If you find yourself often having anxious thoughts about your partner being distant or even leaving you, you may be dealing with some abandonment issues in relationships. Maybe you have a fear of vulnerability and are afraid to reveal too much about yourself because you’ll seem unlovable. Maybe you find yourself making a plan for how to protect yourself if you’re abandoned.
Another way these fears might manifest is if you choose to date one person after another in rapid succession, demonstrating a fear of commitment. In the relationship itself, you might seek constant reassurance, or become overly controlling of your partner’s activities and whereabouts; this is frequently coupled with an attitude of suspicion.
If most of those descriptors remind you of yourself, you might have abandonment issues.
Often, abandonment issues in relationships derive from a significant relationship in your past that failed to meet your needs physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. You may have suffered from abuse, neglect, or chronic absence. This would have happened in a context where you trusted someone to care for you, but instead, they disappointed or rejected you.
A sense of being abandoned includes feeling disconnected, rejected, and deprived of what you need to feel secure. Abandonment is a form of trauma, and you’re left with a fear of losing loved ones and being left on your own to survive. These fears are often subconscious, and you might not realize they’re the driving force for the way you act in future relationships.
11 Abandonment Issues in Relationships
The following are eleven symptoms of abandonment wounds that may have an impact on your relationships today:
1. Lack of Vulnerability
This attitude involves having a guarded outlook on relationships, especially new ones, springing from entrenched trust issues. Individuals with this mentality do not allow others to get close to them, and they don’t reveal their own vulnerability except to those they carefully select. By maintaining their privacy, they feel safe from being rejected.
This behavior presents as coldness, distance, or being overly independent. Some people with abandonment turn to detachment to cope with the pain they’ve experienced in the past. Detachment goes hand in hand with a lack of commitment. A lack of commitment means you can’t be abandoned, and no one can hurt you.
Detachment is a sort of counter-dependence. It’s not giving yourself permission to need another person or depend on them. It’s a way to retain a sense of power, but it ultimately results in loneliness and isolation.
Another form abandonment issues can take is overwhelming clinginess or neediness. This might include sharing far too much about yourself very early on in a friendship or relationship or ignoring warning signs of dysfunction.
Once in a relationship, the clingy person will constantly want to be reassured and given lots of attention. They can seem overly exacting and difficult, and they usually fixate on one person whom they expect to meet all of their needs.
This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which the target of their clinginess cannot handle the person’s overwhelming neediness, so ends up rejecting them.
4. Difficulty Feeling Love
Another symptom of abandonment issues is difficulty with feeling attached and loving to someone. This person will often be out of touch with their own emotions and may seem generally disengaged from people and experiences.
They may try to avoid being comforted physically or emotionally (for example, being hugged or complimented). They try to hide their true selves, which prevents them from bonding with their loved ones. If they want something from their partner like more physical affection, instead they put their defense mechanisms and pretend they don’t care.
5. Controlling Behavior
Abandonment correlates with a feeling of unpredictability and people who have been abandoned often seek to control every detail so they feel their lives are safe and predictable. Every situation feels one step away from being dire or drastic. Everything needs to go the way they’ve planned, or they feel anxious. In relationships, this can present as being micromanaging.
Sometimes subtle manipulation is used, such as making indirect comments or suggestions in an attempt to control one’s partner or using emotional blackmail to keep your partner in the relationship.
Often, this person is always thinking a step ahead and tries to maintain a facade of perfection to control what people think of them.
Whether subtle or overt, manipulation tactics can become a normal part of this type of relationship, and they’re used to make the partner stay with them and love them. The more conflict there is in the relationship, the more the controlling behaviors increase.
6. Negative Core Beliefs
Those with abandonment issues may have trouble keeping problematic circumstances in perspective; instead, they catastrophize events or possibilities in their minds. If someone is late to meet them, they’ll feel like the friendship is ending. If they sense even a hint of disapproval, they’ll jump to extremes such as, “I’m stupid. I’m always wrong.” If they have any type of argument or disagreement, they’ll think the other person hates them.
These types of thinking patterns are an automatic response to traumatic experiences. Other examples might be: “Everyone will eventually leave me. I can survive on my own; it’s better not to trust other people. I don’t deserve to be loved. I have to work really hard for others to like me. I can’t live without this person. Everything is my fault; why do I mess everything up?”
7. Searching for Flaws
This issue happens when the person has a running list of their partner’s flaws, mistakes, or offenses. The more they can prove something’s wrong with their partner, the less close they’ll feel. This can be seen in a tendency to demand perfection from others because perfection will reassure them that the relationship is safe.
Not only that, but people with abandonment issues often demand perfection from themselves as well. They don’t want others to judge them, so they try to act perfect in their relationship to compensate for their deeply held belief that they themselves are unworthy of love and fundamentally flawed.
8. Fear of Intimacy
Self-sabotage is a frequent issue in these types of relationships, either in smothering behavior that results in anxiety when the two of you are apart or by completely letting go and not being healthfully interdependent.
Self-sabotage can also take the form of purposefully getting involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, knowing that you will probably be abandoned eventually.
This may seem highly counterintuitive and difficult for outsiders to understand, but this behavior is simply a way of avoiding genuine intimacy. Intimacy is scary because it requires vulnerability. And vulnerability can lead to being rejected (again).
So people who fear abandonment learn how to turn off their emotions, and this behavior becomes so normal to them that it can happen involuntarily (such as shutting down physically during sex).
Fear drives out love. You will find yourself unable to bond with your partner because you’re holding on to them so tightly, or already expecting that they will leave you.
9. Weak Boundaries
Going out of their way to comply with their partner’s every wish or perceived desire, someone with this abandonment issue will suppress their own needs to try to make their partner happy. Codependency and fear of abandonment are often closely correlated.
The codependent may linger in a destructive relationship, making excuses for how their partner behaves and treats them, and taking on the responsibility for meeting others’ needs and rescuing them from the consequences of their actions.
A strong sense of guilt often pervades the codependent person’s mind and emotions. If something goes wrong in their relationships, they blame themselves. They feel like have they to prove that they are worthy of the relationship, and because they’re so desperate not to lose their partner, they end up losing themselves instead.
An individual may fear rejection so strongly that they end up hiding from relationships. They may feel like an outsider who is always misunderstood. They withdraw to protect themselves from exposure, criticism, or lack of love. Since they already feel inferior, they can’t take more rejection. But this sadly prevents them from the opportunity to have healthy friendships or relationships.
11. Being Overly Sensitive
Overreactions and defensiveness are a common response to the paranoia that everyone you love will eventually leave you. Rejection becomes a specter hanging over the person’s head.
If someone points out their flaws, they immediately interpret it as being rejected for who they are. Refusing to accept negative feedback allows the person to cope with their huge feelings of insecurity.
Imagine if you could be free to be yourself, and to base your behavior on love instead of fear. Imagine truly trusting someone else without fixating on the possibility of rejection. Talking to a counselor can help you become aware of the ways your fear of abandonment is damaging your current life and relationships.
By going to therapy, you’ll have a chance to unlock the hurts of your past so you can move beyond them to a place of freedom, and be able to experience intimacy without fear. You’ll be able to refute lies with the truth, and gain deliverance from a lifestyle of emotional torment.
“Contemplative landscape,” courtesy of Heidi Sandstrom, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Rhythms in Blue,” courtesy of Stephen Cook, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Searching,” courtesy of Luiza Sayfulina, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Empty,” courtesy of Eddy Lackmann, unsplash.com, CC0 License