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Fear of Abandonment

Fear of Abandonment Causes, Effects on Relationships, Symptoms & How To Overcome It

Why Fear of Abandonment Happens

It’s natural to fear losing someone you love. But if you persistently worry about others leaving you, even when there’s no evidence they will, you may be living with abandonment anxiety.

Fear of abandonment isn’t a mental health diagnosis, but it’s sometimes related to mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Fear of abandonment is deeply connected to emotions like shame and anxiety. In some cases, rejection sensitivity is also linked to mental health conditions that involve fear of abandonment, like BPD and depression.

You may experience fear of either emotional or physical abandonment. Here’s the difference:

  • Emotional abandonment refers to emotional distance. If you’ve been emotionally neglected in the past by parents, a caregiver, or a partner, you might fear that other people will neglect you too.
  • Physical abandonment happens when an important person exits your life. For example, you might live with fear of abandonment today that is connected to a parent leaving in your childhood.

Causes of Fear of Abandonment

Abandonment issues stem from a fear of loneliness, which can be a phobia or a form of anxiety. These issues can affect your relationships and often stem from a childhood loss. Other factors that turn a loss into abandonment issues include environmental and medical factors, genetics, and brain chemistry. 

Early childhood experiences are the biggest contributor to developing abandonment issues when you become an adult. 

Fear of Abandonment
A pattern of emotional abandonment or neglect can also be traumatic.

Types of Fear of Abandonment

Abandonment issues can present themselves in three insecure attachment styles. [1] These are: 

Avoidant Attachment Style: People who follow this style don’t allow anyone to get close to them. You may feel like you can’t open up or trust others, making you appear distant, private, or withdrawn. 

Anxious Attachment Style: People with this type of attachment style cope by developing intensely close and dependent relationships with others. You may feel anxious about separating yourself from your partner and tend to be emotionally reactive. 

Disorganized Attachment Style: People with this attachment style have difficulty remaining intimate and close but can also be inconsistent. You may feel anxious about being in a relationship or want to avoid the closeness. 

Abandonment Anxiety in Relationships

You may be afraid to let yourself be vulnerable in a relationship. You may have trust issues and worry excessively about your relationship. That can make you suspicious of your partner. [2]

In time, your anxieties can cause the other person to pull back, perpetuating the cycle.

Fear of Abandonment in Relationships

If you fear abandonment in your current relationship, it may be due to having been physically or emotionally abandoned in the past. For example:

  • As a child, you may have experienced the death or desertion of a parent or caregiver
  • You may have experienced parental neglect
  • You may have been rejected by your peers
  • You went through a prolonged illness of a loved one
  • A romantic partner may have left you suddenly or behaved in an untrustworthy manner

Such events can lead to a fear of abandonment.

Avoidant Personality Disorder

Avoidant personality disorder is a personality disorder that can involve fear of abandonment resulting in the person feeling socially inhibited or inadequate. Some other signs and symptoms are:

  • Nervousness
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Intense fear of being negatively judged or rejected
  • Discomfort in social situations
  • Avoidance of group activities and self-imposed social isolation

Effect on Relationships

Long-term effects of fear of abandonment to you and with your relationships can include:

Symptoms of Fear of Abandonment

If fear of abandonment plays a big role in your life or the life of a loved one, it can show up in how you manage your emotions and behaviors.

Emotional Signs:

  • Panic or anxiety about being alone or not coupled
  • Sensitivity to criticism or rejection
  • Shame and self-blame when something goes wrong in the relationship
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • Worry when a relationship seems to be going “too well”
  • Distrust
Fear of Abandonment
Some degree of abandonment fear can be normal. But when fear of abandonment is severe and frequent, it can cause trouble.

Behavioral Signs:

  • Using comfort foods or substances to cope when stressed about a relationship
  • Tendency to pull away physically or emotionally when feeling criticized
  • Codependency, or placing the needs of a partner over your own
  • History of relationships that haven’t supported your mental and emotional health
  • Tendency to become attached quickly in a new relationship [3]

Diagnosing Fear of Abandonment

Fear of abandonment isn’t a diagnosable mental health disorder, but it can certainly be identified and addressed. Also, fear of abandonment can be part of a diagnosable personality disorder or other disorder that should be treated.

Healing Abandonment Issues

Without treatment, abandonment issues in both adults and children can make it more challenging for the person to form healthy and secure relationships with others and to live a fulfilling life.

