Understanding (& Overcoming!) Abandonment Issues

October 31, 2023

Written by

Claudia Black Young Adult Center

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By Wesley Gallagher

Relationships are hard. No matter how much you love someone and know they love you, there’s always the chance that you’ll get hurt. The reality is that most people, even those you love the most, will hurt you at some point. And while many relationships last a lifetime, others come and go.

If you had healthy, secure relationships in childhood, particularly with your parents or caregivers, you’re likely to have a healthy view of how they work. However, if you experienced emotional neglect or traumatic loss as a child, fear and anxiety may be the driving factors in your adult relationships. The fear of being hurt or left by someone you love may cause you to take drastic measures to prevent the loss of loved ones. This can lead to a whole host of issues in relationships.

The fear of being hurt or left by someone you love may cause you to take drastic measures to prevent the loss of loved ones.

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

According to Healthline.com, childhood emotional neglect happens when parents or caregivers do not meet the emotional needs of a child. Unlike emotional abuse, emotional neglect is often unintentional and less obvious, but it can have lasting negative effects on children.

Emotional neglect can happen in a variety of ways and for a number of reasons. It can be as subtle as a parent downplaying their child’s feelings, or as overt as a parent with mental health issues or addiction being absent emotionally or often physically from his or her child’s life. It can happen when authoritarian parents rule with a heavy hand and disregard a child’s emotional needs, or when permissive parents allow too much independence at an early age. Even parents with the best of intentions may not have the tools to adequately meet the emotional needs of their children, leading to a sense of neglect in that area.

Children who experience the traumatic loss of a parent or caregiver, whether from death, mental health issues, addiction, or divorce, often feel a sense of emotional abandonment that can last into adulthood. Children who are adopted, even those in happy and healthy adoptive homes, can also struggle with feeling abandoned by their birth parents. 

Childhood trauma like emotional neglect is often a predictor of mental health disturbances in adults, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). One of the lasting effects of emotional neglect is fear of abandonment.

Causes of Abandonment Issues in Adults

Emotional trauma in childhood often leads to abandonment issues in adults. If your emotional needs are neglected as a child, you may never have the opportunity to form secure attachments and learn to have healthy relationships, leaving you feeling like anyone you love could abandon you at any time.

Specific causes of abandonment issues include:

Childhood Experiences

Children need to form a secure bond with parents or caregivers to form secure relationships as adults. When children are neglected by their parents or when parents are physically absent, those secure bonds don’t form, which can lead to insecurities, low self-worth, and fear of rejection.

Traumatic Events

Experiences that make children feel unsafe, insecure, or alone can lead to insecurity and anxiety. Traumatic experiences such as divorce or loss of loved ones can instill a deep-seated fear of being abandoned by those who are meant to care for them.

Repeated Relationship Failures

Abusive or neglectful romantic relationships where emotional needs are not met can lead to the same fear of abandonment that comes from childhood neglect. Repeated breakups may also cause or reinforce feelings of rejection and unworthiness. Over time, this makes it hard to trust and connect with new partners, perpetuating the cycle of abandonment.

Signs and Symptoms of Abandonment Issues

According to MedicalNewsToday.com, fear of abandonment is not a standalone mental health issue, but a form of anxiety stemming from emotional trauma. Signs of abandonment issues include the following:

  • People-pleasing tendencies
  • Giving too much in relationships
  • Inability to trust people
  • Pushing people away to avoid being rejected
  • Insecurity in relationships
  • Codependency
  • Excessive need for reassurance that loved ones will not leave
  • Control issues in relationships
  • Maintaining unhealthy relationships or the inability to maintain healthy ones
  • Sabotaging relationships or moving quickly between them
  • Lack of emotional intimacy
  • Panic related to the potential loss of loved ones
  • Inability to regulate emotions

All these things make building and maintaining healthy relationships difficult, which can serve to reinforce abandonment anxiety and fears. Until the underlying causes are addressed and unhealthy patterns are broken, relationships will continue to be insecure and cause further fear and anxiety.

How Abandonment Issues Impact Relationships

The impact of abandonment issues on relationships shows up in different ways depending on the type of relationship. 

man ignoring female in relationship

In romantic relationships, you may find yourself being clingy or overly jealous, or constantly seeking reassurance of your partner’s commitment out of fear that they will betray or abandon you. These behaviors can create tension and push your partner away, thus reinforcing fear of abandonment and perpetuating a cycle of insecurity.

In the family dynamic, abandonment issues can lead to difficulties in establishing trust and emotional intimacy. You may struggle to form secure attachments with family members, leading to feelings of isolation and emotional distance. This can strain familial bonds and hinder communication.

In friendships, abandonment issues can manifest as an inability to trust or rely on friends, always waiting for them to abandon or betray you. This can make it hard to form deep and lasting connections, as you are tempted to keep others at arm’s length to protect yourself from further emotional pain.

These relational issues can lead to in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and diminished self-worth. It’s important for loved ones to be patient, understanding, and supportive when dealing with someone who has abandonment issues. Encouraging open communication, providing reassurance, and suggesting professional help when necessary can play a vital role in coping with abandonment issues and cultivating healthier relationships.

By confronting these issues in various types of relationships, you can work toward building relationships founded on trust, security, and emotional intimacy, ultimately improving your mental health and overall well-being. As relationships move from insecure to secure, you will begin to feel safe to be yourself and trust those closest to you.

How to Cope with Abandonment Issues

Fortunately, abandonment fear and abandonment anxiety aren’t matters you have to live with for the rest of your life: Healing from abandonment issues is possible. Rebuilding trust after abandonment is not easy, but the key is to get to the root of the trauma causing the abandonment issues. This is best done with the help of a licensed therapist who is trained in dealing with emotional trauma. Once you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, you can begin implementing strategies to overcome the trauma and work toward healthier relationships.

As you work through your trauma and begin understanding abandonment issues, you may realize that you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like. As you heal internally, you’ll need to adjust your expectations for relationships with others as well, working to free yourself from long-standing habits stemming from abandonment issues. This will take time and effort, and it may mean ending unhealthy relationships if there’s not a pathway to positive change in them.

As you work through your trauma and begin understanding abandonment issues, you may realize that you don’t know what a healthy relationship looks like.

Another important aspect of overcoming abandonment issues is learning to care for yourself, rather than looking to others to fulfill your needs. A lack of emotional security in childhood can cause you to constantly seek that security from others as you get older, leading to codependency. As you learn about yourself, figure out what you need to stay healthy and provide those things for yourself. Even little efforts like eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can do wonders for your emotional well-being, and are all responsibilities you can assume yourself. Understanding your needs will also help you articulate those to others, which can lead to healthier relationships.

Healing From Abandonment Issues

At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, we offer treatment for a wide range of mental health and addiction issues stemming from emotional trauma. Our highly trained professionals work with you to get to the core of your problem so that lasting healing can take place. If you or someone you care about needs treatment for abandonment issues, contact us today. We will help equip you with the right tools to truly thrive.