What does “feelings of abandonment” actually mean?

What does “feelings of abandonment” actually mean?

I’ve noticed that many of the adoptees on this forum mention experiencing feelings of abandonment.

Sorry if this seems like a stupid question, but what do feelings of abandonment actually feel like? How does it actually make you feel? Do you feel alone? How does it affect your life growing up? Do you have difficulty with trust and forming relationships with others?

Sorry, I am not trying to be stupid or insensitive, I just don’t really know what it feels like. I’m doing a project for school about adoption, and I think it’ll be a lot better if I can actually understand what it’s like to be adopted.

All answers appreciated. The more details the better, please.

Thanks so much.


8 thoughts on “What does “feelings of abandonment” actually mean?

  1. I’m still in denial about this. I’m actually pretty cut off from my emotions and can’t describe what I’m feeling most of the time. I only found out about this, and that I probably have it, because other people tell me I must feel this way. So I’m still deducing what it actually is/feels like, and the way I do that is by surveying everything else, since the abandonment issue is like a hole that can’t be defined.

    What I can do, however, is tell you the symptoms of what might indicate this feeling:

    People who are warm and inviting cause alarms in my head to go off, and I push them away.

    I expect everyone to be forthright and honest, and am always disappointed: my standards are so high no one can possibly meet them, and I am highly critical of everyone who gives up and/or is selfish in a relationship.

    I never believe people I want to be close to will bother being vested in me, so I don’t bother to try.

    “I’m a loner!” I say too often, as if it were something to be proud of.

    I don’t join things or participate in things: I belittle such social activities as trite, superficial, and a waste of time.

    When others around me are forming relationships, I count the days until its demise.

    I don’t believe anything real lasts anything longer than a blink of an eye.

    I don’t take down phone numbers. I don’t call. I don’t visit anyone. It seems like a waste of time and effort.

    I believe everyone, friends, especially, will eventually **** on me.

    I always keep my emotions under control. I disdain those that don’t.

    How does this all add up? How does this feel? It feels like I am in a fight, and I’m always prepared for the worst. If I let down my guard, then something really horrible could happen.

    I guess that something is abandonment.

    Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not totally socially inept – people like me, some think I’m charming, some admire me, many respect me, some even love me. But there is always this inaccessible part of me that I will always keep remote and protect. And if I let anyone go there, I feel I will die.


  2. I have a vivid memory of the day I was abandoned (or lost) by my father and the three following days, as I was 8 year-old then.
    The abandonment day, I walked straight in front of me for all day until total darkness crying and screaming at the top of my lungs. The next day, I wept in silence thinking that my father, the only person in the world that I loved and fully trusted, had abandoned me. I understood I was alone in the world. It hurt me to breathe; it hurt me to feel my heart beating; it hurt me to see children playing; it hurt me to see the sun shining; it hurt me to feel the warm weather; it hurt me to be alive. I understood the meaning of dead. I wished to be dead and I thought of killing myself. The following day, I had the hope (to see my father and to return home with him). And the final day right before being sent to an orphanage, I felt ashamed at hearing the word “abandoned”.

    I went through the exact same hurt and feelings about three years later (two years after my adoption) reading my adoption records that declares me as being “abandoned” by unknown parents, with a fake birth date. I understood I was abandoned by a whole nation, my own people. The hurt was 100 times more intense and I felt ashamed 100 times more than previously knowing that I was abandoned by the country that I’ve been taught to love and respect and that I’ve been calling “our country”, but I only cried for two minutes as my (adoptive) father yelled at me there was no reason for me to cry.

    For me the symptoms of the feeling of abandonment are the same as mentioned by girl4708.

    But what do feelings of abandonment actually feel like?

    It feels like following a breakup when the person you love dumps you for no reason; it feels like when your lover leaves you for another person; it feels like when your lover cheats on you; it feels like when the only person you love and who loves you the most dies.

