If we were just a bit less selfish, we would be more inspired to work on our self-development for the sake of others. Self-development benefits us personally, of course, yet it also serves democracy, unity, and progress.
Put another way, we can ask, “How do my unresolved emotional issues contribute to national disunity and a lower quality of citizenship?” We all have pockets of emotional conflict, so this is a question all of us can ask and address.
There are so many ways that psychological naïveté hurts us. Consider, for example, having a particular sensitivity to feeling abandoned. Many of us have felt abandoned at times by friends and loved ones. It’s so easy in many situations to feel isolated, lonely, disconnected, and abandoned.
Abandonment is one of the eight first hurts of childhood. The others are feeling refused, deprived, helpless, controlled, criticized, rejected, and betrayed. Adults remain emotionally susceptible to these hurts. Often, the hurts are mostly self-inflicted as fabrications of one’s speculations and imagination. People who are neurotic or even just mildly neurotic can easily become emotionally entangled in these negative ways of experiencing themselves and the world.
The problem can be resolved when we acquire more insight into the inner dynamics of this weakness. People frequently have no clue to the ways we unconsciously foment unhappiness and self-defeat. This psychological ignorance is perhaps our greatest menace, surpassing even climate change as a danger because this ignorance is a prime driver of the folly, insensitivity, and passivity that foster climate havoc.
When we’re particularly susceptible to feeling abandoned, we will generate within ourselves some level of self-abandonment. Now we’ll feel more passive. We’ll lack inner strength and emotional resilience. This weakness degrades our capacity to flourish personally and to be a robust representative of democratic values. A sense of self-devaluation also frequently accompanies self-abandonment.
Individuals who are emotionally strong do not fear abandonment because they have inner strength to fall back on. This solid connection with self and trust in one’s goodness and value produce a pleasing self-assurance. One’s inner life now functions like a democracy rather than an authoritarian system ruled by a harsh inner critic, the superego.
Sensitivity to abandonment merges with fear of abandonment, meaning painful aloneness is anticipated. People can be emotionally attached to feeling abandoned, which means the susceptibility to such misery operates somewhat like an emotional addiction. If this inner bittersweet hankering for the old familiar feeling of abandonment is not recognized, an individual is unlikely to overcome a painful sensitivity to the feeling.
Emotional attachments are present and problematic in all eight first hurts of childhood (mentioned above). An attachment to the feeling of abandonment is indicated when a person is struggling with loneliness, helplessness, homesickness, homelessness, convictions of being undeserving and bad, feelings of neglect, low resilience, and acute distress on hearing about lost pets or children.
Sensitivity to abandonment is often felt acutely by adults who, as children, experienced some version of it such as the death of a parent, the separation of parents, or the physical abandonment of a parent. But people can have this sensitivity simply because the condition is intrinsic to our humanity. We are, after all, both connected to each other and very much alone.
A painful sense of abandonment, as an emotional attachment, is basically the result of a covert willingness or compulsion to recycle what is unresolved in our psyche, namely our weak susceptibility to feeling isolated and alone. The unconscious willingness to go down this rabbit hole makes it more difficult for us to embrace our responsibility as citizens because the emotional weakness degrades our intelligence and resilience. As we feel the abandonment deep within, the weakness makes us inept representatives of our country’s best ideals. As we abandon ourselves, we will also tend to abandon whatever else is intrinsically precious, namely a capacity to love and a capacity to maintain a democracy. Heavy use of drugs or alcohol is a particular painful abandonment of self, as well as a forfeiture of responsibility for the common good.
With this weakness, we won’t be able to pass along an abiding belief in self to our children, which means we aren’t bequeathing to them a convincing enough appreciation of our freedom and value. Often the best we do is identify with a glossy image of our country just as, through inner defensiveness, we strive to maintain a rosy self-image that denies our emotional dalliance with the weakening effects of old, unresolved negative emotions and attachments.
