When a message board member (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/foodandfeelings) asked me to blog about abandonment, I had to comb through my archives, not believing I hadn’t already written about it. I hadn’t, so here are some of my thoughts on the subject. Boy, if ever there were ever a trigger for emotional eating, abandonment is it.
Many of us think of abandonment in the physical sense—loss of someone through death, divorce, or enforced separation. However, most of us don’t experience this kind of physical abandonment in childhood and, instead, grow up with both parents around. The kind of abandonment which is far more common—and far less easy to recognize—is emotional abandonment. Some parents are too self-absorbed to rear children well and pay more attention to their own needs than those of their offspring. Other moms and dads are already enmeshed in a more addictive relationship—with alcohol, drugs, a job, or a hobby. Then there are parents who never really wanted children but had them because of societal or spousal pressure, and often feel little interest or adeptness in childrearing. Moreover, there are also parents who are simply too traumatized, depressed, unstable, or mentally ill to put energy into parenting. Sadly, there are all sorts of (unacceptable) reasons for parents to emotionally abandon their children.
If you were often emotionally abandoned as a child, any physical or psychological rejection or withdrawal now may trigger food abuse: being blown off by a date, a job loss, a relationship ending, not receiving the promotion you expected, having your friends go partying without you, stewing while your lover reads the paper rather than listen to you, acknowledging that your spouse seems closer to your children than to you. There are a thousand ways you can feel emotionally abandoned, all of which may seem trivial to someone else, but feel deeply wounding to you. You may be acutely sensitive to slights and may feel neglected or invisible when people are inattentive or simply unable to give you what you need in attention, time, or support.
Because abandonment is a major issue for many of us, we need to learn how to deal with feeling upset when folks leave us physically or aren’t there for us emotionally. Start out by exploring how you developed into a person who is acutely distressed by abandonment, including your expectations and innate or learned ability to cope. Examine your beliefs about what abandonment means to you. Then spend time reframing your beliefs and strategizing about what you can do—other than abuse food or yourself—when these intense emotions flare up.