The fear of abandonment is real. It is a complex psychological phenomenon and is thought to stem from childhood trauma or loss. The fear of abandonment has been studied from a wide variety of perspectives. Theories of why the fear of abandonment occurs in adults include traumatic interruptions in the normal development of a young child’s mental and social capacities, old relationships and life experiences, and exposure to certain norms and ideas.
Even though it is not officially considered a phobia, the fear of abandonment is definitely one of the most damaging fears of all. People who live with the fear of abandonment tend to display thought patterns and compulsive behaviors that negatively affect their relationships, eventually resulting in the abandonment becoming a reality. This fear can have devastating effects on a person’s life. To resolve it, you first have to understand this fear.
What Is Fear Of Abandonment?
Fear of abandonment is considered to be an overwhelming worry that family, friends, and people close to you will abandon you and leave. This fear can stem from a traumatic experience you had when you were a child or a distressing relationship in recent times.
If you have a fear of abandonment, it is almost impossible to have healthy relationships. It is a paralyzing fear that can cause you to alienate yourself to avoid getting hurt by other people, or it may make you intentionally sabotage relationships.
The first step you need to do to overcome your fear is to acknowledge the reason you feel the way you feel. You may then be able to address your fears with therapy or on your own. However, this fear may also be due to a personality disorder that needs treatment.
Types Of Abandonment And Examples
You may be afraid that someone you have loved genuinely is going to leave you physically and not ever come back. You may be afraid that someone will ignore your emotional needs. Any of these will hold you back in relationships – whether with a parent, husband, partner, or friend. Here are the three types of abandonment:
1. Fear Of Emotional Abandonment
It is less obvious than physical abandonment, but that does not mean that it is less traumatic. All of us have emotional needs. When these needs are not met, we may feel unloved, unappreciated, and disconnected. We can feel very alone, even when we are in a relationship with someone who is physically present with us.
If you have ever experienced emotional abandonment sometime in the past, especially as a kid, you may live in constant fear that it will happen to you again.
2. Fear Of Abandonment In Children
It is absolutely natural for babies, toddlers, and children to go through a stage of separation anxiety. They may scream, cry, or refuse to let go when their parent or caregiver has to leave them with someone they don’t know. Kids of this age have a hard time grasping the concept that the person will return. As they begin to realize that loved ones do come back, they learn to outgrow their fear. For most kids, this happens by their third birthday.
3. Abandonment Anxiety In Relationships
You may be petrified to let yourself be the vulnerable one in a relationship. You may develop trust issues and worry too much about your relationship. This can make you unnecessarily suspicious of your partner. After a while, your anxieties may cause your partner to pull back, justify and making you even more paranoid.
Where Does Fear Come From?
As kids, people may have had experienced rejections, traumas, or real losses that caused them to feel insecure of themselves and distrust the world in general. These traumas and losses can have dramatic effects on the child – like neglect, the death of a loved one, or physical and emotional abuse (1), (2).
However, they can also take place at a much subtler level. Generic things like everyday interactions between parents and children can have an effect on the child’s psyche. Children have to feel seen and taken care of when they are upset to feel safe and secure. However, it has been said that even the most attentive parents are only attuned to their children around 20-30% of the time.
That is why understanding whether they experienced a secure attachment with their parents and how their parents related to them can give people an idea about how they view relationships in general.
Secure attachments can be formed when caretakers make themselves consistently available and are attuned to a child’s needs. From infancy, children learn to behave in a way that will get their needs met by their caretakers. A parent who is present and attentive to the child’s needs at one moment and then rejecting them and being entirely unavailable at another moment can cause the child to be “emotionally hungry.” This can lead to the child forming an anxious attachment to their loved ones. Children who are exposed to this type of attachment grow up to feel insecure. They cling to the parent to try and get their needs met.
Fear Of Abandonment Symptoms
If you have a fear of abandonment, you may have some of these signs and symptoms:
- You have difficulty in committing to a relationship.
- You have difficulty trusting others.
- You are overly sensitive to criticism.
- You have a habit of getting into unhealthy relationships.
- You have difficulty making friends unless you are 100% sure they like you.
- You blame yourself when things don’t work out.
- You take ridiculous measures to avoid separation or rejection.
- You get attached to others too quickly, then move on just as quickly.
- You work too hard to please other people.
- You try your hardest to maintain a relationship, even if it is toxic for you.
What Causes Fear Of Abandonment?
1. Abandonment Issues In Relationships
If you experience fear of abandonment in your present relationship, it is probably because you have been physically or emotionally abandoned in the past. Here are some examples:
- You may have experienced parental neglect.
- As a kid, you may have experienced the desertion or death of a parent or a caregiver.
- You have gone through a prolonged illness of a loved one.
- You may have been rejected by your friends and peers.
- Your partner may have left you suddenly and without explanation or behaved in an untrustworthy manner.
