Emotional Abandonment: When the Need for Connection is Unmet


The word “abandonment” often brings up the image of someone having been left behind physically. When we think of children, two of the most obvious forms of abandonment include a child being given up for adoption or a parent leaving or neglecting a child. There are other forms of abandonment that are subtle, but can be emotionally painful as well.

We all have emotional needs (e.g., affection, love, a sense of community and connection to others, to be understood, appreciated and valued) that can go unmet. In all interactions including adult-child interactions we always make one of three choices: turning toward the other person, turning away from them, or turning against them. Turning away may be one of those subtle ways we are simply not present for children. The word “abandonment” when it comes to emotional needs does not necessarily have to be intentional or done with malice. It just means that the need has not been met and resulted in emotional pain or loss. We have all been emotionally abandoned at some point, as no one gets all of their needs met all the time. Thus, the amount of emotional pain varies.

The relationships that children form with their parents have the greatest impact of any. The groundwork is set for healthy relationships when parents provide for a child’s physical and emotional needs, Parent-child relationships represent a crucial gain for the child. Lack of appropriate care sets the tone for unhealthy relationships, and represents a critical loss and a form of abandonment. Look for opportunities to connect with your child every day. Correction is even more effective within the context of frequent reinforcement and positive connection with your child.

Paul Bakke, MS

Licensed Counselor

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