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Healing the Self-Abandonment Cycle

healing the self-abandonment cycleThe self-abandonment cycle happens when we overdo for others, we over-function, we do things people haven’t asked us to do, things people could totally do for themselves. We live their lives for us. And we do this from our codependent, perfectionist, and people-pleasing habits unwittingly because we learned in childhood that this is how you get love. This is how you get connection.

How you feel significant and important and valuable in the world is by doing way too much for everyone else, saying yes, yes, yes all the time, because somewhere along the line, you learned that being selfless is the thing and being selfish is terrible.

I have a lot of thoughts about that, mostly that it’s really important to have a sense of self. 

It’s really important to know yourself, to know what matters to you, to know your limits, to have boundaries. 

And this is a key part of overcoming codependency. And vital to that is knowing who you are in the world, being connected with your authenticity.

So how do we heal from this self-abandonment cycle that most of us have been in since childhood and likely watched our caregivers enact themselves in their own lives and often with us?

Well, the first step is of course, awareness. 

You need to know you’re doing it. And we don’t know.

It sort of catches us unaware that we’re somewhere in this self-abandonment cycle, spinning and spinning, and making ourselves and the people we love miserable along the way.

So, awareness, pausing, journaling every day has been such a gift. Journaling and doing thought work, and really doing the work of seeing my own mind.

I also pair that of course with somatic work, with bodily work, so I can be present and aware in my physiology. 

So once this self-abandonment cycle has started, there are several points where you can intervene.

One, before doing something for someone else, whether that’s agreeing to do something that’s been asked of you or inventing something to do to help others, or buying, or making, or cleaning for others, pause and breathe into it. 

Get present with yourself. This is the somatic piece.

Coming home to you before you say yes and asking yourself:

  • Do I like my reasons why I would say yes to this? 
  • Do I like the reasons why I am doing this?
  • What is my motivation for doing this? 
  • What do I hope the outcome will be? 
  • Am I trying to make someone else have an emotion or think something about me? 
  • Am I trying to get their validation or my own?
  • Am I trying to keep up a perfect appearance here by saying yes to something I don’t want to do? 
  • Am I trying to win someone’s love or care? 
  • And does it feel dependent on my saying yes here? 
  • Am I trying to feel better about myself by doing this? 
  • Am I buffering against a feeling I don’t want to have by saying yes?

Meaning, you’re trying to take action to try to assuage your guilt. Either you just blew up so you’re fixing to over-function or overdo, or you set a boundary and are worried, often from anxious attachment that your partner, date, friend, whomever won’t like you or will be mad at you. So you feel that urge, that pull and drive to make up for it.

And to thus curry their favor because you think that will lead you to feel better about yourself, to tell a different story about who you are because you don’t believe you’re a good person if you say no. 

What will the impact or result of doing this thing be in your own life?

Will doing it, whether it’s volunteering for a board, to bake cupcakes for the school, or to cook tonight when you’ve done it every night for the last month, will taking them to the airport or listening to their hard day take you away from doing what you want and need to do for you? And how are you going to feel about it after you’ve done it?

Which leads us to the last question and this is so important. 

  • Are you likely to feel resentful or annoyed if you don’t get validation for doing the thing? 
  • Is how you will feel about having done this thing dependent on other people’s responses to it? 
  • On someone else’s approval of you? 
  • On someone else continuing to think of you as the goddess who does it all?

Once you answer these questions from a place of radical honesty, true honesty, honesty that resonates in your body, you’ll have your answer. 

We are lovers. We are kind, we are people who love to do for others and there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

And the work in breaking this self-abandonment cycle is to stop doing things that leave you feeling like you abandoned yourself. 

That’s what it’s all about. So yes, you can use thought work post facto to decide that you’re not going to feel abandoned.

And you can also decide that you matter too and that you don’t always have to say yes to others when it takes you away from yourself. 

You can decide that you can find your way to interdependence and that you can say yes sometimes when it feels mutually loving and kind.

If you said yes to doing the thing and you’re starting to feel annoyed, irritated, angry, and resentful, that’s when you get to remember that 99.99% of the time, no one is holding a gun to your head telling you you have to do the thing.

You get to remind yourself that you did in fact have agency there. That you made the choice to do for others. 

And of course, I’m not speaking to situations of abuse or coercion here. 

I’m talking about you choosing to do all the chores, or all the work on a group project, or choosing to create a lavish meal, or buy everyone complex presents, or do all the emotional labor, and to then feel grumped about it.

You also get to remember that even though you said yes, you’re welcome to change your mind. 

When we have been riding this train around and around our whole lives, we forget that so often, we consented to do the thing and that consent that is freely given is freely taken away.

You can say I’ve changed my mind, I’m no longer available. 

So, when you’re pausing and reminding yourself, wow, I did say yes to this, I did consent to this, that’s when self-compassion is vital.

You only do this thing, the over-giving, over-functioning, overdoing because you were trained to, socialized, and conditioned to by the patriarchy, your family of origin. 

Because you learned particularly in a codependent household that the good girl gets the love, the perfectionist gets the praise, the people pleaser gets the accolades.

You learned that this is a really great way to get through life. And no doubt it was. 

But over-giving until it bleeds just isn’t anymore, when you’re swirling in this self-abandonment cycle, getting angry about it, lashing out, and then working to make up for it.

So please, be kind to you. And there is no need to be angry at yourself for just doing what you were taught to do. And there’s no need to continue to do it either.

And yeah, people aren’t going to like it at first and that’s likely to feel challenging and that’s okay too. 

