How We Learn to Abandon Ourselves


Have you ever abandoned yourself? Chosen someone else’s comfort, needs, or happiness over your own over and over again? Tamped down your own desires just to make someone else feel more comfortable? Known that what was happening in a relationship was just not working for you but stayed with it anyway?

Me too.

For a long time, I abandoned myself. I didn’t know I was doing it because I didn’t know who “myself” was, what my needs were, or that it was okay to have needs. It just felt critical that the people I cared about (and sometimes people that weren’t close to me but seemed important in some way, like the people who got my order wrong at restaurants or pronounced my name incorrectly) had their needs met all the time. Working hard to please others was a key way I operated in the world (I’m also a 2 on the Enneagram, for those of you who are familiar). In my mind, if the other person had their needs met, our relationship would be okay and therefore I would be okay. My well-being and “okayness” was dependent on theirs. Even people who didn’t really know me or care about me. And sometimes worse, the people who did. And what a slippery slope that becomes.

It took numerous times of sliding straight down into a miserable, sometimes traumatic experience for me to learn that putting my needs last all of the time was not doing anyone any favors. In fact, it was hurting people more than it was helping them (myself included), and the result was exactly the opposite of what I was going for. It worked in the short term—but when the chips were down, everyone lost.

Self-betrayal is a common action when we have a slice of the insecure attachment pie (and most of us do). We have learned over and over again that who we are is not okay and above all, that connection is more important than staying true to ourselves. We lose ourselves when we prioritize the relationship connection over our comfort and our needs.

Our society emphasizes the importance of being well-liked which feeds directly into patterns of self-betrayal. Being well-liked either allows us to blend in and not be noticed (which feels great for the avoidant attachment style) or allows us to be noticed for how wonderful we are (meeting some of the needs of the anxious attachment style). Being liked feels good in the short term, but it's superficial. Being liked does not meet our deep needs of being seen, being appreciated, or being valued.

Self-betrayal can lead to anger and resentment. When we repeatedly prioritize the needs of a relationship or another person over our own, the needs don’t just go away. The anger and sadness around the fact that we aren’t being seen get bigger and more difficult to push away. We might hope the other person will finally acknowledge our needs and realize they have been “missing” us, or that they will ask about our needs when we are fearful of saying them out loud. But often times this doesn’t happen. My good friend always says “expectation breeds resentment” and it rings true in the case of abandoning ourselves.

As I’ve learned to stay with myself, to not betray myself, I realize why I used to do it all the time in relationships: because sitting with the discomfort of disappointing someone was intolerable. It was easier to sacrifice myself than to honor my needs, because at least I didn’t have to see someone feel sad or angry. I could avoid the discomfort and complexity of another person’s emotional landscape and feel safe by slowly losing myself. We can abandon ourselves and push the needs down and try to tell ourselves they're not important. But they are. Because we are.

What’s important to remember is that any time we are holding ourselves back from authenticity and showing up fully, we are keeping ourselves from genuine connection. If there’s no space to be vulnerable, it’s not the kind of love or connection that will support our growth or allow us to be fully human. It will keep us stuck, constricted, and keep us hiding.

Let’s create community that supports us and loves us for exactly who we are: complex human beings who change all the time. The people who encourage us to be ourselves, to attend to our needs, to stay with ourselves even when it hurts—those are the people to hold on to. Let’s realize that the people who really love us want to know us, our needs and what’s important to us, and meet us there. They don’t want us to hide. They want us to be who we really are. But we have to know who that is first.

It's here! The Healing Anxious Attachment Online Course! This course is for anyone interested in feeling healthier in relationships. You don't have to be in a relationship currently to benefit from the material. You can learn more and get started here.

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A Love Letter to the Insecurely Attached