Emotional abandonment is tough. When my grandfather passed away, I remember the odd feeling that he was still around. When I walked into the lounge, I expected to see him in his favorite chair, propped up just the way he liked it so he could watch the cricket. Of course, I knew that he wasn’t going to be there—I knew that from the moment I entered the house—but some side of me was certain that he was going to appear, even though he wasn’t. I found out later that this has to do with the setup of the brain. We come to expect patterns in our daily life, to see certain people and certain things in certain ways. Change troubles us, partly because it disrupts this linear pattern that we have set up to make sense of the world around us.
This phenomena bleeds into our everyday experience—we see faces in clouds, we see objects in ink blots, we see patterns in events that are entirely separate from one another. We do this to attempt to make meaning, to make patterns, to make sense of things. I think that emotional abandonment is an experience of grief in microcosm. When you lose a close friend, when someone ghosts you and just disappears, it can feel like grief. It’s so abrupt, the change. It is more than just missing your close friend, it is a deep sense that something isn’t right, that some long-held routine or ritual has been disrupted, lost. A weekly coffee date, held for three years, a close friendship maintained over four—gone in an instant. It leaves a deep emptiness within.
I had reached out to that girl who had suddenly lost all contact with me for no apparent reason and was cut off. To mutual friends, she would claim there was nothing the matter, but to me, she was distant and cold. There was no clear cut-off, no clear reason why this had happened. It just did. She didn’t give a reason why or give me a chance to make amends. Emotional abandonment just sucks, and it sucks even more when you have mutual friends, who don’t have any idea either why that person just stopped talking to you, why you can no longer hang out in a group all together anymore, why, when you see her in public occasionally, she is cold and awkward with you while pretending to still be your friend on social media.
Emotional abandonment really messes you up because it’s basically friend-ghosting; you have this connection with someone and then they just leave you and you don’t know why, and you have so many shared memories with them. It messes you up because you can’t understand it, and you then go over every little conversation you ever had with them, every feeling you felt when you were with them, and try to understand what you’ve done wrong. It makes you look back at the whole friendship and wonder whether it was real.
I’m not sure when exactly the pain lifted from that ex-friendship, but I do know that it hurts sometimes still. But the majority of the pain and confusion I felt has lifted. I tried to just accept that we were no longer friends, and that I wasn’t going to get some explanation. I’m not entitled to an explanation. It was her choice to cut ties with me, and perhaps that was for good reason. It gave me space to find other friends, for other friendships to flourish. Because I had suffered with multiple mental illnesses and had sometimes talked it over with her, I worried I was a toxic person. My life was entirely consumed by these illnesses. I had started to worry that it was this that had pushed her away.
But even if it did, that’s in the past now. I can only think about how to treat friendships from now, and I can only remember that, at that point, my life was consumed with mental illness because the mental illnesses I had developed had completely taken over every aspect of my life. I let that failed friendship go, and focused on making new ones.