Abandonment: the root of all suffering
For a while I’ve been developing the idea that invalidation is the source of all emotional trauma. For example in the case of a rape, the degree to which the victim feels that her humanity and suffering are ignored by her offenders, her family and anyone else, may determine the traumatic quality of the experience over time.
Tonight I had another insight, while prayerfully studying a talk by Joseph B. Wirthlin. I was thinking about Joseph Smith, wondering whether it was easy for him to continue doing his duty towards God and his fellows, even when in the midst of persecution. I cast my mind back to Liberty jail, and his isolation and suffering there. Did he have perfect confidence that his situation would improve, that his oppressors would either be softened or removed? No, he felt at some stages that the lord had abandoned him, and he found that thought unbearable.
What can be more painful than to feel abandoned by those we love most? Isn’t that a child’s worst nightmare? Isn’t that the most emotionally damaging event in one’s life? At the peak of his suffering, Jesus Christ himself experienced this most horrific of all sufferings: the abandonment of his beloved Father. Although it was temporary, it clearly came as a surprise, and may have seemed permanent.
How strange then, that as parents we are so willing to abandon our children and our own parents, even when there is no obvious benefit to them. Controlled crying is a popular way to shortcut a baby’s sleep independence, despite the clear messages it sends about trust, love and safety.
3-year-old children who show too much distress when going to school are labeled with “separation anxiety disorder”, and treated as though they’re somehow dysfunctional.
The elderly whose failing health and mental state becomes a burden are conveniently placed in end-of-life storage, despite overwhelming evidence that such isolation from loved ones precipitates their decline.
As Edward Deci and Richard Ryan explain in their self-determination theory, all humans have a basic psychological need to feel connected to other humans, to feel understood, appreciated and needed. When this need is thwarted, suffering results, and over time this can have devastating effects on emotional well-being and mental health. This is why I think that abandonment is at root of all suffering.