Abandonment Issues and Low Self Esteem

Written by Karl Perera MA, DipLC.

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Having written about self esteem and related topics for more than twenty years now, and through discussions with those who suffer from low self esteem a recurrent theme that crops up is abandonment. There seems to be a clear connection between abandonment, particularly between family members, and low self-esteem.

On this page we will look at the research and discuss how the effects of abandonment can be overcome and how a healthy level of self esteem can be restored to those who may have suffered abandonment issues.

Abandonment issues, especially within the family, can cause low self esteem. As Dennis Balcolm (1998) explains, abandonment can negatively affect the ability to form and maintain self-esteem and lasting relationships. It can also prevent sufferers from understanding and expressing feelings.

There are many different kinds of abandonment and each individual may react to abandonment issues differently, so this is a complex subject. Let’s first try to understand abandonment and its effects in terms of self esteem and related problems. After that we will consider what can be done to help those who feel a sense of abandonment and are trying to deal with it.

How Can Abandonment Cause Self Esteem?

Here are a number of reasons why abandonment may cause low self esteem as well as other related issues:

  • Parents such as fathers who abandon their children remove a positive role model for the son. The son needs a father to be an example of how to relate to the opposite sex and how to relate to others in general. This often causes sons to be unable to form close relationships with females, especially romantic relationships.
  • A person who has been abandoned may feel like a victim and develop a very negative mentality believing that somehow they share some of the blame for the abandonment or somehow deserved it. This will quickly lead to low self esteem or even self loathing.
  • Those who feel abandoned may feel that because they were not sufficiently valued by their father or mother, they may think that others do not value them and this can turn into a deep mistrust of others and their own self-worth.
  • It is never pleasant to feel rejection and if someone feels they have been rejected by a family member, such as a parent, they may develop a fear of being rejected again by others or they might tend to become too dependent on others for attention. Any of these behaviours can be very damaging to future relationships and social encounters.

What Kinds of Abandonment are Most Damaging to One’s Self Esteem?

Close family members are extremely important to us as we develop our emotional and social selves. Self esteem can be negatively impacted by abandonment from any close family member, particularly parents.

Effects of Abandonment by Parents

The first study we will look at is this one by Claesson and Sohlberg from 2002.

This study focuses on the feelings of shame and its effects on someone abandoned by their mother. Shame has a profound effect on self esteem because it affects how a person sees him or herself and how they interact socially with others. Feelings of rejection, low self esteem resulting from this kind of abandonment from a mother can sometimes lead to social phobias, fear and anxiety in connection with relationships and interactions with others.


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This article by Dennis Balcom, written in 1998, details some of the main abandonment issues resulting from a father abandoning a son. In particular, the article explains the problems of low self esteem and intimacy that abandoned sons often have and suggests ways that these issues could be treated.

Unfortunately, according to Balcom, abandonment by fathers seems to occur quite a lot in the US. One major issue is that these abandoned sons seem unable to express emotions or express their feelings with their children and partners later in adulthood.

One major factor which determines how this abandonment affects an abandoned son in life is the reason why the father abandoned the son in the first place. Many sons try to contact the father and discover why they were abandoned because the reason is very important for them and affects them emotionally.

One interesting thing to remember when looking at this kind of abandonment is that it does not have to be a physical abandonment. The effects on a child are negative if the father is no longer a part of the life of the child, either because the father has left the family or he is disconnected emotionally. In other words, a child needs the physical and emotional contact and closeness of a father or mother in order to develop in a healthy way.

In 1960, 17% of children did not live with their father and by 1990 this had risen to 36% (Blankenhorn 1995).

How Are These Abandonment Issues Treated?

According to Balcom (1998), there are two options for treatment for those who have been abandoned by their father:

  • Meeting the father and trying to resolve the issues through discussion, forgiveness and understanding. In this case the father must be willing to meet the son he abandoned and to talk about the past in an effort to aid healing.
  • Treatment is also possible even when the father cannot or will not agree to meet or refuses to accept responsibility for his actions in the past. this would appear more challenging for the abandoned person, but healing can still take place and many of the issues can still be resolved.

