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The phrase “abandonment issues” is often used to describe people who have a deep and persistent fear of being rejected or abandoned by others. While it’s common for some people to develop this abandonment fear due to childhood experiences, abandonment anxiety can also appear later in life. The abandonment fear can leave lasting scars, and people might react to it in several different ways.

For example, some people with abandonment issues avoid emotional intimacy, while others may be overly dependent on people in their life. 

Fearing abandonment can be difficult to cope with, but learning how to heal abandonment issues can help you begin developing healthy, rewarding, nurturing relationships in your life. Read on to learn more about healing abandonment issues.  

Understanding Different Attachment Styles 

Research shows that newborns instinctively search for and attach to caregivers who can meet their physical and emotional needs. When a child’s needs are consistently met, they learn it’s safe to rely on others and will typically develop a secure attachment style. 

However, if a child’s needs are neglected, they may develop an insecure attachment style. 

There are four basic types of attachment styles:

Secure

Anxious/preoccupied (in children – known as anxious-ambivalent)

Avoidant/dismissive (in children – known as anxious-avoidant)

Disorganized (in children – known as fearful-avoidant)

“Avoidant attachment styles come from having needs that were rarely met. Whereas anxious attachment styles come from an inconsistency in needs being attended to. Disorganized attachment stems from the existence of actual fear that replaces safety and security. You can work with a therapist on any attachment style you might identify. You deserve loving, healthy relationships.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC.

Identifying your attachment style can be a key step in healing abandonment issues. Not only can it help you understand how you relate to others, but it can also give you insight into past experiences that might be causing or contributing to your fear of abandonment.

Anxious

People with an anxious attachment style are terrified of being left. They struggle to trust that they won’t be abandoned. 

In an intimate relationship, they frequently worry that they’ll lose their partner, leading to them seeking constant reassurance and support. They may also have issues with jealousy that make them try to control their relationship to prevent their partner from leaving. 

Avoidant

When a caregiver provides a child with basic essentials, like food and shelter, but neglects their other needs, developing an avoidant attachment style in the future is common. 

Many people with this attachment style were discouraged from expressing emotions in childhood. They often struggle with expressing their feelings and needs as adults. In relationships, someone with an avoidant attachment style may feel smothered or want to withdraw from their partner.

Disorganized

Disorganized attachment has traits of both anxious and avoidant attachment styles. People with this attachment style have a strong desire for emotional intimacy but also tend to push away partners or sabotage relationships. This attachment style typically occurs when someone learns to fear their caregiver as a child.

Signs Of Abandonment Issues

A fear of abandonment can interfere with interpersonal relationships and negatively impact emotional well-being. Abandonment issues influence how someone views others and themselves in relationships, ultimately leading to severe emotional distress. 

Recognizing these signs and behaviors can be the first step in learning how to heal abandonment issues.

“Typically, abandonment results in difficulties finding our place in the world. Our primary caregivers were either absent, unreliable, or harmful, and because that was our first example of what relationships look like, we have difficulty getting close to others. Fearing rejection, ending relationships prematurely, depending on the thoughts and feelings of others too much, and struggling with being alone are all possibilities.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
Separation anxiety/depression

While it’s normal to experience some separation anxiety in early childhood, when abandonment issues are present, people might continue to struggle with these abandonment fears in adulthood. Someone with separation anxiety may experience intense sadness or fear when they’re away from loved ones, even for short periods of time. Despite being around the people they love, they may constantly worry about losing them. 

Trust issues

Many people with abandonment issues struggle to trust others. They may question their partner’s intentions or treat them with suspicion, even if there’s no evidence that they’ve done anything wrong. Some people with trust issues may detach from others to try and avoid being hurt.

Codependency 

Codependency is an unhealthy form of attachment that occurs when someone neglects their own needs to meet the needs of someone else. 

Many people with abandonment issues feel unworthy of love and have a strong impulse or desire to please others. These thoughts and behaviors can make them vulnerable to codependent relationships. Being needed can offer a false sense of purpose for someone with a fear of abandonment.

Panic about losing people

People with abandonment issues typically struggle with fears that they’ll be rejected or left by others. 

