Self-Abandonment and the Clinical Treatment of Couples

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.


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Barbara KiaoMs. Barbara Kiao is an Australian licensed clinical counsellor (MACA9601), published author, integrative life coach and inspirational speaker. She has been providing counseling and life coaching to individuals, couples, and organizations for more than a decade. Barbara is a sought-after speaker who regularly conducts workshops and lectures globally. An Australian national for 25 years, Barbara recently moved her 8 year private practice from Shanghai, China back to her home Sydney, Australia. She has also served on the board of SIMHA “ Shanghai International Mental Health Association for a term of 7 years.She specialises in relationships and behavioural counselling so offer executives, families, couples and individuals a calm environment where personal and relationship difficulties can be explored. Prior to becoming a full-time counselor, she also assisted hotel owners in development of marketing plans and business strategies for new and existing properties. She was a Student Counselor and an adjunct Lecturer at the T.A.F.E. College (Australia) and Northern Territory University in the field of Human Relations, Organisational Behavior, Communications and Marketing, Management Her Mission is to be fully present in the NOW so to engage, serve and empower every client that is attracted into her life to live their fullest potential. Together they push humanity forward by standing in their own truth.

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