Self-Abandonment: Abandoning Ourselves for Others

Self-abandonment is when we abandon our own self-interests for another person, either for their validation and approval, or to avoid experiencing guilt, shame, and physical punishments for putting our needs first. Another word for self-abandonment is sacrifice, as we often sacrifice our self-interests for the interests of others to receive approval, and to avoid receiving punishments.

According to Ayn Rand, and I hold to this viewpoint as well, self-interest, also called selfishness, is actually a virtue. I know that society teaches that selfishness is evil and wrong, but it is not, it is quite natural to be selfish and protect your self-interests, aka your ability to be happy, your liberty, and your property, but what isn’t natural is self-absorption, and seeing other people as property and chattel, as extensions of us who are only here to gratify our wants and needs.

In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends […] and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.

~Ayn Rand

What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries [primary causes], but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

~Ayn Rand

A self-absorbed person does not see others, they do not have what Martin Buber calls an “I, thou relationship”, which means they do not have empathy, and are therefore incapable of seeing viewpoints other than their own. Childhood trauma can cause a lack of seeing beyond the “I”, and missing out on the “thou” of interpersonal relationships, and it can also cause people to miss out on the “I” and only see the “thou”. For example, a narcissist is incapable of seeing the “thou”, while a codependent person who attracts narcissistic partners is incapable of seeing the “I”; when they come together in a relationship, they discover that they are a perfect match made in Hell.

Here are some helpful boundaries to set (it may be helpful to repeat them to yourself for several minutes a day until you feel them “stick”):

I’m more than happy to take care of the needs of others after I’ve first taken care of my own needs AND it is in my own self-interests to do so.

I’m more than happy to consider the needs of others when it is in my own self-interests to do so AND they are also conscious of my needs.

We learn to abandon ourselves (abandoning our inner child’s interests), early on in childhood, typically through abusive situations in our formative years, which is considered negative reinforcement, or through receiving rewards for putting our needs second to the needs of others, which is considered positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement plays upon our need for safety, while positive reinforcement plays upon our need for freedom.  Any system of rewards and punishment that is instituted as a means of blocking our natural urge to pursue our self-interests, in childhood or adulthood, conditions in the pattern of altruistic self-abandonment to receive safety and/or freedom from external sources. This pattern of relating externalizes our locus of control/identity, making the self a slave and the external world our master.

An internal monarch (one ruler) causes external anarchy (no rulers), while internal anarchy (no rulers) causes external monarchs to rule over us. ~universal maxim

Here’s the paradox, when you abandon yourself and forfeit your needs to receive approval or safety from others, you will always feel abandoned due to your initial abandonment of self. No amount of approval from others can make up for the initial abandonment wound you are causing to yourself by your abandoning yourself. I repeat, every time we do something that is not in our own self-interests, we abandon ourselves, which creates a cycle where we fear more abandonment, which causes us to abandon ourselves even more to prevent others from abandoning us, which causes us to fear abandonment even more, and so on and so forth. The first cause of our abandonment wound (fear of abandonment) is our initial self-abandonment of ourselves as children to gain rewards and to avoid punishments, which therefore makes self-abandonment a learned behavior.

To get over our core fear of being abandoned, which is at the heart of a victim mentality, even a minuscule one, we must guarantee to our inner child that we will never abandon them again for another person’s validation and/or fear of making them upset with us, stop rationalizing away the times we may feel the urge to abandon ourselves/our inner child for breadcrumbs of approval or safety from others, and actually act upon our new boundary. Without the willingness to act upon the boundaries we place upon our circumstances, we are out of integrity/alignment with ourselves, and are therefore still abandoning ourselves.

Our deep fear of abandonment can play out in many ways, all of them insecure; in extreme cases, some may become narcissistic abusers from how they experienced self-abandonment as children, while others may become massive people pleasers who codependently beg for their narcissistic abusers to stay with them through thick and thin. Many factors, including one’s own soul constitution, will dictate how their childhood affects how their identity is formed, and how much of it is internalized and how much of it is externalized. Not everyone reacts the same to difficult childhood experiences, even if certain patterns of childhood abuse and trauma usually causes certain types of psychological baggage; two different people could go through very similar childhoods, end up with the same type of baggage, but one will grow stronger through overcoming it, while the other may be a perpetual victim and/or abuser throughout their life from it.


My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose. Neither am I the means to any end others may wish to accomplish. I am not a tool for their use. I am not a servant of their needs. I am not a bandage for their wounds. I am not a sacrifice on their altars. I am a man. ~Ayn Rand, The Anthem

Feel into the difference between these two statements: 1) “you make me happy”, and 2) “I’m happy with you.” In the first statement, there is a burden attached to it, a weight of responsibility placed around another’s neck to make you happy, while in the second statement, there is no burden, it is just a feeling of gratitude for having someone to share your happiness with. I mentioned earlier that we learn these patterns in childhood, and that they’re reinforced throughout our adult years in almost every way; the problem is the foundational premise that we are not our own, but that we belong to and are responsible for others.

