We recently wrote about the toll of abandonment. The main takeaway is that people who were abandoned by primary caregivers in childhood are well aware of the fact that they were abandoned but aren’t necessarily aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are affected as a result, throughout the developmental process from childhood into adulthood.
We want to widen the sphere of the psychology of abandonment by talking about people subjected to unintentional abandonment. By unintentional abandonment we mean primary caregivers who died while their children were still young or primary caregivers who give their children up for adoption because they know that they’re in no position to be able to provide the proper care, for example.
The likely psychological outcome of being subjected to unintentional abandonment is a war between reason and emotion. Reason will seem to win the day and remain conscious while emotion will actually win the day but go underground. Reason says, “My primary caregiver did what was best for me” or “my primary caregiver had no choice in the matter and would have been there for me if not for outside circumstances.” But emotion will say “I needed my primary caregiver but they weren’t there for me. My primary caregiver abandoned me.”
But those thoughts are dangerous. It doesn’t seem fair to blame a primary caregiver for something that they couldn’t control, like in the case of death, or something that they did for their child’s own good, like in the case of putting them up for adoption. So those thoughts go underground, left to simmer on a slow burn. They’re an open gestalt that never closes since closing it would mean admitting to the really negative feelings that don’t sync up with the reason’s explanation of events.
Those who were subjected to unintentional abandonment can realize that they have every right to feel angry, hurt, and disappointed in their primary caregiver, just like those who were subjected to intentional abandonment. After all, the concrete result is the same in both cases. The primary caregiver exits the picture. It’s okay to say out loud “I needed you and you weren’t there for me.” Bringing those authentic feelings, even if they are irrational, into conscious awareness is how to close the open gestalt and come to terms with what happened. By giving those feelings their day in the sun, emotion and reason will stop battling each other and get on the same page. The negative feelings will go away and what will remain are love and gratitude for the primary caregiver who had to go away.