It’s okay to choose the discomfort of other people recognizing that you’re not superwoman. You’re just wonderful, regular woman.

That’s a choice you get to make for you, for them, for your relationships, for your family because you no longer want to choose to self-abandon because you’re no longer available to light yourself on fire to keep other people warm.

You also get to remind yourself that the answer to chronically saying yes is not always saying no.

The answer lies in the interdependent middle. And I imagine that one of your goals is to build more loving, caring relationships with yourself and others. 

My darling, we don’t need to swing from being anxiously attached to avoidantly attached. 

We get to practice being securely attached to ourselves and to others.

We get to learn that it’s okay to say yes when that feels right for us and no when that feels right for us. 

So let’s say you agreed to do the thing while your whole body was screaming no. 

This is when we lean on somatics and thought work to stop the train of destruction that is you from ramming into the people you love at a billion miles an hour.

And it starts with removing yourself from the situation just long enough that you can get grounded in you again before you lash out—and therefore continue the self-abandonment cycle. 

My favorite thing to do is to excuse myself to the bathroom. It’s a place where you can be alone for a moment. 

And what we then need to do somatically is to connect in with our resources. Often, after we’ve connected in with our resources, we may need to calm the nervous system.

So that can look like a slow breath in, long slow out. 

It can look like gently stroking your hands together or doing an orienting exercise to bring yourself back into this present moment. 

Now, your nervous system may need more than just being calmed. 

When we feel put upon, unappreciated, resentful, often, that comes with sympathetic activation with adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol, and what we need when we have that rush of neurochemicals is movement, is to complete the stress activation cycle and to release the movement potential.

So that can look like taking a deep breath in, bringing your shoulders up to your ears, bringing your arms to your side, and tensing, tensing, tensing your arm muscles and your shoulders, and then whoosh, releasing your hands downward.

If you have use of your legs, then it can look like doing jumping jacks, or going up to the balls of your feet and down to your heels, to the balls of your feet and down to your heels, moving. 

It can look like squeezing something repeatedly and releasing.

The work here is to work with that energy that’s trapped in your body until the energy of resentment and irritation starts to dissipate from your soma, from your body.

And from there, we do thought work. Only once our nervous systems are in a state where we can do that.

Because it’s only from there that we can have loving conversations and not project our internal swirling onto others. 

And then it’s boundaries time. 

It’s time to set limits. 

And by the way, setting those boundaries, setting those limits is so much better than the alternative, which is to continue to do the thing you don’t want to do, to lash out, and to overcompensate.

So to interrupt the self-abandonment cycle, you get to say, “Baby, I’m not available to make dinner tonight. I’m not in a place to be on the phone right now. I can help you clean up tomorrow but only after you’ve done your share of it. I hear that you’re struggling and I’ve had a long day myself. Let’s talk about this tomorrow.”

If you’re new to this, you’re likely to have a lot of guilt and shame for not being everything to everyone always and that’s okay.

You get to let yourself feel it. But what I don’t want you to do and what I imagine you don’t want to do either is to buffer against those feelings. To drink or smoke about it, to eat about it, to over- function about it, to harm yourself about it.

Instead, you get to really let yourself feel it and to be in all the emotions. 

All while choosing a thought like:

  • It’s okay for me to have needs
  • It’s okay for me to have wants and desires
  • It’s okay for me to take care of myself
  • It’s okay for me to not want to do all the things
  • It’s okay for me to rest
  • I am a human and I get to have my own preferences and wants too
  • It’s okay if my preferences don’t line up perfectly with what everyone else wants of me, even if I’ve always done all those things that I didn’t really want to do. 
  • It’s okay to want to change the script now with love for myself and the people in my world.

So let’s say you didn’t do any of that and you engaged in that old protest behavior: you lashed out.  Now what?

Well, we start with the nervous system always. 

Story follows state is something we say in the nervous system world all the time because it’s so true. 

The story you tell about yourself and others is wildly different when you’re jacked up in sympathetic activation, closed down in dorsal vagus, or when you’re grounded, oriented, and somatically bodily present in ventral vagus.

So attend to the animal that you are first and foremost. Find your way back to calm and grounded. 

Then you get to apologize without getting defensive. We talked all about self-responsibility here and how to apologize in a loving kind way in a miniseries that begins here

You get to decide here and now that you won’t go back down the rabbit hole of overcompensating for your missteps because you understand now that that just starts the self-abandonment cycle over again.

And instead, you get to show up in a way that’s proportionate, to make amends and apologize without over-functioning any longer, which takes practice, commitment and a dedication to living a life you love based in embodied, somatically present, interdependence every step of the way.

When the people in our world are used to us doing everything for them, it can be a big shift for us to no longer do those things. 

And it’s worth talking about. It’s worth having direct communication about so everyone knows what you are and aren’t available for.

My brilliant colleague and teacher Corinne Crabtree says you get to choose your hard. Because both paths are hard at first.

And you really do have to pick to continue the self-abandonment cycle or the other path at some point.

So which will you choose, my perfect tender ravioli, my sweetest little kitten?

To start to have your own back, to say no when you want to say no, when your body tells you to say no, to build your somatic awareness of what a no feels like in your body so you can heed and honor it


to continue the self-abandonment cycle—to try to keep others happy at your expense, to abandon yourself and to lash out?

My beauty, I choose the former. 

And it’s not always easy and it is always worth it. Pinky promise. 

Thank you for taking the time to read Feminist Wellness. I’m excited to be here and to help you take back your health!

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