Being abandoned or given up on is the most devastating emotions we can cause in another human being. – Gary David Currie
What is Abandonment?
Abandonment issues stem from life experiences that leave one feeling like they could not rely on others to take care of them and be there for them.
Abandonment trauma typically stems from childhood loss, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce, but they can also result from inadequate physical or emotional care. These early-childhood experiences can lead to a fear of being abandoned by the significant people in one’s adult life.
At their core, abandonment trauma are intense fears of being rejected by another. Concerns over being hurt and the ensuing emotional pain often serve as barriers for the “fear of abandonment” engine.
An unconscious fear of being abandoned can mean you try to make sure this doesn’t happen again. And this tends to manifest as an extreme of holding on too tight, or not holding on at all. The latter means you can’t be left, as you don’t ever fully commit enough that someone can leave you.
If as a child you felt abandoned, you may develop such unsupportive beliefs as:
- “I don’t deserve to feel safe.”
- “The world is a dangerous place.”
- “You can’t rely on anyone to always be there for you.”
- “I don’t deserve to be loved and cared for.”
- “I can’t trust anyone.”
- “I don’t really need anyone.”
When these are a person’s secret beliefs, can you imagine how ones choices might lead to feeling unloved or unhappy?
Connection is a basic human need. Infants are born hardwired to attach to their primary caregivers. Children are totally dependent on caretakers to provide safety in their environment. When they do not, they grow up believing that the world is an unsafe place, that people are not to be trusted, and that they do not deserve positive attention and adequate care. The child’s survival entirely depends on their caregivers, and if their needs are not met, it creates a high level of anxiety. When children experience ongoing losses without the psychological and physical safety they need, they internalize fear.
Healthy development requires adequate physical and emotional care, and unmet needs can result in feelings of abandonment. If children are unable to form secure attachments and if insecurities are left unaddressed, abandonment wounds can significantly impact their adult functioning and interpersonal relationships.
TYPES OF ABANDONMENT
All abandonment is not the same. There are two different types.
- Physical Abandonment
- Many children have this painful event happen when a parent dies or leaves them for another reason. Adults can be physically abandoned by their spouse leaving them, or by another important person in their lives dying or moving away.
For some children abandonment is primarily physical. Physical abandonment occurs when the physical conditions necessary for thriving have been replaced by:
- lack of appropriate supervision
- inadequate provision of nutrition and meals
- inadequate clothing, housing, heat, or shelter
- physical and/or sexual abuse
- Emotional Abandonment
- Emotional abandonment is far less obvious, yet equally painful. Emotional abandonment happens when an important person who you believe cares about you and loves you, seems to stop caring about and loving you or when a child seemingly has to hide a part of who he/she is in order to be accepted or not be rejected.
Having to hide a part of yourself means:
- It is not okay to make a mistake.
- It is not okay to show feelings, being told the way you feel is not true. “You have nothing to cry about and if you don’t stop crying I will really give you something to cry about.” “That really didn’t hurt.” “You have nothing to be angry about.”
- It is not okay to have needs. Everyone else’s needs appear to be more important than yours.
CAUSES OF ABANDONMENT
Abandonment can be real or perceived, emotional or physical. Causes of abandonment issues can manifest through absent, abusive, or inadequate parenting.
