The Devastating Impact of Self-Abandonment

Published on Charity Village
Date: 5th July 2021

Self-abandonment can be described as the tendency to make choices or enter spaces that may be unsafe, physically or emotionally, without apparent regard for personal security. It also occurs in those moments when we ignore our discomfort, pain, personal needs, or inner knowing.

Self-abandonment is demonstrated when we say “yes” but we really mean “not a chance.” We neglect ourselves when we postpone taking steps toward making our dreams a reality and add insult to injury when we blame that choice on other people. When we decide to push through a little longer even though we passed the point of being “done” hours earlier, we are in full denial of our needs. In those moments when everything inside of you is screaming “go” and you choose to stay, you have figuratively just left yourself stranded on the corner without bus money.

Perhaps the most devastating expression of self-abandonment is displayed in the self-destructive acts we engage in when we feel trapped in situations and seek psychic escape from the dark depths of our internal experience.

When life makes you feel like running away

Even when we feel like we have nowhere to turn, we do have choice. A shift in perception might be the only action we can take, but the lens we choose to look through is up to us. And yet, each of us has our own tolerance levels, personal triggers, and limits that impact our capacity to stay with discomfort and pain long enough to see it differently.

If seeing things from another angle seems impossible, and it’s not likely that the situation will transform into something more manageable, we might be at high risk for self-abandonment.

Think about what happens to you in the midst of conflict with someone you love. You feel disconnected and separated and all you want is to relieve the discomfort that comes with an unknown outcome and the possibility that resolution might not be found. Your thoughts are swirling. You begin to panic. You were once so clear about what mattered to you and the fact that you needed to stand up for yourself, but now that things look bleak, you are ready to forfeit everything and go along for the sake of getting along. You would do anything at this point to save this relationship and keep someone from walking out the door.

Maybe you’ve just messed up. You made a huge blunder and you are sitting in the aftermath. No one can berate you better than you can. Nobody can point out your flaws in such a cutting manner. After all, you have the inside scoop when it comes to all the details of your sordid past ~ every ounce of guilt is kept securely in the corners of your heart and every shameful moment is recorded in your soul. You sit there mired in the list of all that is wrong with you with no escape in sight.

Consider for a moment how you have managed in those moments. When the impacts of loss, fear, and despair mount to an unbearable level, how well have you been able to stay with your experience, to ground yourself within the depths of this agony? We often feel ill equipped to cope in these moments. To respond with love is a challenge because we feel so far from love. We can’t seem to locate the energy of comfort and peace and presence and in sometimes frantic ways we reach for something, anything, to soothe our pain.

I bet you’ve had days where you would give anything to be able to get away from yourself. If you could, you would climb right out of your skin and shed your shell in a heartbeat. To be able to hang up the phone on the angst of your emotional experience would be sweet relief. To mute the voice inside your head and all its nonsense would be the balm you need.

How is it a “bad” thing to want to get away from the suffering? The good news is that the desire to alleviate your pain and discomfort is actually a very healthy sign of your capacity for self-love. The strategies you use, on the other hand, make the difference between caring for yourself and destroying yourself.

Choose your poison

I have no doubt that you are fully aware of your life-affirming coping strategies and the ones that might work quicker but have numerous side effects and often compound and prolong the pain.

Any behaviour characterized by addictive patterns is a solid indicator of a tendency toward self-abandonment. When we reach for anything as a means to get away from the self and what we are going through, we are taking the first steps toward self-neglect. Doing anything to not feel something else, on a continuous basis, does not make that emotional experience go away. Instead, it entrenches it even more deeply into every part of our being so it lingers just beneath the surface, ready to pounce at the first opportunity. Unattended and unloved emotional energy has a profound capacity to derail us in a heartbeat.