How can we be effective citizens, as well as good parents, when this unresolved issue of abandonment creates self-absorption and encourages our temptations or vices? Just as we can’t feel our own virtue under such circumstances, we have a hard time recognizing and relating to virtue and decency in politicians. We’ll vote for political candidates who operate at our level of psychological dysfunction.
Many of us felt at least somewhat abandoned in our childhood. Even when parents are present and attentive, our feeling of abandonment can develop from an underlying identification, an intrinsic self-doubt, that goes back generations, even into a primal, existential condition of humanity: Who I am and what I think or have to say is of little or doubtful value. Because we’re so subjective and sensitive as children, we can feel this way from an early age, and then unwittingly carry the feeling as a basic, unconscious identification into our adult years.
As we harbor a consciousness that accommodates self-abandonment, we tend to identify with ourself in terms of that limitation. This unevolved condition, even when we’re unable to articulate it, feels true to who we feel we are. As adults, we don’t appreciate to what degree this limited sense of self is a corruption of the person we’re capable of being.
The feeling dilutes our sense of self as citizens. We won’t appreciate, for instance, that our capacity to protect democracy depends on the quality of the relationship we have with ourself. Democracy might not even have for us any particular sense of value. To be strong keepers of our nation’s highest values, we have to feel, within ourself, a great benefit or blessing simply in the reality of our personal existence.
What do we need to know to work out an issue such as sensitivity to abandonment and fear of abandonment? Our fear of it means we’re highly sensitive to actual or possible experiences of it. We’ll even play in our imagination with fantasies of abandonment, thereby being induced to feel the distress or pain of it even at those moments when no one is abandoning us or is likely to do so.
Actual abandonment in childhood or later can certainly be traumatic, but the insight into how we unconsciously are choosing as adults to replay and recycle the feeling of it, even though that choice can be somewhat compulsive, can help us enormously to become emotionally stronger. We learn to catch ourselves up to mischief, seeking thoughts, feelings, or experiences that bear on the theme of abandonment. This insight brings into focus our unwitting participation in suffering. This new intelligence makes us stronger and wiser.
An old, lingering attachment to abandonment raises the likelihood that abandonment in some form will indeed be acted out. We can feel and provoke abandonment through our worry or fear, our constant need for reassurance, and our transference of our worst expectations onto another person. The other person, it is important to understand, is often tempted unconsciously to participate in this acting-out. He or she may be induced unconsciously—through our words, emotions, and behavior—to “give” to us what we are anticipating, namely abandonment, even though doing so is painful and self-defeating for all concerned.
Indeed, one way to act out feeling or being abandoned is to weaken our democracy. Our government will then turn around and, through incompetence or lack of resources, leave us feeling even more abandoned. Weakening our democracy is an example of how we act out variations of the self-harm to which we’re emotionally attached.
Fear of being abandoned represents one price we pay in suffering for this attachment, yet it also serves as an unconscious defense that goes like this: I’m not looking for that old unresolved feeling of abandonment—Can’t you see how much I worry or fear that it could happen (or is happening)!
Again, though paradoxical, this fear is an indication that we are very much attached to the feeling (and even the prospect) of abandonment. The more fearful we are, the stronger the attachment, and the more likely we are to imagine an experience of abandonment or secretly be awaiting a chance to act one out. This occurs frequently in romantic relationships.
We can experience abandonment—and, emotionally and unconsciously, provoke experiences of it—even when consciously we very much want to deepen our relationship to a loved one and live happily with that person. We transfer this expectation of abandonment to the people in our life—to a spouse, partner, friend, or children—and live through the fear that we are being (or soon will be) abandoned.
As mentioned, abandonment is just one of the eight first hurts of childhood. All these hurts are attachments that we are covertly willing to indulge in and they all contribute to the undermining of democracy. Once we see our unwitting participation in indulging in these negative emotions, we see how, moving forward, we can liberate ourselves from them.