- If ones parents divorced
- If one was adopted
- Alcoholic parents
- If you lost a parent or sibling
- Abuse during childhood
- Emotionally unavailable caretakers
- Narcissistic caretakers
- History of low self-esteem
- Verbal abuse by an ex
- Peer Rejection
- Chronic sickness
- Romantic break-ups
- Prolonged singleness
While things like an absent parent, divorce, adoption or bereavement can and often do cause abandonment issues, there are also other forms of abandonment that can deeply affect a child. These can include:
- A parent who is too depressed to give the child attention
- A parent with an addiction that takes all their energy
- A parent who is emotionally cold and unavailable
- A parent who neglects your needs and doesn’t take care of you properly
- Being a ‘latchkey kid’ (parent never home) who is alone often or bought up by an older sibling
- Parents who go out and/or away often leaving a child with a rotating roster of babysitters and relatives
- Sexual or physical abuse
Any one of the following three key factors can make you more vulnerable to developing abandonment issues:
- The abandonment is sudden or unexpected
- Your abandonment experience happens in your childhood
- You have a general tendency to downplay or ignore your own feelings
SIGNS OF ABANDONMENT
- Refusing to be separated from loved ones even in circumstances in which the individual is aware that she will eventually be reunited with the person she is unwilling to detach from
- Going to great lengths to prevent being abandoned
- Sabotaging Relationships
- Fear of abandonment interferes with forming secure attachments in adulthood. As contradicting as it may sound, those who have felt discarded get stuck in an emotional pendulum between fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. They desperately cling to people but are threatened by intimacy. Intimacy dodgers fear being controlled, dominated, and dismissed, ultimately resulting in losing themselves. To fully expose their heart to someone else puts them in an extremely vulnerable space. For some, this soul connection is too overwhelming, so to ensure that no one abandons them, they leave first. They reason that if people completely know you, then they can fully reject you. Despite being desperate to be needed and loved, people with abandonment issues can often be found sabotaging their relationships even when nothing is going wrong and relationship stress is low. They will often pick fights and make a big deal out of the few negative things in the relationship. It is often a way of justifying their own feelings of abandonment, because if the relationship ends, it’s proof to themselves that people will always leave them, even if they were the driving force of causing that person to leave in the first place. When things are going well in your relationship, do you find a way of messing things up? Do you throw monkey wrenches into happiness by picking fights, pointing out problems and amplifying the negative? If this sounds familiar then it goes without saying you have some abandonment issues. Some women, especially those who felt abandoned by their fathers in childhood may find it difficult to trust the bond of a love relationship and will pull away emotionally as a protective response. It is difficult for them to enjoy their lover for fear of losing him. Other women will do everything in their power to push their mate out the door with negative behavior, sabotaging the relationship and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of abandonment. If they succeed, it confirms they were right – a man’s commitment means nothing.
- Sabotaging Relationships
- Attraction to those who are unavailable to re-enact of the original abandonment
- You’re Reluctant To Fully Invest In A Relationship. Are you a serial dater? Do you have trouble committing to one person? Are you addicted to the “newness” of a relationship but as soon as the honeymoon is over, you invent a reason to cut things off?
- A person that experiences abandonment trauma are often resistant to anything that signifies genuine commitment: meeting their significant others family, moving in together, even discussing a “future” together. The honeymoon phase of a new relationship is appealing to someone like this, and they will often leave a relationship or sabotage it before the newness can wear off, or before the other person can, in their mind, get bored of them. People with abandonment issues often invent reasons to end the relationship, once more justifying their reasons with circular, self-sabotaging thought processes. To let your guard down would be to show vulnerability, and you’re simply not prepared to risk the hurt this may cause. So you keep your guard up and compensate in other ways, such as through physical intimacy. To help you avoid any situation that may result in emotional intimacy and require you to invest fully in a relationship, you pick partners who are either currently unavailable or wholly incompatible with you. You may pick someone who you know has been unfaithful in the past, someone whose lifestyle doesn’t match yours, someone who is moving away soon, or even someone who is already in another relationship. You know nothing serious will ever come of it, but that’s actually a relief to you.
- The Real Relationship – The honeymoon phase cannot last forever. No matter how well two people get along, real life always intervenes. People get sick, have family problems, start working difficult hours, worry about money, and need time to get things done. Although this is a very normal and positive step in a relationship, it can be terrifying for those with a fear of abandonment, who may see it as a sign that the other person is pulling away. If you have this fear, you are probably battling with yourself and trying very hard not to express your worries for fear of appearing clingy
- For those with a fear of abandonment, this is a turning point. If you have this fear, you are probably completely convinced that the slight is a sign that your partner no longer loves you. What happens next is almost entirely determined by the fear of abandonment, its severity, and the sufferer’s preferred coping style. Some people handle this by becoming clingy and demanding, insisting that their partner proves his love by jumping through hoops outlined by the fearful partner. Others run away, rejecting their partners before they are rejected. Still, others feel that the slight is their fault, and attempt to transform themselves into the perfect partner in a quest to keep the other person from leaving.
