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Healing After the Trauma of Abandonment

A new book gives a personal, raw account of the trauma of familial rejection.

Key points

  • Abandonment affects people long into adulthood, especially if it happened during crucial development years.
  • Parental abandonment is much more than just a physical or emotional absence; it is a unique form of trauma.
  • Those in the LGBTQ community know too well the experience of being abandoned by families for who they love.
  • The book 'No Son of Mine' is a testament to resilience and healing for those who have to find their own way.
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"When I walk through the Van Wickle Gates at Brown University, I convince myself that anything is possible...and then my mother says I am no longer her son" (Corcoran, ch 4, 2024).

Like many growing up in rural Appalachia, Jon Corcoran grew up driving through the winding mountain roads of his West Virginia community, listening to Fleetwood Mac, and attending church services with his family. But he was holding a secret that he knew would change his life—and his relationship with his parents—forever. Like too many gay people before him, coming out meant so much more than just an open acknowledgment. It meant shame, dismissal, and eventually abandonment for being who he is.

The profound anguish of parental abandonment is often incomprehensible to those who have not endured it.

To many, it seems unthinkable. And it should. Parental abandonment is much more than just a physical or emotional absence. Being abandoned by those who are supposed to love you above all else deeply impacts survivors, shaping their sense of identity, belonging, and emotional well-being.

Corcoran's candid memoir, No Son of Mine, not only exposes the raw emotional wounds inflicted by familial rejection but also provides unparalleled insight into this particular form of trauma. Among the books I have encountered on this subject, few have articulated the complexities and devastating impact of parental abandonment with such clarity.

Through vivid and heartfelt prose, he illustrates how being rejected by one's own parents can shatter a person's sense of self-worth and belonging. His words resonate with authenticity and vulnerability, capturing the deep-seated pain and confusion that accompany such betrayal. A survivor of parental abandonment myself and a clinician who works with survivors, this book immediately resonated with me. I was there with him when he fell to the ground in grief, unable to stand, and was instantly transported more than a decade back to a time when I, too, had been overcome by the same insurmountable sorrow.

Because of stigma and lack of understanding of this form of trauma, many survivors are forced to suffer in silence.

The complexities of familial rejection often go unrecognized or minimized, leaving those affected feeling isolated and misunderstood. "What I allowed myself to show, and what I was actually feeling, were so far apart, that I might as well have been living in two bodies: one internal, and the other external" (Corcoran, ch 10, 2024). This silence can exacerbate feelings of shame and self-blame, compounding the already profound emotional wounds inflicted by abandonment. I feel that this is slowly improving, largely thanks to books such as these that serve as a poignant call for empathy and understanding towards those who have endured this form of abandonment.

Abandonment by a parent can manifest in various forms—physical absence, emotional neglect, or outright rejection—and its effects are enduring. It disrupts the fundamental sense of security and stability that developing brains rely on for healthy development. This rejection often forces them to navigate life's challenges without the foundational support and love that families are meant to provide. The absence of parental guidance during formative years can hinder their ability to develop a positive self-image and to form healthy relationships, both within and outside of their community.

The intersection of abandonment with LGBTQ identity can amplify the sense of isolation.

Many LGBTQ individuals face the heartbreaking reality of parental rejection simply because of who they are. For Queer individuals, parental abandonment reinforces feelings of unworthiness and exacerbates the already heightened vulnerability. These experiences contribute to heightened risk in the Queer community of mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (Moagi et al., 2021).

Without familial acceptance, many LGBTQ individuals find themselves forging their own paths, often at a young age, in search of communities where they can find understanding and belonging. "I was beginning to see that I might be able to forge a new family, after the loss of my own" (Corcoran, ch 10, 2024). Like many who were abandoned, finding his own support became a necessary lifeline in the absence of family support

Abandonment affects all relationships within the family, impacting survivors' relationships with siblings and external family members.

Because our society often excuses or minimizes the actions of abusive and neglectful individuals, this can significantly impede survivors of abandonment and trauma from recognizing and acknowledging their own experiences. Like Corcoran, these individuals find themselves at odds with family dynamics that prioritize conformity. Family members can, even unknowingly or unintentionally, reinforce the trauma that survivors experience when abandoned. Assigning mutual blame, refusing to "take sides," or adopting fawning behaviors around the parent all reinforce the self-blame and inner shame that many survivors feel.

By sharing his journey with honesty and vulnerability, Corcoran invites readers to confront their own biases and preconceptions. He raises awareness of the impact of generational traumas and biases and the imperative need for societal change in attitudes towards LGBTQ individuals and familial acceptance. His narrative challenges us to reflect on how deeply ingrained beliefs and societal norms can perpetuate cycles of exclusion and harm, even within families.

No Son of Mine is a powerful testament to the profound impact of parental abandonment on an individual's life, of what happens when the one who should love you above all else is the one who breaks your heart, and of trying to love someone who will not let you love them. It is a story of resilience and hope for those of us who have had to find our own way.


Moagi, M. M., van Der Wath, A. E., Jiyane, P. M., & Rikhotso, R. S. (2021). Mental health challenges of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people: An integrated literature review. Health SA = SA Gesondheid, 26, 1487.

Corcoran, J. (2024). No Son of Mine: A Memoir. The University Press of Kentucky.

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