    The comparisons above give an idea of what the feelings of abandonment are like: it feels like a heartache, it feels like the end of the world, it feels like you’ll feel the hurt forever, you feel guilty and you ask yourself “what did I do wrong?”,

    But there are in fact huge differences between feelings of abandonment and the above cases. To name just a few of the differences:

    In the above cases, you can take time to grieve, and the society and the people around you understand you and give you the right to grieve for the loss of the person you loved.

    When you are adopted (thus abandoned in the first place), the society and the people around you don’t recognize the losses that happened for the adoption to take place. Furthermore, you are expected to be happy and grateful for being adopted, precluding any possibility to grieve the loss of the parent who abandoned you.
    Anyway, either you yourself ignore the feelings of abandonment or you don’t know any word to describe them as the only words you’ve learned are of the gratitude for being adopted.

    In the above cases, the phases of grief equal the process of healing, that is to say there is always a complete recovery. After a breakup, there always comes a sunny day when you start a new relationship and you don’t feel the hurt anymore. After a death, there is always a natural healing that comes with time.
    In the case abandonment, there is no end to the grief, as there is no clear phase of grief.

    It is an everlasting grief. I have heartache, i feel like it’s the end of the world, I feel like I’ll be hurt forever, I feel guilty, I ask myself “what did I do wrong to be abandoned?” and I count my childhood sins like I used to after my adoption.

    You won’t be able to see that part of me if you met me.

    If not of many major events in my life that made me think of of and reconnect to the feelings of abandonment, I would still be in denial of these feelings.

  3. Everything here resonates so strongly I am hard-pressed to add to what has been so far expressed. As usual, I’ll try and break things down a little bit. I think for me the idea of abandonment has many levels. The first level is purely abstract, and is reflected in most of the mythology we grow up with, i.e., we were so “loved” that we were “given up”, etc. A fellow adoptee from my orphanage was working on the history of the crèche (in French it’s called a “crib”) and the nuns wondered if I could draw an illustration of St. Vincent de Paul finding an abandoned baby on a log, the supposed origins of his vocation. So there’s this purely fictional, imaginary idea of abandonment for me, which now I find repulsive.

    There is the corresponding factual idea of abandonment that was revealed to me by the haphazard discovery in this orphanage of a small desk full of index cards, each of which listed the full information of children left off at the orphanage during the years 1970–1975. I was floored—here were addresses, phone numbers, religious affiliation, information for adoptees! Yet I knew that making this known would have them destroyed. It haunts me to this day. The most devastating thing was reading the “reasons for abandonment”. From a prose poem I wrote about the orphanage:

    ….you will again find a unifying element that brings an otherwise disconnected, disparate group of people together—a devastating event, a tragic happenstance, an infinitely sad vagary of destiny, a culmination of willed derivations pinpointed in one monstrous manifestation—and you will look, and you will read, and you will hold your breath as you read: Child abandoned by parents, child has spina bifida. Child abandoned by the mother at the hospital in Zahorta. Child orphaned on the father’s side, the mother has already placed the eldest in the orphanage’s care. Child abandoned by the mother at the Orthodox Hospital which contacted us. Illegitimate child raised by a woman who has departed for America, and who has left said child, now 11 years old, with her godmother, who hereby abandons her. Child abandoned at the hospital Nôtre Dame du Liban in Jounieh. Child found in Furn esh-Shebbak in front of the door of Mrs. X. Child orphaned on the mother’s side, the father has four other children; cannot care for the fifth. Child orphaned on the father’s side. Child born two months after marriage of parents who hereby abandon him. Mongoloid child abandoned due to his infirmity…. Child abandoned, child abandoned, child abandoned, child abandoned. And you will stop, and you will feel a certain unease as you barely dare read more, you will sense a creeping disquiet as you deny each card its due, as you feel each card’s presence in space marking just another of five hundred odd and sundry ways of abandoning a child.

    So you have this actual abandonment taking place, in this case, in the time immediately before and during the early years of the civil war here. Adoptive parents like to point to this and call it an act of “free will”, a “loving decision”, but it is obvious to me, given what I know now, that the collaborative abandonment of children takes place between those in power and those relinquishing their children. Procurement, coercion, relinquishment, and abandonment on both the individual and societal levels all come together under adoption in one complex heinous Verb With No Name, condemnatory of the society that causes it, and unfit for an action attributed to human beings. This is why I think I prefer to say we were “displaced” or “dispossessed”; it removes the active willful agency that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of it all, but allows the anger at the country that would dispossess its own progeny, as described so eloquently in the previous posts.