- Heightened emotional responses related to abandonment triggers, such as feeling slighted, criticized, or excluded
- The trauma of abandonment leaves an emotional blueprint on the brain. People who suffer from abandonment wounds experience extreme emotional sensitivity to anything that triggers rejection, for example, feeling insignificant, criticized, misunderstood, slighted, excluded, or overlooked. They may experience flashbacks that send them into emotional hijacking. Emotional hijacking, coined by David Goleman, occurs when the rational brain is taken over by the emotional brain called the amygdala. In this state, the person feels seized and overpowered by their emotions.
- Vulnerability in social situations
- Addiction to self-medicate
- Hyper-vigilance related to perceived threat similar to original trauma
- Being abandoned physically or emotionally, prompts a very predictable response in your human brain. Your brain automatically goes into high alert, becoming hyper-vigilant for any whiff of anything that could lead you to be hurt by another abandonment.
- Panic attacks related to unconscious triggers
- Intrusive thoughts
- Experiencing flashbacks as they relate to reliving being abandoned
- Psychosocial Symptoms
- Overwhelming feelings of anxiety
- Abrupt changes in mood
- Feeling insecure, diminished self-confidence & self-esteem
- Abandonment wrecks your self-esteem. In your mind, the abandonment reflects your worth as a person. You internalize their decision to leave as your fault. Your thoughts automatically go to, “There is something wrong with me. I am unlovable.” Children are egocentric thinkers and are particularly vulnerable to erroneously believe they are the cause of a problem that has no logical connection to them. They believe they are responsible for other people’s actions. Thus, children walk away from abandonment feeling like they are deeply flawed and often experience an inescapable feeling like everything is their fault. In your mind, there is no way that anybody could truly love you because you struggle to love yourself. Your self-esteem has gone AWOL, you doubt every decision you make, you suffer from anxiety about most things (not just your relationships)
- Intense feelings of fear
- Depressed mood
- Mood Symptoms
- Intrusive, debilitating anxiety
- Chronic feelings of insecurity
- Chronic depression
- Decreased self-esteem
- Feelings of loss of control over life
- Some will stay isolated and rarely form close relationships due to the fear of being abandoned
- Fear of abandonment leads to counter dependency – an inner belief you don’t really need anyone and it’s not a good idea to depend on someone to be there for you. And counter dependency leads to loneliness, taking you further and further away from the truth that as humans we do indeed need each other, even as we also need to be able to trust ourselves.
- To cope with the disparity, they vow to become self-sufficient. They keep people at arm’s length. They put on a tough facade, stay guarded, and remain unavailable. Those who fear abandonment rarely (if ever) show their full self to another. They can’t, because they have trained themselves to be self-protective or to manipulate others to love and stay with them. And it’s almost impossible for love to grow with the lack of authenticity these behaviors create.
- Obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts about the abandonment
- Exaggerated startle response
Other Signs of Abandonment Trauma
- Seeing Another Woman as a Threat
- The fear of being replaced may lead a woman to believe that every other woman in her man’s life, is a threat. She will become suspicious, compares herself to the other women, try to divert attention to herself and respond rudely to a woman whom she might otherwise like to be friends with.
- You Blame Yourself For Every Breakup
- If you have genuine abandonment issues, chances are you aren’t very good at maintaining long term relationships, and with every one that comes to an end, you can’t help but shoulder all of the responsibility and blame. You tell yourself you were never good enough for them – not physically, not intellectually, not emotionally – and that it’s your fault things didn’t work out.
