Debunking The Myth of ‘You Can’t Be Abandoned as an Adult’ - Teal Swan Articles - Teal Swan Jump to content

Debunking The Myth of ‘You Can’t Be Abandoned as an Adult’

There is a very popular idea being passed around in the field of psychology/self-help/spirituality. And that idea is that you can’t abandon an adult. Essentially, the idea behind this concept is that abandonment can only happen to a child because only a child is dependent on someone for their needs whereas an adult has resources available to them. And an adult can’t abandon another adult since one adult is not responsible for another adult, each are responsible for themselves. Therefore, all that is possible, is for an adult to have their prior abandonment trauma triggered by the actions of someone else. Basically, the idea is that it is only possible to abandon something if it cannot take care of itself. 

There is so much wrong with this concept, so let’s pull it apart piece by piece. 

  1. To abandon means to drop or give up completely on something, such as a course of action, a goal, a responsibility you took, a practice, a commitment you made, an agreement you entered into or a relationship you decided to engage in etc. A person may choose to abandon anything they choose to commit their energy to, including their relationship with another person or something they are providing for the other person. And a person can cease anything they started. When we use the word abandonment in the context of this conversation, we usually mean that someone has dropped and given up their commitment to stay with someone else, support them, provide something for them, look after them, be there for them or fulfill their agreements or responsibilities relative to that other person in some way. And it is possible to do all of these things to another person, regardless of their age.
    To give you some examples of adult abandonment, a person who enters into a primary partnership with someone else, only to find themselves in a situation where the partner has distanced themselves, is not communicating, is ignoring bids for connection, is consistently prioritizing other things and is in their own world under the same roof, has emotionally abandoned their partner.
    If two people enter into an agreement that they will live their life together under the same roof, and they provide physical and/or emotional needs for each other, but one leaves the other to go live somewhere else and stop providing those needs, without finding a mutually beneficial arrangement to accommodate for needed change, one of those friends has abandoned the other. 
    Two people commit to a joint venture. They have committed to being “in it together” and to serving as resources for that venture. One of the people changes their mind and un-commits to that venture, and to being “in it together” with the other person, even if only in a different way. This person has left the other person to do it alone. Thus, they have abandoned their commitment to the other person as well as to the venture itself. If you don’t think this can be serious, just look back to history and think about the consequences of desertion when it comes to war.                 
  2. Straight out the gate, the biggest issue with this concept is that it does not recognize developmental trauma at all. And instead, draws an arbitrary line in the sand where childhood ends and adulthood begins. Certain traumas affect people’s ability to actually develop into being able to exhibit what we judge as adult behavior. So, the reality is, you may not actually be dealing with an adult, even though they look like one. And a person simply having the self-awareness that they are an adult, does not make it so that developmental issues cease to exist. Developmental trauma leads to both 1. The behavior of regressing and having a complete breakdown on a mental, physical and emotional level which you could say is not a very adult behavior and 2. The behavior of someone abandoning someone else, rather than looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement which accommodates for changes in life, which is also not an adult behavior. Neither behavior would occur in a developmentally healthy adult. Therefore, any discission about abandonment between two fully developed adults, is purely hypothetical. What a person needs to overcome developmental trauma, is to have the experience that would have allowed the development to happen. Therefore, a person who has abandonment trauma in their childhood needs to have the opposite experience in their adulthood. It will never, ever work to try to get them to see that they are an adult and they can function alone. This is in fact a re-traumatization. Damage that was done in relationship, can only be healed in relationship. To the opposite side, people doing the abandoning also have some missing experience they were denied in childhood and that they need in order to develop. 
    Society is currently creating more and more developmental issues and is then failing to recognize this. And is then taking no responsibility for the issues it is creating in people. And to make matters worse, people are in fact justifying and glorifying doing so.                     
  3. The concept that it is not possible to abandon an adult, rests on the false belief that abandonment is only valid if the person who is to suffer from that abandonment, is incapable of finding alternative resources for whatever the one doing the abandoning is providing. Abandonment is happening, regardless of whether or not the person who is to suffer from that abandonment is or is not capable of finding alternative resources for whatever the one doing the abandoning is providing.
    On top of this, if this argument was valid, then a child also could not be considered to have been abandoned as long as they had alternative resources. This means, when a child’s needs are met by a grandmother or by the state, you could no longer say that the child was abandoned by their mother because technically, the child had other resources available to them. Also, it begs the question what age does a child become suddenly able to find alternative resources and not dependent on others? Is it when they can forage for food? Because if this is the case, the age would be about five. After which point, they could not be considered to be abandoned. Is it when they are old enough to take over the job of regulating their own emotions? Because if this is the case, that would be around age 8 or 9. After which point, they could not be considered to be abandoned. Is it when the government has decided they can be drafted into armed forces and vote, which would be 18 in many places. After which point, they cannot be considered abandoned. Is it when a child can make their own finances, because if this is the case, children begging in the streets in india cannot be considered abandoned. And does it change the more complex a society becomes, making it so that a child can be considered abandoned at certain age in one country, but a totally different age in another country? Hopefully you are feeling that this very weak argument was created to be a logical invalidation, especially on an emotional level, for the person who is being abandoned, because someone has an agenda for that person standing on their own two feet and not depending on others. The question is: What agenda? That agenda might be something as benign as wanting the person to feel empowered and no longer dependent on others in a way that doesn’t serve them. To the opposite, the agenda might be something as adverse as not wanting to take any responsibility in a relationship.     