    Getting back to the fictional, there are two levels to it. First is the mythology based on these above instances, which always involves conceptually the idea of safe passage for the child; meaning, the child is “left on a doorstep”, “left at a hospital”; left somewhere s/he would be found—Moses in a basket, as it were. One day the nuns in the orphanage called me on the phone and said they had some information for me. I went to meet with them, and they produced, despite my missing dossier, two slips of paper “attesting” to the fact that I was “abandoned” on the beach at Dbayeh, north of Beirut. When I went to the Dbayeh police station to track down the police report, I was shaken down for 5,000 dollars; I refused to pay. To this day I am convinced that these documents were fabricated to get me “off the case”. Partially because, culturally speaking, it doesn’t make sense, in terms of willfully murdering a child. Partially because the idea of being left to die is too unbearable to consider.

    Here I’d like to expand into the flip side of the equation, described above in terms having to do with the social and societal level of things, and to this I would say that we arrived in our adoptive countries pre-abandoned; by this I mean to say that our rejection for racial reasons preceded us, and that we understood this on some subconscious level perhaps, and coupled with a fear of a re-enactment of the original abandonment, actively sought to prevent this from happening in relationships and such by pre-emptively abandoning ourselves. In my personal case, and echoing the above post about growing up in one’s birth culture, I was raised for the first two years of my life in part by an Arab bedouin house servant while we lived in Iran. The rupture here was abrupt when we returned to the States, and perhaps I was too young to emote how I “felt”, I can’t help but think this second abandonment was sensed as well.

    Beyond this, for those of us who return to our birth countries, it is more complicated still. I am perhaps lucky, returning as a male to a patriarchal culture, moreso than those of you who return as women to likewise patriarchal cultures. Also, the communal and collective culture (Arab/Levant/Islam) that I’ve come back to hasn’t yet been completely destroyed by globalization and rampant Capitalism. So there is a given cultural and societal equivalent trope of “taking in” the abandoned, as it were, and I benefit from this, thank God. But I acutely feel my abandonment most during the holidays, when everyone retreats to the extended family, like at the end of Ramadan just recently. I think this is where I find myself grouped with the likewise displaced here, migrant workers and the like. At holiday time, we are those “left over”, and so we group together. For everyone who has ever listened to my adoption story, it is these people who intrinsically get it; who without reserve truly adopt me back. For this I’m ever thankful.

    • As sometimes happens with poetry, the material can hijack the original point of departure, but your post 9and the posts above) provide the starting point for this:


      I hold
      in high
      the war
      ga tribe
      but keep
      my self

      These peo
      ple of
      the aus
      sian bright
      by the
      full bright
      face of
      the vexed
      moon jump
      to pin
      a young
      man shrie
      king down
      and hack
      with shards
      of glass
      his fore
      skin off—
      he bleeds
      the shield
      and sand
      as men
      his head
      and praise
      his legs’
      kicks brave
      as kan
      and sing
      him all
      the songs
      he’s earned,
      they tout
      his speared-
      pig shrieks
      as ea
      gle’s keens
      and from
      his bro
      ther’s blood
      warm hand
      he takes
      at last
      his ho
      the pain
      and two
      more moons
      when all
      the sky’s
      lids shut
      and he
      and one
      more man
      have gone
      and gone
      the coun
      as one
      the men
      will spring
      and this
      time split
      his shaft
      from glans
      to base
      with glass
      or knives
      of stone
      and if
      he dies
      it’s all
      the same
      and bound
      less grief;
      it is
      still life

      I hold
      in high
      the war
      ga tribe:
      let some
      new child
      be born
      to them
      that none
      will take
      or tend
      they smash
      its head
      with rocks
      they leave
      no child
      on steps
      or shores
      on stones
      or tar
      strewn wharfs
      in sea
      side inns
      with notes
      “take care”
      or cars
      no child
      they leave
      in care
      of nuns
      or or
      phan homes
      or camps
      or wards
      or homes
      they sell
      them not—
      such re
      for life
      is rare.