- You Attach Too Quickly
- If you become instantly attached to another – meaning soon after you have met a love interest – it is usually a dead giveaway you struggle with abandonment issues. People who attach too quickly are often described as clingy by their mates, which can have the effect of driving potential love interests away. A person may believe that if they don’t attach quickly, you risk them dating someone else they like more. You don’t want them to be “the one that got away.” Instant attachment can be caused by abandonment issues, due to the fear of being alone and rejected.
- You Stay In / Settle For Unhealthy Relationships Rather than being alone
- You are willing to remain in a situation that you know deep down isn’t good for you. Perhaps you realize that the match isn’t as good as you first thought, or your partner lies, cheats, or is abusive in some way – somehow these things aren’t always enough for you to call it quits. The fear of being rejected and alone will drive someone to stay in a relationship that isn’t making them happy, because they often feel like it is better than being alone. Staying in a dysfunctional relationship can intensify the abandonment issues.
- You Move On Too Quickly
- If and when one relationship ends, you barely give yourself time to breathe (and grieve) before you’re on to the next one. Instead of dealing with the emotional fallout of the breakup, you seek to distract yourself from the hurt and pain by jumping head first into something new and exciting. You’re one of those people who “have to” be in a relationship because you’re a mess when single.
- Pervasive Unworthiness
- Being left leaves you with the raw emotional pain of feeling worthless. You feel discarded, undesired, and rejected. You believe you are unlovable. You struggle to imagine that you deserve to have good things in your life, including healthy relationships. Toxic shame and self-hate bombard you daily. You have internalized the message that you are defective and insignificant. You feel guilty for acting “needy.” When something goes wrong, you search within to find fault. The obvious choice is to blame and reprimand yourself. You do not trust your judgment and unceasingly question yourself, because why would you trust someone who is not good enough? The biggest thing that holds you back from being emotionally intimate with somebody is your own deep-seated sense of unworthiness.
- Giving Her Man Too Much of Everything He Wants
- A woman who lacks the confidence that she is central in her mate’s life, may think she must be near perfect to keep him around. She is likely to go overboard catering to his every need or whim, spoiling him even when he doesn’t deserve spoiling. With this behavior she is will lose his respect rather than to gain it. A woman like this needs to step back and notice how much she deserves beyond the relationship. If she starts pampering herself with as much attention as she gives him she will be perceived as a more desirable mate.
- You find flaws in potential mates
- Do you start creating a list of “flaws” in a person who has expressed an interest in dating you? Are some or all of these flaws irrational in nature? Do they act as barriers for getting more serious with another? Sometimes it’s not the case that the match isn’t a good one; it’s that you don’t allow it to be. Your abandonment issues mean you focus on the flaws in your partner and ignore all their positive attributes. This way, when things finally go south, you can tell yourself they weren’t right for you anyway. You seek a perfection that doesn’t exist anywhere other than in your head.
- Unreasonable Demands on His Time
- Women who are afraid that space and time away means her man is trying to escape, usually exhibit demanding and controlling behavior. Calling to check on him every hour on the hour, texting nonsensical messages while he is at work, and intruding on his leisure time with “to do lists” are all signs that she wants to stay engaged and maintain control. Her separation anxiety is likely rooted in her fear of being alone and she may need to dive
- Pulling Away and Pushing Him Away
- Many of the things we have already spoken about are examples of self-sabotage. You fear abandonment and avoid ever reaching a point where your heart can be broken the way it might have been in the past. You push your partner away, you grind them down with snarky comments, you act in ways that aren’t conducive to a loving relationship… and you do it on autopilot. It’s an unconscious defense mechanism designed to prevent emotional pain. Some people, push people away continually, rather than fear losing them.
- You find letting someone get close harder than most. If you have a fear of abandonment it often causes a deep fear of intimacy. Why? If someone fully knows you, they can fully reject you. Keeping others at arm’s length means you feel safer.