At times, these fears can become so intense that they lead to a panic attack. Symptoms of a panic attack may include: 

Dizziness

Rapid breathing

Pounding heart

Increased heart rate

Numbness

Chest pain

Sweating or chills

Trembling

Avoiding possible rejection 

Many people who fear abandonment are deeply insecure and feel vulnerable when they open up to others. This may cause them to become emotionally unavailable or withdrawn in their relationships. In some cases, someone may even sabotage an intimate relationship because they believe that they’ll inevitably be rejected. 

Causes of Abandonment Issues 

There are several causes of abandonment issues. 

“Abandonment results from either a physical or emotional disconnection from the primary caregiver and/or primary attachment figure. Genetic predispositions to higher levels of sensitivity to an environment that feels unstable, unreliable, or unsafe can lead to feelings of abandonment. Also, caregivers can pass away or completely leave the scene altogether, so it’s not completely dependent on the interaction styles.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC
Childhood

Attachment styles are developed during infancy and early childhood, and an insecure attachment style can lead to a fear of abandonment in adulthood. Abandonment issues may be caused by childhood abuse, neglect, or environmental stressors, such as growing up in poverty or living in a dangerous area.

Trauma

Traumatic experiences can cause abandonment issues or make the fear of abandonment more intense. When someone is physically or emotionally threatened or experiences extreme stress, the resulting trauma might impact their lives in an adverse way. Many types of trauma, including abuse or accidents, can be a source of abandonment anxiety.

Death

Losing a loved one is a devastating experience that can cause lasting grief and fear. Studies show that the death of a parent or caregiver during childhood can cause severe abandonment issues that continue into adulthood. The sudden loss of a partner can also result in severe anxiety.

Relationship loss

In some cases, the loss of a romantic relationship can be traumatic, particularly if the romantic relationship ends because of infidelity, divorce, or death. These experiences can change the way someone views themselves and their interpersonal relationships, leading to anxiety about future relationships. 

Healing from Abandonment Issues

It can be a long, and sometimes daunting, process to learn how to heal from abandonment issues, but you can do it! Here’s how:

Therapy

Fears of abandonment are often rooted in unresolved trauma. In person or online therapy can help you work through your abandonment trauma and change unhealthy behaviors. 

With the help of a therapist, you’ll be able to develop coping mechanisms and tools to help you manage your anxiety so you can focus on healing abandonment issues.

Understanding what it is

Understanding how to heal from abandonment issues can be difficult, especially if you haven’t yet explored what the issues are and where they stem from. 

Many people with a fear of abandonment don’t know what a healthy relationship should (or could) look like. Identifying your attachment style can be instrumental in helping you understand your behavior and recognize triggers for your anxiety. 

Self-care

If you’re struggling with abandonment issues, you’re not alone. Many people deal with abandonment fears, and the anxieties that result can be difficult to navigate without help. 

While you can change your behavior and build healthier relationships, these changes won’t happen overnight. During the process of exploration and healing, be sure to take care of yourself. Self-care is always important, but it’s even more imperative when you are on a journey toward healing abandonment issues in your relationships. 

Be kind to yourself as you learn how to heal from abandonment issues. Asking for help can be difficult or even frightening, but you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for support if you need it. Practice self-care throughout the process, so you have the strength to heal.

Sources:

1. Sullivan RM. The Neurobiology of Attachment to Nurturing and Abusive Caregivers. Hastings Law J. 2012;63(6):1553-1570. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3774302/. Accessed August 15, 2022.

2. Benoit D. Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome. Paediatrics & Child Health. 2004;9(8):541-545. doi:10.1093/pch/9.8.541. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724160/. Accessed August 15, 2022.

3. Wolchik S, Tein J, Sandler I, Ayers T. Stressors, Quality of the Child–Caregiver Relationship, and Children’s Mental Health Problems After Parental Death: The Mediating Role of Self-System Beliefs. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2006;34(2):212-229. doi:10.1007/s10802-005-9016-5https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16502140/. Accessed August 15, 2022.

4. Collins N, Read S. Adult attachment, working models, and relationship quality in dating couples. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1990;58(4):644-663. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.4.644. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1990-22471-001. Accessed August 15, 2022.

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