2. Avoidant Personality Disorder
This personality disorder involves feeling socially inhibited or inadequate. These are some signs and symptoms (3):
- You are always nervous.
- You have poor self-esteem.
- You have an intense fear of being rejected or negatively judged.
- You are uncomfortable in social situations.
- You avoid group activities and self-impose social isolation.
3. Borderline Personality Disorder
This is another personality disorder in which severe fear of abandonment plays a role (4). The signs and symptoms include:
- You are always in unstable relationships.
- You have a distorted self-image.
- You have extreme impulsiveness.
- You have inappropriate anger and mood swings.
- You have difficulty being alone.
- People who have borderline personality disorder were mostly physically or sexually abused as children. Some grew up amid intense conflict or got it from family members with the same condition.
4. Separation Anxiety Disorder
If a child does not outgrow separation anxiety, it can interfere with his or her daily activities. Mostly, these children have separation anxiety disorder. Some signs and symptoms of this separation anxiety disorder include (5):
- They have panic attacks.
- They are distressed at the thought of being separated from their loved ones.
- They refuse to leave home without a loved one.
- They refuse to be left alone at home.
- They have nightmares of being separated from their loved ones.
- They experience physical issues, like headache or stomachache, when separated from their loved ones.
- Teens and adults can also have separation anxiety disorder.
10 Tips For Dealing With Abandonment Issues
- Stop judging yourself. Fear of abandonment is an involuntary emotion. You didn’t create it. It is not something you wanted or signed up for. It found you, and now won’t let go.
- Accept that this fear is a part of being human. Give yourself unconditional love and compassion instead of judging yourself as “weak.”
- Take 100% responsibility when your fear erupts. Don’t expect your partner to “fix it” (even if you feel that they triggered it).
- Promise to use fear of abandonment as a chance to develop emotional self-reliance.
- Approach your partner with self-confidence born of self-responsibility.
- Become engaged in actively working towards abandonment recovery. Focus on your own emotional needs, so you don’t have to depend on your partner to do it.
- Realize that it is no one else’s responsibility but yours to make you feel loved and secure. The minute you expect your partner to provide the solution, you give your power away.
- Be accepting of yourself. The road leading to emotional self-reliance is often slow, steady, and sporadic.
- When you start looking towards your partner for reassurance, just learn to re-direct!
- Transforming this fear into emotional self-reliance requires radical acceptance of your separateness as a person. This enables you to stop laying your fear and insecurity at your partner’s mercy and take full responsibility for your own needs.
How Not To Overcome Abandonment Issues
- Don’t have unrealistic expectations of your partner. Wanting too much too soon can ruin relationships. You may always overreact and over need, which will make you feel less amazing about yourself.
- Don’t try to hide your feelings. Your insecurities may be chasing your partner away, so try to resolve them, not pretend they don’t exist.
- Don’t try to manipulate your partner into doing things that will make you feel more secure. It will increase the pressure on the relationship and reduce its mutuality quotient.
- Don’t try to disguise your emotional suction cups as anger or coyness.
- Don’t try hiding your personality. In trying to save your relationship, you may be losing your authenticity.
- Don’t make your partner feel emotionally responsible for you. This will create an awful dynamic where you will need them more than they will need you. As the gulf will widen, your desperation will intensify, creating a vicious cycle.
- Don’t loathe yourself when you feel that your insecurity is driving is your partner away. Don’t panic! You have the capability to turn it around!
How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood
Here are some tips to control your fear of abandonment that stems from childhood incidents:
- Believe that you are worthy of love.
- Understand your fear to control your fear.
- Realize that some level of fear will always exist.
- Use self talk to replace fear with positive feelings and thoughts.
- Accept that being alone is ok.
- Don’t pursue the emotionally unavailable.
- Find your tribe – create a network of support.
- Avoid behavior that feeds off of fear.
The fear of abandonment may be a part of you, but by understanding your self-worth and the root cause of the fear, you will be able to get over this crippling anxiety of being alone and have healthy relationships again. Consult a qualified therapist who will help you deal with the issue by prescribing medication and/or psychotherapy.
Take control of your fear of abandonment and see your relationships change for the better. The more you have a warm, accepting, and loving attitude toward yourself and your struggles, the stronger you will feel when you are facing difficult circumstances. Take care!
- Quality of Social Relationships and the Development of Depression in Parentally-Bereaved Youth, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Childhood Sexual Abuse and Fear of Abandonment Moderate the Relation of Intimate Partner Violence to Severity of Dissociation, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Avoidant personality disorder: current insights, Psychology Research and Behavior Management, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- Borderline Personality Disorder, Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
- SEPARATION ANXIETY DISORDER IN YOUTH: PHENOMENOLOGY, ASSESSMENT, AND TREATMENT, Psicología Conductual, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health.
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