- Reenacting Trauma
- Childhood abandonment sets the stage for the same dynamic to be recreated in adulthood. Many people position themselves in friendships and romantic relationships to be discarded or abused because they have accepted this core belief: “I will always be abandoned.” Reenactment is a subconscious effort to resolve trauma. Perhaps you are attracted to the “wrong” people. You pursue individuals who are unavailable, noncommittal, and reckless. You are hyper-vigilant and self-protecting, always watching for threats of disconnection. Maybe you drive people away with your compulsive thoughts, standoffish attitudes or clingy behaviors. You project your insecurities onto others. You might find yourself accusing your partner of betrayal: “You never loved me. You are cheating on me. You will leave me. You will forget me.”
- One may struggle to trust because your mind conjures up images of infidelity, you find it difficult to fully trust a partner. Trust is one of those things that makes you vulnerable and you hate to let your guard down. You tell yourself that it’s better to assume the worst and be proven wrong than the other way around. That’s the pessimist in your talking.
- You’re A Partner Pleaser
- You aim to please people at every opportunity and this extends into your relationships. The result is weak personal boundaries and a willingness to go along with things just because they are what your partner wants. You put your wellbeing second to theirs, fearing they will look elsewhere if you don’t fulfill their desires.
- Fantasizing Doomsday Abandonment Scenarios
- In those quiet moments when there’s little else to think about, it is not uncommon for a woman’s phobic tendencies to rear their ugly heads as daydreams of tragic endings. She might imagine receiving a call that her mate has died, run off with someone else, or left a “Dear Jane letter” stating his intention to leave town without saying good-bye. These destructive daydreams represent buried fears and secret wishes erupting as habitual conscious thoughts and can be difficult to control. The fear is, of course, that she will be discarded and alone and the wish functions to perpetuate a deep sadness that she has deeply identified with. Time apart provides the perfect mental environment for the fear of abandonment to thrive. Your thoughts enter a dark and dangerous loop in which you literally imagine your partner ending things with you and the trauma and turmoil this will result in. Your body reacts to these thoughts as if they were actually true and you suffer bouts of extreme anxiety and depression.
- Constant fears of cheating
- Do you constantly live in a world of paranoia that your significant other is cheating on you? Are these thoughts irrational and devoid of any of the actual signs of infidelity? If the fear of your partner cheating on you becomes a problem when it is a constant presence in your thoughts, and you are unable to rationalize the thought process, especially if your partner has never been known to be unfaithful.
- You exhibit excessive controlling behaviors
- Do you try to control a love interests comings and goings? Is there a history of you irrationally questioning where the person you are dating is going? Do you constantly inquire about their interactions with others? Your abandonment issues likely stem from past experiences where you had no control over the outcome, and so you seek to micromanage your life and your relationship to try and avoid similar situations and the same outcome. You fear the unpredictability of just letting go and sailing with the wind.
- You Get Separation Blues
- You like to be with and around your partner as much as possible because any time spent apart is like torture. To be separated for a few hours, a day, or even a number of days has the effect of resurfacing your abandonment issues and sending you into a downward spiral of doubt and despair. Rather than “out of sight, out of mind,” it’s quite the opposite, and all you can do is ruminate about where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing. You Overanalyze Things Your mind isn’t one to let anything slip by unnoticed; you see and hear everything and then set to work trying to figure out the hidden meaning in it all. There’s no such thing as a small comment or an insignificant act when you’re around because you’re capable of taking every little thing and assigning far more weight to it than it probably deserves.
Treatment approaches to abandonment & trauma include:
Focusing on social relationships and re-establishing normal roles in your life. This may include trusting others, increasing low self-esteem, setting emotional boundaries, increasing intimacy, strengthening social situations.
Establish a sense of mastery and control over life through establishing interpersonal relationships.
Identify inaccurate thoughts and learn to replace them with positive, accurate thoughts.
Stabalize negative emotions & help cope with stress. Accept experiences & view them without emotion, and establish a plan to move past them.
Sharing experiences with others who understand your experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and finding you are not alone in what you’ve gone through.
More therapy options
- Art therapy
- Creative expression
- Ropes courses
- Music therapy
- Sharing assignments and journal entries with the group and gaining feedback.