Specifically, this might look like substance abuse of any kind ~ alcohol, drugs (prescription included), caffeine, cigarettes, food. We ingest on more than physical levels as well. You might feel compelled to check social media, your phone, someone else’s phone, or lose yourself in TV. Maybe, it’s an activity you escape in for hours such as gambling, video gaming, or shopping.

Even activities that appear on the surface to be healthy can have an ulterior motive designed to keep you from your personal struggles. Exercise or meditation practices that are indulged in at the expense of physical injury or fatigue or in avoidance of living life can be very detrimental. The end goal of a perfect body or enlightened peace is often elusive when the purpose is to bypass loving acceptance of self.

Relationships are another mode of escape. When we cannot be alone and enjoy our own company and we need the attention and affection of another for our sense of worth, we have entered into co-dependency, also a form of addictive behaviour. Losing ourselves in relationships is a direct path to self-disconnection. Not only do you end up a non-contributing participant in the relationship, but you also disengage from your own life.

Risk increases for service providers

My friend, Janelle, is a service provider in the nonprofit sector. In a recent conversation, we discovered our resonance with the experience of increased sensitivity ~ not only emotionally, but also to what we ingested ~ food, drink, and social media, for example.

I remarked that I had always been sensitive as a child. I would cry at songs and commercials. I was born sentimental and romantic. I realized a few years ago that I had learned to stifle this quality because I could see how it made others uncomfortable and I didn’t like the way I was perceived. Now, I am on a mission to embrace my sensitivity as an innate aspect of my human nature.

Janelle felt the same. She acknowledged that sometimes her sensitivity led her into escapist behavior or left her in major discomfort for a prolonged period of time. But it was also what made her good at her job. It was her superpower as a mom and wife. It was the vehicle that allowed her to develop rich and intimate relationships in her life.

We spoke previously of this gift of sensitivity that often accompanies the desire to serve. This, coupled with a great capacity to give and a sometimes challenged capacity to receive, places you, as a service provider, at increased risk for self-abandonment.

Societal views reinforce beliefs and ideals that have us externalize our perspectives and energy at the expense of ourselves. We have made it a noble act to do so. Giving to others without regard for self is the stuff that heroes are made of.

But, when the “hero” falls or can no longer maintain the pace, when they have depleted themselves to the point of sheer exhaustion, or when their efforts have no apparent impact, we offer superficial quips about pouring from empty vessels and putting on oxygen masks.

If you pride yourself on your ability to help other people, your desire to make a difference, and your capacity for compassion in the world, this fall from grace can be a devastating blow to your sense of identity as a service provider.

This is often the point where you start looking for the exit sign in your life.

The truth is that no one else has the power or the responsibility to ensure that I stand by my own side and that I am protected from self-abandonment. It is up to me.

Allowing yourself to suffer for extended periods of time is a form of self-abandonment. “Sit here and think about what you’ve done,” we snap over our shoulder as we walk out the door of our psyche, condemning ourselves to hours, days, and sometimes years of a steady subconscious review of things to be ashamed of, all with no end in sight.

The good news is that you hold the key to your release from this self-imposed prison.

Pardon yourself

When you stand on the brink of self-abandonment, you are also presented with the greatest opportunity to demonstrate self-love. How you choose to respond to your lived experience when you are scraping the bottom of the barrel will make all the difference.

The magic of your sensitive nature allows you to give full witness to what you are going through ~ to learn the secrets meant just for you ~ and to glean the wisdom that will guide your steps and give you the strength and courage to continue standing by your own side as only you can.

And for those times when you do run away, leaving your heart to face the dark night alone, know that you are always, always welcome back. No questions asked.

This is the fourth article in a six-part series on Love and Service. We invite you to read the firstsecond, third, fifth, and sixth articles in the series.

Elizabeth Bishop is the creator of The Conscious Service Approach. She regularly facilitates workshops based on the principles of the approach both online and in person. Elizabeth can be reached at, on twitter at @askelizabethb, and Facebook and Linkedin at Elizabeth Bishop Consulting.

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