safe space, it kept coming… “I gave her so much love and this is all I get in the end? I carried her in my body and gave birth to her and I feel like I should get more than a few lines every so often.” When she was done, she sat with a surprised look on her face. There it was, raw painful truth. Finally out in the open. And what do you think? Are we entitled to our children's attention? Entitled: “believing oneself to be inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment; having a right to certain benefits or privileges; authorized, qualified, worthy, special.” Is it our right as a parent, to reap what we sowed? In English we say that we give our attention to another. Give, as in gift. And a gift is something given voluntarily. The way I see it, my children may choose to give me their attention but they are not obligated to do so because I’m their mom. I gave (and continue to give) them my attention by my own choice and without any expectation for repayment; they aren’t indebted to me for it. ~ As my conversation with Jan continued, what lay there, underneath the anger, was grief. Grief for the end of a beautiful era with her daughter. As her tears fell, light flowed in all around her, holding her in this moment. And in the next layer there was grief for those sweet little notes, the daily reminders that she was appreciated and loved. We moved into a deeper heart and soul space and Jan allowed herself to feel the emptiness where those reminders used to lift her up. And in that void, she came to the core of it. “I feel less certain that I am loved. I used to get that reinforced regularly and now there's nothing to reassure me that I am lovable.” Ow. You know, the love we feel for our children is amazingly expansive. And they reflect that love back to us from that first moment, wrapped in our arms, when that baby looks up into our eyes. And then, on all those occasions when they looked at us with so much pure love. In those moments, we had no doubt about how they felt about us. We knew we were loved. This was eye-opening for Jan as she realized that she had been equating the frequency of her daughter’s texts to signs of her own lovability. Where exactly her coaching journey will take her I cannot predict, except to say that it will be a place of greater peace within herself and in her relationship with her daughter. ~ This topic reminded me of the writings of Kahil Gibran and the image I’ve always carried of shooting my children forth like arrows into the future. “Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”
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