  4. The idea that it is not possible to abandon an adult comes from the false idea that a human adult is a solitary animal that is not dependent on one another. The reality is just the opposite. Human beings are a group species. People are a highly interdependent species. Their ability to thrive, in fact does depend on each other. Attachment to one another runs very deep and security in their relationships is extremely important to their wellbeing. Also, their relationships are not solely about use. Therefore, people do not experience each other as being exchangeable and replaceable. When a person has dropped and given up their commitment to stay with someone else, support them, look after them, be there for them or fulfill their agreements or responsibilities relative to that other person, it causes intense damage to them, regardless of their age and regardless of whether they can find someone else or other resources to replace what was lost by the abandonment occurring. 
  5. This concept fails to recognize that there are many responsibilities that one has relative to another person they have entered into relationship with. And instead, seeks to establish a policy of zero responsibility relative to other people. There is a place for a person taking responsibility for themselves. There is an empowerment to be found in taking responsibility for oneself. But we sign up for things in relationships. We sign up for being relied on for certain things. Abandonment is to drop whatever we signed up for in a relationship or signed up for by getting into a relationship. If we enter into a relationship and take no responsibility relative to that other person, we are living in a narcissistic state of being. We are not truly IN relationship. For this reason, it is very important in a relationship, to mutually agree upon what we will/can vs. wont/can’t sign up for or take responsibility for in our relationships. What we will/can vs. wont/can’t be relied on for. The way you act and the things you do and don’t do, have an intense effect on other people. To understand more about this, you can watch my video titled: Am I Responsible for How Other People Feel?
  6. When someone experiences any form of abandonment as an adult, they will be harmed by it. The degree to which they will suffer, does depend on whether they already have trauma from a childhood abandonment. But here is the thing, a person who is abandoned in their childhood in some way, will be a vibrational match to repeat abandonments. But when a person is abandoned as an adult, the feelings they experience are not solely because of that past experience. This concept tends to place all the responsibility and pressure on a person’s trigger from past abandonments. And/or it tends to place the responsibility and pressure on the problem being their reaction or how they feel, rather than on the person doing the injuring. In fact, many people who propagate this idea, defend the behavior of the person doing the abandoning, such as pointing out a person’s right to leave. Of course, a person has free will and can leave if they feel it is in their best interests to do so. And of course, a person cannot stay in a situation where they are experiencing abuse. But the statement ‘you can’t abandon an adult’ is a form of pulling all pressure and responsibility off of the person doing the abandoning and making the person being abandoned or neglected the problem instead. And this is a form of emotional abuse.       
  7. Inherent in this concept are two shadows. The first is the shadow of not wanting to be depended on. And the second is, not wanting to feel dependent on. This idea is very appealing to individuals who for reasons related to their own trauma in relationships, (usually from their own childhood) either 1. do not want to feel powerless to other people in any way, and whom find depending on someone to be a terrifyingly vulnerable thing. Or 2. feel enmeshed or burdened by any kind of responsibility towards others and find being depended on to be a terrifyingly vulnerable thing. The idea that it is not possible to be abandoned as an adult, helps them to avoid these feelings and validate their dysfunctional behavior in relationships.
  8. This concept seeks to minimize the impact of abandonment. But the impact is very real and there are plenty of situations where an adult does not actually have resources or is prevented from them in some way. We don’t live in a world that is as straight forward as people are trying to make it… If you’re an adult, you have access to resources, if you’re not an adult, you don’t. Let’s imagine that a 40 year old man abandons a 40 year old woman and their 3 kids in the projects. That woman’s life is going to drastically change for the worse. And she may very well not have access to the same resources that he was providing on a physical level, emotional level or mental level. And her life and the children’s lives will all take a turn for the worse because of it. To tell this person that she has all the access to the same resources herself, because she is an adult and that this abandonment is just helping her to connect deeper to her inner resources or to God or Source, is profoundly out of touch. It is also to put even more pressure on her and add to the pain she is experiencing. You will come to find that this stance is an ideology that generates from the resourced and the privileged. 
    But let’s go even further, even someone who has many resources on a financial and practical level, someone who you would call “privileged”, may be impoverished and have very little access to intangible resources, especially at the emotional level. The withdrawal of these emotional resources is every bit as damaging as the loss of tangible, physical resources. If not more so. There are consequences that come as a result of any abandonment, regardless of what level that abandonment takes place on. 

It is absolutely possible to cut another person off, regardless of their age, from a crucial source of sustenance that has been withdrawn. It is absolutely possible to abandon an adult. And unfortunately, in our world, may people do abandon other people. There is gold to be found in individual empowerment. But human beings are not reptiles. And human beings are not islands unto themselves, nor are they meant to be.  


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