The best way for anybody who is suffering from abandonment issues to recover lost self esteem and begin to heal is to get the help of a therapist or counsellor. With the help of a professional it is possible to discuss the feelings and issues that are affecting the person as a result of being abandoned by a parent. One of the best ways that therapy can help is to prepare a person before they try to meet the father or mother that abandoned them. Discussing with the therapist which questions to ask and what to expect can make the meetings much more helpful.

Therapy can continue and when the time is right the parent can be invited to attend the sessions. This can be an extremely beneficial way for the son or daughter to meet and discuss the important issues with the parent. These sessions, with guidance from the therapist, can be managed to maximize the healing value to both the victim and the parent.

It is always possible, of course for the abandoned person to find the father or mother and then arrange a meeting. This is, however, more of a risk and may not be so successful.

A Poem Sent to Me By One Of My Readers

Here is a poem sent to me by Stephan Kiyemba (2015) and published in his book, “You Are Not Desperate” all about feeling abandoned, it also touches on the subject of sexual abuse.

Though the subject is sad, it is a positive poem about human value and will teach you something about self esteem and abandonment.

SLAM POETRY – ABA

Looking at her sparkling beauty, I could not resist the temptation to get close.

My mind raced up and down, searching for the best opening lines to captivate my prey.

At that moment, God was on my side, for her young brother came and called her by name – ABA,

Knowing her name, I invaded her territory and crafted my opener.

“Surely, your parents chose to name you after that famous music band – ABBA!

You must be a lover of music.”

Her face beamed with joy as she smiled but suddenly sunk into a sullen mood saying:

“How I wish that was the reason!”

Looking at my perplexed face she explained.

“Far from that, ABA is the short form for abandoned.

My father named me Abandoned following mum’s death at my birth.”

With remorse I interjected: “But you chose to keep a name that has tragic memories.

You should have changed it.”

She responded:

“How could I change it and yet everything about my life only proves that I was born to be abandoned?”

She narrated her ordeal.

“At the tender age of 7, my stepmother locked me in a room and starved me for days.

My father refused to pay my school fees forcing my uncle to come to my rescue.

Little did I know that this Good Samaritan would later turn monster and sexually abuse me.

This act occasioned poor performance at school which equally attracted ridicule and shame.

From the moment of my birth up until now, pain and suffering have become my closest allies.”

With tears flowing down her cheeks, she screamed:

“Surely God intended for me to be abandoned-my name is ABANDONED!”

Sitting close to her I gently tapped her shoulders, wiped her tears and whispered:

“Aba, for you to be abandoned is one thing, but to accept it is completely another.

For in accepting the unbearable we become our own tormentors.

Our parents and other people may have given us a raw deal in the race of life;

But we alone can determine how we emerge out of that race,

By changing names such names as ABANDONED.

I then knelt down and said, “from the moment I saw you I got intense feelings of admiration,

Will you then allow me to change your name from ABANDONED to ADMIRED?

From ABA to ADY?

© Stephan  Kiyemba 2013.

I hoped you enjoyed the poem and that you get somethıng positive and helpful from reading it.

References

  • Balcom, D. A. (1998). Absent fathers: Effects on abandoned sons. The journal of men’s studies6(3), 283-296.
  • Blankenhorn, D. (1995). Fatherless America. New York: Basic Books.
  • Claesson, K., & Sohlberg, S. (2002). Internalized shame and early interactions characterized by indifference, abandonment and rejection: Replicated findings. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy: An International Journal of Theory & Practice9(4), 277-284.
  • Kiyemba, S. (2015). You Are Not Desperate. Bloomington: Balboa Press

Website Author and Editor Bio

Photo of Karl Perera, MA, DipLCKarl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA) and author of Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.