the habit of abandoning yourself


I recall being in 9th grade and nervously asking a certain girl to go out over the weekend. She said yes, and I was ecstatic. Later that day, I shared my good news with another boy to which he responded, “Oh no, I know her, she’s gross.” The date never happened. In response to the boy’s nasty comment, I chose to abandon myself. Instead of inquiring further, castigating him or ignoring him entirely, I simply chose to disregard my own feelings.

abandoning yourself

How often do you disregard your own feelings in favor
of other people’s perceptions of reality?

Sadly, we are not liberated from this tendency simply because we shed the innocence of youth. In fact, it is quite common for adults, just as it is for young people, to be overly influenced by other people’s opinions, evaluations and verbalizations. For many adults, this has become a deeply engrained habit, or worse yet, a way of life.

To habitually relate to ourselves and others in this way is to be disconnected from our own visceral/emotional experiences – to be alienated from ourselves to some degree. Other ways of describing this destructive phenomenon include: people pleasing; approval seeking; playing small; or giving away your power. Abandoning ourselves is corrosive and creates nothing but disempowerment and resentment within us.

practicing better self-care

Just as the body requires exercise if we’ve let ourselves go physically, our personalities require “exercise” in order to strengthen and develop certain aspects of who we are and how we relate to ourselves and others. This is an important aspect of self-care, and it’s what therapy is all about. It’s akin to going to the “gym” to “exercise” our minds, hearts, emotions, personalities and more. And, therapy is not the only way to pursue such growth. As the saying goes: The truth is one, but the paths are many. When we do the work of lifelong learning and personal growth, we grow healthier in important and life-enhancing ways.

finding your own voice

Finding your voice begins with paying greater attention to and becoming more familiar with your habitual emotional reactions and then giving expression to your thoughts and feelings in the moment. The ebb and flow of our feelings, desires, attractions and aversions provide us with priceless data; they give us valuable information on a continuous basis. So, just for today, start noticing the ebb and flow of your emotionality – not so you can label or categorize it, but simply so you can be more connected to your own visceral experience, to your own senses. This is how we consciously develop greater awareness.

Walking in NYC recently, I overheard a man tell a woman, “It sounds like you need to re-connect to the five senses and let go of mental constructs.” This happened to occur on a day that was particularly stressful for me, so I was grateful to be coincidentally reminded to get myself back into a state of mindful-awareness.

a bias toward action

If we desire improvements in our lives, we need to take action – pure and simple. Thus, even if you’re skeptical and thinking I have no idea what it will look like to pay attention to my emotionality, just experiment for today. Put your attention on your body and your breathing and just be aware of what’s happening for you emotionally. Do it several times today, whenever you can remember to do it. Most importantly, do not expect it to feel good! Like anything new, it may feel good here and there, but it is more likely to feel awkward or strange. That’s ok – do it anyway. In truth, practicing this type of heightened awareness on a regular basis is the foundation of being centered and rooted in your own personal power.

Can we change our habit of self-abandonment overnight? Of course the answer is no. But, can we start addressing it in a new way right now? Absolutely. Thus, let today be a day where you decide to stop tolerating how easy it is to abandon yourself. Let today be a day where you decide that a disconnected way of being in the world is not something you want for yourself or your relationships. Let today be a day where you decide that it is simply not acceptable to excessively seek approval from others. Just for today, experiment with the practice of awareness – paying attention to your visceral/emotional reactions and honoring them as valid and important. Then tomorrow, you may decide to do it again. And the next day…

2 responses

  1. Nancy says:

    Wow. I loved this. Thank you!

  2. This is the thing – and what therapy is all about: horses have two eyes but they’re on opposite sides of their heads. Fish do too but they’re too stupid to worry about. But horses can’t see what’s in front of them because their eyes can’t work together. People have eyes in front of their head but they’re looking out and they can see everything in the world except themselves. So when a person comes into therapy what you say to him is, ” What do you see?” And he – or she – tells you that the only way they can see themselves is through their reflection in other people’s attitudes and behaviors. They don’t use those words but that’s what they tell you. And your job as a therapist is to help them turn their gaze around – no easy task – so that they can see themselves.And your second job is to help them deal with what they see when what they see frightens them. And you do that by developing in them the belief and the certainty and the confidence that they can change what they see and what they are.


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