      • It’s a very particular kind of melancholy that sets in when I a) recoil in the face of such described violence and then b) realize how this has been culturally set for me and finally c) when I realize that such violence, in its sanitized form as we often discuss here, is so much more…evil. Evil in the banal sense that evil has taken on in these past centuries of such evil.

        An aside: There are parts of Beirut that are full of beggars, mostly children. Near the university, I came to know many of them, mostly from Syria; I watched them grow up, return to Syria to join the army or get married and start families. It used to be possible to avoid the contribution to the mafias which control these children by buying them something to eat. Now, with influxes of refugees from Syria, there is a whole other level of desperation that instead now demands money, rather aggressively. It’s a heartbreaking paradox. And then there is the rumor that the children in the arms of the women begging are in fact intoxicated with cheap spirits or….I don’t want to think about it.

        Another aside: The schizophrenia within current culture concerning such practice (the horror in the face of the Butterbox Babies, which we have spoken about before, for example [link] as well as their modern equivalents [link]) might have its roots in a Holy Book which is clearly divided concerning the shedding of “innocent blood”, the attribution of such horrors to the horrible, Pharaoh and Herod, and the outright call to take enemy children and “dash… [them to] pieces before their eyes”. Rachel does indeed weep for her descendants.

        A final aside: In the last day of Ramadan as usual I came across something new in my daily reading from the Qur’an. A reference to the forbidding of the practice of infanticide, mentioned many times in the Holy Book reads thus:

        The barbaric custom of burying female infants alive seems to have been fairly widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia, although perhaps not to the extent as has been commonly assumed. The motives were twofold: the fear that an increase of female offspring would result in economic burdens, as well as fear of the humiliation frequently caused by girls being captured by a hostile tribe and subsequently preferring their captors to their parents and brothers. Before Islam, one of the foremost opponents of this custom was Zayd ibn ‘Amr ibn Nufayl, a…spiritual precursor of Muhammad; he died shortly before Muhammad’s call to prophethood. Another man, Sa‘sa‘ah ibn Najiyah at-Tamimi—granfather of the poet Farazdaq—achieved equal fame as a saviour of infants thus condemned to death; he later embraced Islam. Ibn Khallikan mentions that Sa‘sa‘ah saved about thirty girls by paying ransom to their parents. —The Message of the Qur’an, Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad

        There’s a lot to parse here; almost too much (I can hear an inverted triumphalism among adopters from China, for example). As well as another “Zayd” for me to look up and research. And by no means am I proclaiming any superiority of Islam today in this regard*, as witnessed by this practice’s “formalized” modern forms which include sex tourism in Egypt [link] and the offering up of abandoned girls in order to gain television ratings in Pakistan during the holy month of Ramadan [link].

        So no conclusions here. Just some food for thought.

        * There is an argument, as well as a dissertation, perhaps, to be made comparing and contrasting Calvinist-derived capitalism with its counterpart Wahhabist-derived capitalism, and how both mold religion to very particular ends.

  4. I’d love to answer in detail but I am so reluctant to be used for a school project. My adoptee self tells me so many of us were used for experiments, projects and such in the past and so it seems in the present.I really find it so insensitive that we adoptees can be asked to expose our deepest feelings about something so traumatic in such a cavalier way!!

  5. Like a void in the middle of where you are and should live but you don’t know how to belong there without adding to the emptiness shame and hurt at the center of everything touched by you.

  6. I think the greatest confusion among adoptees is not having an understanding of why their bio parents gave them away. We now know that in most cases, the bio Mom’s were conned out of their kids by a system that wanted a product to sell and make a profit. The child did nothing wrong to be reliquished. Adoptees know they are not guilty of doing no harm to anyone. Hopefully non-kinship-stranger-adoption will be against the law in this new century, and the sooner the better.

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