Self-Abandonment and the Clinical Treatment of Couples
As a clinical counsellor who often works with couples (particularly cross-cultural couples) I often see my clients long for healthier, more loving relationships, yet, find themselves overly focused on seeking approval from others or meeting another person’s needs leading to frustration and resentment. They are often dissatisfied with their partner’s ability to “meet” and provide them with the love they so desire. I call this dynamic: self-abandonment. I wish to use the hypothetical case of Amy and Jake from the first year of the television series called In Treatment to illustrate self-abandonment and to suggest ways in which this dynamic can be addressed in psychotherapy.
What does it mean to abandon yourself? And why does self-abandonment wreak so much havoc in Amy and Jake’s relationship? I believe there are many ways that they abandoned themselves:
• ignoring their feelings
• judging and criticizing themselves and each other
• turning outward to regulate their uncomfortable feelings (work and affairs)
• blaming each other for not making them feel safe, loved, and desired, etc.
It is precisely when we abandon ourselves in relationships, we are expecting others to give us what we don’t give to ourselves, and more likely what we didn’t receive growing up. The truth of the matter is we actually attract people who meet our same level of self-abandonment. They are unable to give us what we are looking for. Similarly, we can’t possibly give them what they may desire in a partner. All of this self-abandonment generates anger, stress, depression or anxiety, and feelings of emptiness, disconnection from ourselves and the other person; and Jake and Amy have demonstrated that in their relationship.