Blog 4. How It All Starts: If I’ve Been Abandoned There Must Be Something Wrong with Me. If There Is Something Wrong With Me – Then I Need To Be Punished.
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As a relationship therapist time and time again, I observed the following:
Just to remind you: To some extent we have all been abandoned because from the minute we are born, we all have to deal with the fact that our parents cannot be there for us every minute of the day. How we deal with this reality becomes our relationship or emotional blueprint.
Once abandonment or rejection is felt, the next step is to feel that there must be something wrong with you, because you’ve been rejected. We internalise this feeling that we are not good enough. If this is felt consistently it may become part of your self-belief system. Messages you received about yourself as a child get embedded in your self-belief system.
Consequently, if we begin to believe that we are bad and not good enough, the next step is to punish ourselves. In other words – “If I am abandoned then there must be something wrong with me. And if there’s something wrong with me then I am bad”, and this is when the system of self-punishment begins. Consequently, you may find ways of punishing yourself believing that you don’t deserve to be loved. Negative messages that we receive as children can be very subtle but powerful nevertheless.
And believing these messages, especially if they are consistently heard can easily get internalised. And once a belief system sets in, we begin to act out what we believe about ourselves in ways that dis-empower us. All because we don’t believe we deserve any better. We then find ways consciously or unconsciously to punish ourselves.
To reiterate – if as a child you were also told that you are useless, stupid, lazy, bad, naughty and so on, these statements can ‘stick to you, like mud’. Labels of this kind, can have long-lasting effects on a child’s self-esteem or self-worth.
As an adult you may continue this belief system. And gosh, do we find ways of punishing ourselves! Not believing we are worth much means we may choose destructive relationships or destructive behaviour patterns. We may just do little things like, not paying the bills on time, getting to work late, buying unnecessary things and maxing out credit cards, drinking too much the evening before a major meeting the next day and so forth.
(Just by the way, one very good example that we all must’ve experienced, is someone who consistently turns up late for appointments. This is an unconscious statement that expresses a lack of self-worth).
We often do things without realising that we are reaffirming our negative inner self-belief system.
And we don’t always realise that by punishing others can be a way of punishing ourselves.
One example of how our patterns start is when a baby turns its head away from their mother after being left and then picked up again. The baby turns its head thereby communicating – ‘I’ll abandon you before you abandon me’ and in so doing punishing the mother for leaving. Except that what the baby also does, is punish him/herself.
Those few moments are crucial. If the baby hadn’t turned its head away it would get immediate attention. But no – what we learn is a system of punishment. A system denying ourselves the attention we crave, even momentarily, in order to punish. And this comes from our fear of abandonment. So fear of abandonment can lead to punishing the abandoner. However the abandoner might only be gone for a while. Yet we may still punish and this will depend on how your abandonment in childhood was managed.
And this punishing behaviour can also be a form a self-disempowerment.
It’s only after the mother brings the baby’s head back that the attention between mother and child is resumed. So another pattern gets created – that the abandoner, in this case the mother, has to do the work of repairing the ‘damage’ of abandoning.
In adulthood we may therefore wait for someone to make the first move before we repair conflict. And we could get quite obstinate and stubborn about this. Not realising that like the baby we might actually be disempowering ourselves. We could quite easily narrow the time gap between our feeling abandoned and at least trying to repair a situation. However this is rare, because what we have learnt as babies is that the other person should make reparation first, irrespective of what we may feel. Of course, sometimes a child or even an adult can realise that waiting for someone else to repair conflict isn’t always constructive and that depending on what you want, a little humility can go a long way in repairing conflict.
This step-by-step break down of how we pick up behaviour patterns is crucial to how we develop emotionally. And what we expect from ourselves and others in situations has a direct bearing on what we first experienced in childhood.
This punishment of the mother or oneself is one of the behavioural systems we learn right from the beginning of our lives. As we get older the next step we internalise is, ‘because you did this to me, I’ll do this to you’. We don’t realise that our need for revenge is not always constructive. And often we hurt ourselves more than we hurt the other person. Because usually we are the ones left feeling isolated and unloved.
Revenge is often really about our fear of abandonment. And the act of revenge is only anger that results from that fear. And the flip side of revenge is blame.
Why do we experience all of these feelings of self-punishment, revenge or blame? Because we are all terrified of being abandoned or rejected. All because what we all really want, is to be unconditionally held and loved.
It’s therefore important to understand where many of our knee-jerk reactions come from and what we may feel in situations that mirror childhood experiences. Whenever you feel abandoned or rejected you may resort to feelings of fear, blame, rage, revenge or panic. It may be worth watching how you react. And at the same time try to remember where they came from and what the situations were when your feelings first arose. This isn’t always easy and it may take time to remember. However what is worth noting is that patterns begin in childhood. And guess what? They are only patterns that have become habits. If they’re not helping you in adulthood, it may be time to find ways of ridding yourself from habits that no longer serve you.
Furthermore, if you carry on believing that you are not worth much, you may start manifesting rejection. You might even begin to expect or even create rejection. What we fear we create.
To summarise: Get to know what messages you may have received in childhood that are getting in the way. Try to become aware of why and how you might punish yourself and others. Observe how you react to situations and whether you are able to resolve them quickly. Watch yourself like a hawk.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard rather wisely said, “In Life one is condemned to live life forwards and to understand it backwards”.
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Note: © 2014 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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