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Abandonment and Resilience

By Dr. Michael Lennox

This beautiful piece was written by my very first best friend in the whole wide world. Michael and I became dear friends in first grade and we are close to this day. Here is a guest video we recently filmed together. If you watch, you can see the great love between us still: Here is Michael!

I know a lot about the wound of abandonment. One of the dictionary definitions of abandon is “to withdraw from; often in the face of danger or encroachment.” When I was younger in my adult life actively working through my childhood wounds, I often used this notion to describe my relationship with my mother; that she abandoned her children. And yet, this wasn’t exactly what happened. My mother didn’t withdraw from us in the face of danger, it was she that was the one creating the danger. And she didn’t leave us, but carried us with her into and through her chaotic approach to life. And of course, on the other side of healing all those wounds of abandonment, I have a very different perspective on what abandonment is, what it isn’t, and what the gifts were of having the mother I had.

The story begins with the three of us being raised by a single mother, living at the poverty level, who was working full time while also going to college. This is not a tale about the resilience of my mother, though she was indeed wildly resilient in her own right. My mother was traumatizing to all three of her children; a woman with a personality disorder, clinical levels of ADHD whose executive functioning was profoundly challenged, and we three latch-key kids were truly left to fend for ourselves from a very young age. And fend we did.

Life at home was chaotic, violent, unpredictable, and felt profoundly unsafe, and at times that feeling of unsafety was quite literal. But out in the world, I moved about with a kind of ease and confidence knowing that my older sister and brother had my back. We took care of ourselves and each other, and while we reflected the chaos and instability of both of our parents in how we tore the place up everywhere we went, we were intellectually smart, emotionally intelligent, and capable of navigating our way in the big bad world; at least outside of the house this was true.

One of those outside of the house experiences was summers at the New Jersey Y Camps, where we went under full scholarship from the Jewish community. We were wildly popular at camp; our sibling unit was even known colloquially as “the Lenusky’s” (I later changed my name to Lennox). My brother David was the bad boy that all the girls had crushes on. Kathy, my sister, was a powerhouse, remembered decades later as not only popular, but a natural leader who generated a tremendous sense of social respect. I had already been bitten by the stage bug in grade school, and this summer camp had a really strong drama program led by a charismatic high school music teacher who made the summer musicals the most coveted activity. If you had leads in the plays as I did each summer, you enjoyed an elevated social status. While this is hard to convey, trust me when I tell you that the visibility and popularity that the three of us moved through in that community was extreme, and truly unusual.

With the unexpected passing of my brother seven years ago, and then more recently my mother, Kathy and I have been moved to a lot of reminiscing, seeking to contextualize the past. It was she that proffered the answer to the mystery I always found our wildly popular summer experience to be. She reminded me of the construct of the social dynamic of this community. Upper middle class, well-educated families of means, these children were protected to the point of overprotection, cared for and well nurtured, and for the most part, these were kids who had things done for them at every turn.

We, on the other hand, were not protected. The care we received was unstable at best, and if we had needs, we were forced to learn how to meet those needs, for some of them otherwise would not get met with consistency. We took care of ourselves, and if something needed to get done, we had the smarts and energetic resources to get it done. It was our capacity to problem solve and rally our own resources that was what lifted us up in the eyes of this community. Sure, the personal charisma that we all had certainly helped, but it was our capacity for executive functioning, and for what I would later learn was something called resilience that made us the unicorns of Cedar Lake Camp in the 1970s.

There were traumas to heal by virtue of being the son of my mother, more than most, not as much as many I have met. Every single wound, and the movement through those wounds as an adult, have led to amazing results. It is true that my mother was barely around in those formative years, and when she was around, it was more likely than not that her stress level would erupt into violent rage. And when I needed her the most, she was not there, and in writing this I am reminded of the painful awfulness of how she responded to my coming out as gay when I was fifteen. It is fair to say that if there were one word, one wound that my mother’s behavior caused her to inflict on her children, the word that fits best, is indeed abandonment.

Today I can see that the experience of abandonment and resilience are directly connected. I have also come to understand that there is a distinction between being abandoned, and feeling abandoned. We were indeed left to our own devices more than was often safe. But it was this very perceived abandonment that generated so many skills and efficiencies with how we all move through the world. So, were we really abandoned? One answer is certainly, no, we were not. As unsafe as my mother was, she was still a powerful force of nature who would have – and did – protect her children as a fierce lioness might. But did we feel abandoned, yes, and at every turn. Feeling abandoned left me with a wound to heal. Being abandoned left me to fend for myself offered practical experience that helped me generate life skills, and a foundation of resilience that would serve me well in my adult life.

About Dr. Michael Lennox: Psychologist, Astrologer and Dream Expert, Dr. Michael Lennox has been helping people have a deeper understanding of their unconscious mind for almost twenty-five years. In workshops, in the media, for private clientele and on the internet via his popular website, Lennox guides people through life’s mysteries with a deep and profound wisdom delivered through a humorous and extemporaneous style that has become his trademark. He is your ambassador to conscious embodiment. His #redrobeastrology reports on Instagram are growing in popularity with every passing month, reaching thousands of people every day.

A highly sought-after media expert, Dr. Lennox has been seen internationally on many television shows, beginning with the Sci Fi Network’s The Dream Team with Annabelle and Michael, in January 2003. His radio and podcast appearances talking about the power of dreams and the impact of astrology now number in the hundreds. Lennox obtained his Masters and Doctorate in Psychology from The Chicago School.

Lise Deguire's gold award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.

1 Comment

Aug 13, 2021

Interesting take - thank you.

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