Individuals should seek help if they believe that they or a child for whom they care is experiencing abandonment issues.

People who have a history of trauma or childhood loss may also wish to speak to a doctor or mental health professional if they have not addressed these experiences before.

How to Overcome Fear of Abandonment

Depending on what’s contributing to your fear of abandonment, you can try different approaches to manage it. [3]

1. Therapy

A therapist can help you recognize and overcome the fear of abandonment by empowering you to:

  • Discover your attachment style and how it impacts your relationships
  • Learn how to form secure attachments with others
  • Develop your emotion regulation skills
  • Find out whether a personality disorder or anxiety disorder is causing your abandonment anxiety
  • Heal from trauma or childhood experiences that contribute to your fear of abandonment

Talk therapy with a professional you trust can help with the fear of abandonment in multiple ways.

You might find that healing also takes place through the process of participating in the therapeutic relationship itself.

Some specific types of therapy may be especially helpful for sorting out where your abandonment anxiety comes from and how to cope with it:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). In DBT, you can learn emotion regulation skills and self-soothing techniques. It’s also a common treatment for BPD.
  • Emotionally focused therapy (EFT). EFT focuses on helping you identify your attachment style and how it influences the way you relate to others.
  • Psychodynamic therapy. This approach could help you manage some personality disorders, including BPD. Psychodynamic therapy may also help you recognize behavior patterns linked to your abandonment anxiety.
Fear of Abandonment
Adults who did not experience abandonment as children may still have feelings associated with abandonment. These can come from losing an intimate partner to separation, divorce, or death.

2. Self-Discovery

Learning about yourself can help you identify how fear of abandonment impacts your thoughts and actions — and, as an extension of those things, your relationships.

While self-discovery is often a part of therapy, you can also practice it on your own by:

  • Keeping a log of your feelings and events that might be causing them
  • Curiously checking in with yourself when you feel a surge of emotion — you can start with something like, “Wow, this is a strong feeling. What memories or fears could be at the root of this?”
  • Reading up on attachment theory and considering what attachment style you’ve developed
  • Using a workbook to identify situations that induce your fear of abandonment so you can be better prepared with coping techniques

3. Support Groups

Community and connection can be important parts of healing from trauma.

You might find a support group helpful if you:

  • Experienced a traumatic abandonment in the past
  • Grew up with emotionally unavailable or distant parents or caregivers
  • Find yourself repeating patterns in relationships that you’d like to change

Some support groups for abandonment fear are local, and many focus on abandonment in the context of romantic relationships. You can also check out this online community.

4. Self-Compassion

Self-compassion, a way of viewing yourself first with kindness instead of judgment, can help you combat shame and other thoughts that might come up alongside your abandonment anxiety, like:

  • “I’m not good enough for my partner.”
  • “I deserve to be left on my own.”
  • “I’m not loveable.”

It can take time to build up self-compassion. A couple of ways to practice are by challenging negative self-talk and by using mindfulness meditation.

How to help someone with abandonment issues

It can be challenging to help someone with abandonment issues because they often push people away when they feel challenged or vulnerable. [4]

The following techniques may help those supporting someone with abandonment issues:

  • Stay calm during conversations, even when the person tries to provoke a response — they may be trying to “test’ their theory that everyone rejects them.
  • Avoid pushing for answers, and allow the person to open up in their own time.
  • Reply honestly and let them know how their behaviors affect others.

Whether this is your first and last treatment program, or even if you invested years of your time in and out of other therapy programs, we can lead you to feel at peace again. The We Level Up FL Behavriaol Center is unique in offering unparalleled evidence-based programs. [5] Along with ultra-modern therapeutic modalities to advance mental health treatment outcomes.

If you have questions regarding your diagnosis or want licensed guidance or therapy for fear of abandonment, please contact us.

Sources:

[1] Abandonment Issues: Symptoms and Signs – https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/abandonment-issues-symptoms-signs
[2] What Is Fear of Abandonment, and Can It Be Treated? – https://www.healthline.com/health/fear-of-abandonment
[3] Abandonment Anxiety: How to Understand and Overcome Your Fear – https://psychcentral.com/health/fear-of-abandonment
[4] What to know about abandonment issues – https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/abandonment-issues#causes
[5] We Level Up – Mental Health » Psychiatric Disorder Treatment