How to Know If the Person Who Abandoned You in the Past Is Still Affecting You Today

The psychological and emotional trauma of being abandoned can resurface at unexpected times when nothing is seemingly wrong, causing us to feel emotions we can't explain. This can often become a cycle if we don't recognize when it's happening, which is why Jonice Webb, PhD, at YourTango came up with four steps for healing from your abandonment issues and moving on.

Unsplash | Eutah Mizushima

Four ways to heal and move on.

One day, you're going through your life just fine — going to work, seeing your friends, and all of the normal everyday things — then, without warning, your world turns dark.

Suddenly you feel a need to protect yourself from those you once trusted and you feel a sense of anger, hurt, and rejection. You feel lost, alone, and bereft.

Why the change? Did a random mood come over you? Did depression set in?

Maybe, but probably not. What probably happened was that you encountered a surprise trigger of your abandonment issues; one you didn't expect or see.

Someone or something triggered your abandonment issues. And your feelings about yourself, your life, and someone you love are cast in a different light.

Such is the power of abandonment issues.

Abandonment issues come from being wounded when an important person in your life unexpectedly leaves you.

For example, in childhood, a parent suddenly becomes less available (or leaves or passes away); or, in adulthood, your spouse or partner unexpectedly walks away. A significant abandonment at any time in your life can leave you with an abandonment wound.

Your abandonment wound must be acknowledged and addressed, or it will sit beneath the surface of your life, waiting to be triggered. Years later, someone important to you may say or do something that feels to you like they no longer care or may leave — maybe they are only going on vacation, or cancel a lunch date — but that feeling of being walked away from, or left, gets set off. And suddenly, your world turns dark.

What makes you vulnerable to abandonment triggers? Being unaware.

Not everyone who is abandoned ends up being vulnerable to abandonment triggers. Some people are more vulnerable than others. And what makes you more vulnerable is this: Being unaware of the full importance and impact of your abandonment wound.

If you are someone who pays little attention to your own feelings in general, you are likely to minimize the emotional impact of painful events, such as your original abandonment. And being unaware of an event's true effect on you (the wound) leaves that effect, and all its power, in its place as you move forward in your life.

Your buried, unacknowledged wound sits under the surface of your life, roiling with unaddressed feelings. Like the lava sitting in an inactive volcano, your wound waits to be touched off by any large or small thing that may happen in your current life to trigger it.

As a child, did your parents notice and respond to what you were feeling? Were emotion words used very often? Were you supported when you felt hurt, sad, or angry?

Any answer less than "all of the above" means that you did not receive enough emotional attention and support when you were growing up. You were raised with some amount of Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN.

By not responding to your feelings enough, your parents, probably without realizing it, sent you a powerful, subliminal message each and every day:

Your feelings don't matter.

As you grew into adulthood, you were set up to overlook your own emotions. You were set up to under-attend to your emotional wound.

Since our feelings, even very old ones, do not go away until they are at least accepted and acknowledged, they dwell there under the surface, waiting for a trigger. But that doesn't mean that you can't overcome them, even years later!

Here are four steps to help you heal your abandonment issues and move on with your life:

1. Start by looking backward (if you truly want to move forward).

Identify your first wounding abandonment. Even if it seems unimportant, accept that it actually was very powerful for you and that you have simply been ignoring it.

2. Talk through your original abandonment experience with someone you trust.

A friend or a therapist will be a good choice for this. Try to recall how you felt when it happened. Try to understand that original event in a new way, applying the wisdom of your adult brain.

3. Begin to work on healing your childhood emotional neglect.

Pay more attention to your emotions all the time, and start to notice and put words to what you are feeling.

4. Own your abandonment wound.

That pool of pain lies within you, waiting to be accepted, and treated as if it matters. Simply acknowledging and accepting it will make you so much stronger.

When you accept your pain and treat it as if it matters, you are doing an amazing thing. You are healing your abandonment wound, making yourself less vulnerable to what triggers your abandonment issues. But you are also doing much more. You are treating the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are (your emotions), as if they matter, and you are treating yourself as if you matter.

You are taking strides in healing your childhood emotional neglect by making yourself emotionally aware.

You are taking your power back and moving forward, gradually leaving your abandonment issues behind you.

Jonice Webb has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and is the author of the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect. To learn more about how CEN affects your parenting and other relationships, take the free CEN questionnaire and see Jonice Webb's new book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

Check out more great stories from YourTango: