Fear of abandonment is a primal universal fear, as humans were born to be socially connected to one another. At the very start of life, infants are already hardwired to attach to their primary caregivers. The survival of a young infant or even toddler depends entirely on them. If basic needs are not met, then a high level of anxiety is created.
Moreover, should something happen to the caregivers or should the caregivers’ attitudes suddenly change, the child is then no longer able to feel the care as before, causing even more trauma. If this loss (e.g. – the death of a parent, divorce) or change in attitude (e.g. – abuse) is permanent, then the child internalizes the fear of abandonment.
Everyone experiences some form of abandonment, but not everyone’s experience is severe. However, for those who underwent something traumatic, the personal impact can really cripple their life. Without proper treatment, abandonment wounds can severely affect the way a person is able to function. It cripples the way they handle interpersonal relationships and personal joy is sapped.
Fear of Abandonment: Common Causes
Abandonment issues are intense fears of losing someone close to you. They originate from past experiences that left you alone or uncared for. In that past experience, you were made to fend for yourself, developing a distrust of others and a sense of self-pity for not being loved.
Those who have been abandoned feel cut off from what Susan Anderson, an abandonment research expert, calls “life-sustaining support.” She believes it is a “cumulative wound,” meaning that all the negative events of your childhood up to the present are collected and reignited when triggered.
The causes of this are many. The primary ones are connected to problematic parenting, such as:
- Children who felt deserted because of death, divorce, or being left in the hands of others (e.g. foster care, raised by relatives, even daycare);
- Children who felt discarded due to physical, emotional or sexual abuse;
- Children who felt neglected as basic needs were not met for some reason.
There are, however, other forms which are less recognizable but still very impactful, for instance:
- Children who could not connect to parents who had a mental illness or had addictions;
- Children who had doubts due to caregivers’ unavailability due to prolonged absences (e.g. out of town trips) or late nights at work;
- Children who felt ignored as they were left to solve issues on their own without guidance;
- Children who felt imperfect due to relentless teasing by siblings or other relatives;
- Children, particularly teens, who felt insecure due to constant criticism;
- Children who felt isolated due to chronic illnesses or disabilities;
- Teenagers who felt rejected due to peer rejection, a romantic break-up, or prolonged singleness.
Fear of Abandonment: Common Symptoms
As there are several possible causes of abandonment, here are seven common symptoms of abandonment issues to look out for in yourself or people you know and love.
1. Chronic Insecurities
Abandonment destroys the self-esteem. Though it is not their fault, they often believe it is, thinking that there must be something within that makes them unlovable and worthless. Children are egocentric thinkers and are particularly vulnerable to believing such things, so they grow up thinking that they are not worth respecting and they have this inescapable feeling that if things go wrong in a relationship, romantic or otherwise, that they are to blame.
2. Reenacting Trauma
An unfortunate result of childhood abandonment is the possibility of experiencing the same thing in adulthood. Deep inside there is a core belief that, “I will always be abandoned.”
Reenactment is a subconscious effort to resolve trauma. Because of this, suchpersons subconsciously place themselves in situations where abandonment may occur again. They are usually attracted to the “wrong” people despite clear advice from friends against the idea. Such “wrong” people are often reckless, noncommittal, or unavailable so eventually, the relationship stops working.
In other cases, former victims are the ones driving others away by being overly cautious, standoffish, or extremely clingy. Moreover, they may be projecting their insecurities onto their loved one, saying to them, “You will leave me. You do not truly love me.” As they fear being abandoned, they may not want any commitments; they may wish to ensure that those they love cannot escape them, or they are preparing themselves for another loss.
3. Pervasive Unworthiness
Those who have been abandoned experience the raw emotional pain of feeling worthless. They feel undesired and unlovable. Imagining a good life is next to impossible as they do not believe they deserve such.
This unworthiness extends even to their judgments and actions. As they believe that they are not good enough, should anything go wrong, they blame themselves first.
4. Heightened Emotional Sensitivity
The trauma of abandonment affects the brain. They have become extremely emotional to anything that triggers rejection such as criticism, disagreement, exclusion, neglect, or ridicule. Once triggered, they may experience emotional hijacking (a term coined by David Goleman), where the emotional part of the brain takes over the rational side. When this occurs, the person is overpowered by emotions.
Being rejected by a loved one makes a person feel helpless. Because of this, they grow up realizing that they cannot truly depend upon the people around them since they were hurt already in the past.
To cope with this, those with abandonment wounds may choose to become self-sufficient since they doubt the ability of others to care for them. They may decide to do things themselves and keep others from becoming too close. Such people may portray an aura of toughness and are vigilant and even suspicious of others’ motives.
6. Mood Swings
Abandonment brings about much depression and anxiety. Oftentimes to protect their inner self, victims try to detach themselves from the people and world around them. This, however, causes them to feel empty, lost and alone. Paranoia of loved ones leaving them is another result.
Thus, some become very obsessive and jealous. Anger arises when people are too busy and sometimes this busyness is linked to thoughts of that loved one being with someone else. These people are generally defensive, disconnected, and feel misunderstood.
7. Self-Sabotaging Relationships
This fear of abandonment greatly affects relationships in adulthood as they do not really know what they want or how to achieve it. They desperately cling to people as they are afraid to be left behind and yet they are also afraid to get too close as intimacy scares them.
Intimacy dodgers fear being controlled and then discarded by another. They do not want their heart to be crushed again. Others, however, cannot handle the intimacy. So even if they have found real love, they decide to leave first. In this way, they cannot be fully rejected.
In the end, their life becomes a vicious cycle of love and abandonment.
Fear of abandonment can ruin a person’s life, as social connections are either abusive or cut short because of insecurities and anxiety. The good news, however, is that there are ways to overcome it.
If you or a loved one has experienced abandonment, then a Christian counselor San Diego can help to overcome the past, learn to trust again, and accept the truth that you are a wonderful person created by an all-loving God.
“Sadness,” courtesy of Dmitry Kallnin, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Alone,” courtesy of pixabay.com, pexels.com, CC0 License; “Alone,” courtesy of Jiri Wagner, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Overwhelmed,” courtesy of Blake Connally, unsplash.com, CC0 License