Understanding (& Overcoming!) Abandonment Issues

November 19, 2021

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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.

If you experienced emotional neglect or traumatic loss as a child, fear and anxiety may be the driving factors in your adult relationships.

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.

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.

According to MedicalNewsToday.com, fear of abandonment is not a standalone mental health issue, but a form of anxiety. Signs of fear of abandonment or abandonment anxiety 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

All these things make building and maintaining healthy relationships difficult, which can serve to reinforce abandonment anxiety and fears.

How to Cope with Abandonment Issues

Fortunately, fear of abandonment and abandonment anxiety aren’t matters you have to live with for the rest of your life: Healing is possible. 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, 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 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.

Another important aspect of healing 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 wellbeing, 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.

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 individuals to get to the core of the problem so that lasting healing can take place. If you or someone you know is struggling with abandonment issues, contact us today so we can help you acquire the tools you need to truly thrive.