In my opinion, many of the systems in the world would continue to be maintained in a similar form even if we ended up changing the underlying premise to one of gratitude, but they would feel and be experienced a lot differently. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with children helping their parents to do the chores, there’s nothing wrong with attending classes to learn how to read or do arithmetic, there’s nothing wrong with praising a child for doing something well and appreciating their burgeoning skills and work ethic, and there’s nothing wrong with working for an employer to make some money. However, is the underlying motivation abandoning oneself for another’s purpose, or to make them happy, such as making your wife happy by supporting her financially, making your parents happy by being successful and living up to their expectations of you, or making your employer happy by showing them you’re a hard worker? Or are you motivated by deep gratitude, love, and a sense of higher purpose, and co-creating with others to make a better world for you, and by extension them, to live in? It is the underlying spirit and worldview that we infuse into our actions that determines whether or not we are acting out of entitlement, seeking approval, attempting to survive, or conversely, wanting to build a better world for ourselves, our family, and by extension, our community, country, and world.

People spend a tremendous amount of energy attempting to satisfy others, to feel either the safety and/or freedom flavors of externalized love, and the more they play that game, the more they will build up resistance in their bodies, so any safety and/or approval they do feel produces diminishing returns (like a drug addict needs higher dosages of drugs just to get to their original euphoric highs).

You can save an enormous amount of time and energy (which is then freed up for other things) by releasing the need for approval from others. ~Alex Martin Bee

Doing things for others that aren’t in our own self-interests, aka sacrifice and slavery, can be quite emotionally and physically draining, produces resistance in our bodies, and therefore isn’t sustainable in the long term. The more one abandons their own needs and self-interests for others, the more drama they’ll have in their life, which will not only drain them, but will cause an eventual implosion, psychologically, financially, or physically.

Drama and unsustainable energy usage is a choice though, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it is due to our own lack of self-reflection and understanding, as we can choose to work through our underlying worldview, by examining our current thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and outcomes, and tracing them back to our formative childhood experiences, and connecting with our inner children as they experienced those cornerstone memories. Processing life in this way will give us the emotional support that we need, and allow us to see more than just the “I” or the “thou” in relationship, producing empathy for ourselves and/or others. Learning and practicing empathy is a key ingredient to breaking free from self-abandonment, and I will leave you with a quote from a book that began my own healing process after the destructive experience I had over twenty years ago when my wife “abandoned” me for another man, but who was showing me how much I had been abandoning myself every single day I was with her:

First, we are conscious—awake and aware of ourselves as thinking, feeling beings. Then we are empathic, meaning that we are capable of understanding each other on a deep level, actually feeling the emotions and understanding the thoughts, ideas, motives, and judgments of others. Empathy is the bond that connects us, helping us to think before we act, motivating us to reach out to someone in pain, teaching us to use our reasoning powers to balance our emotions, and inspiring us to the most lofty ideals to which human beings can aspire. Without empathy we would roam this planet like so many disconnected bits of protoplasm, bumping into each other and bouncing off without so much as a how-do-you-do, awake but unfeeling, aware but uncaring, filled with emotions but having no means of understanding or influencing them.

By increasing our awareness of other people’s thoughts and feelings, empathy shows us how to live life fully and wholeheartedly. Empathy is primarily interested in that process of becoming, enlarging, and expanding, for in truth that’s what empathy is—an expansion of your life into the lives of others, the act of putting your ear to another person’s soul and listening intently to its urgent whisperings. Who are you? What do you feel? What do you think? What means the most to you? These are the questions empathy seeks to explore. Playful and curious, always interested in the moment-to-moment interaction, empathy has the soul of a poet, the heart of a child, and the wisdom of a seer.

[…] Whereas sympathy seeks to console, empathy works to understand. Empathy requires a certain emotional distance—you have to step away from the grief, fear, and anger to create a space in which your thoughts can exert a calming influence on your feelings. Biases need to be set aside. The automatic impulse to judge and censure must be countered. The desire for revenge is stilled and silenced by the more compelling need to understand and ultimately, perhaps, to forgive.

[…] I find it fascinating that the word sympathetic is used to describe functions of the autonomic nervous system. For sympathy is, in truth, an automatic, involuntary response to another person’s emotional state, while empathy requires a much more complicated integration of thought and feeling. In that sense, then, the interactions between the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system could be called the empathetic nervous system, for the ongoing communication between these systems is responsible for all the expressions of empathy used to signal our thoughts and feelings to each other. Empathy is, in fact, an integrated mind-body response in which thoughts interact with feelings in an empathetic nervous system response.

~Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, The Power of Empathy (affiliate link)

THE UNITY PROCESS: I’ve created an integrative methodology called the Unity Process, which combines the philosophy of Natural Law, the Trivium Method, Socratic Questioning, Jungian shadow work, and Meridian Tapping—into an easy to use system that allows people to process their emotional upsets, work through trauma, correct poor thinking, discover meaning, set healthy boundaries, refine their viewpoints, and to achieve a positive focus. You can give it a try by contacting me for a private session.

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