April 30, 2018

By Brianna Johnson


Self-abandonment is a strange concept. How can you abandon yourself when you are always with you? If you're well-schooled in the world of self-development, you may have an educated guess at what self-abandonment is: It's when you don't support yourself, right? Kind of.

Essentially, self-abandonment is when you reject, suppress or ignore part of yourself in real-time. In other words, you have a need or desire you want to meet, and (often on the spot) you make the decision not to meet it.

Example A: Jen comes home from a long, exhausting work week and is looking forward to resting. A friend calls, asking if she can come over to vent about her difficult relationship. While Jen knows what she wants, she still reluctantly tells her friend to come over.

Example B: Kyle is interested in studying a particular style of art that has excited him for years. But his friends poke fun at him, saying it's a waste of time. Kyle despondently never enrolls in art class, despite his genuine interest.

In both cases, these individuals value the needs and opinions of others more than they value their own. They have an initial trajectory they are fairly certain about, but they abandon it as soon as they are “pressured” by others.

In a self-abandoner's mind, the belief that their needs and desires either cannot be met or should not be met is a strong one. This belief leads to a continuous process of detachment, as the self-abandoner repeatedly makes decisions to ignore, repress or condemn their personal needs. Over time, they might even forget or lose the ability to identify their own needs.

This is a tough pattern that can lead in many negative directions. It can take us so far away from who we are that we find ourselves in a pattern of people-pleasing, settling or neglecting ourselves. Before long, our personal identities might even feel hazy. So, how can we move out of this pattern?

At its core, self-abandonment typically arises from a lack of self-trust. So, the fundamental solution to self-abandonment is self-trust and making a commitment to yourself. Anything that involves self-care, self-exploration or asserting yourself is a step in the right direction. Another part might be learning to handle peer pressure (yes, just like in high school!).

Here are two questions you can apply to any situation to determine if you are operating from self-abandonment:

  1. "For what reason am I making this decision?" If the answer involves guilt, shame, fear, timidity or generally negative emotions, you might be in abandonment mode.
  2. "If I were the only person on earth, would I still want to do ___?" This removes other people's influence from your decision-making and frees you up to determine how you actually feel.

Remember: There's no quick-and-easy solution. We don't become self-abandoners from one decision, so we won’t change after one positive experience. Eventually, you’ll create a reservoir of experiences in which you trusted yourself and things worked out. With those in mind, you won’t default to self-abandonment. With those in mind, self-trust will come more naturally.


A mental health counseling grad student, Brianna runs ExistBetter.co, a blog that explores the nitty gritty of mental illness and self-development.

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