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Abandonment Issues: What It Is, Causes, Types, 34 Signs & How It Hurts You

Do you think you have abandonment issues? Or do you know someone who does? It’s time to find out if they are affecting your relationships with others. 

abandonment issues

“Abandonment issues” is a term thrown around to justify relationship problems on a broad spectrum. What you don’t know is that abandonment issues arise from a deeper behavioral problem that affects a majority of the population.

What exactly are abandonment issues? How is it identified? What can be done when you identify with this type of problem? [Read: Relationship anxiety – what it is, 44 signs, feelings, and ways to get over it]

What is abandonment and why does it turn into an issue?

Abandonment issues or fear of abandonment issues is a collection of characteristics that developed from a traumatic experience during childhood or early adulthood. It can also develop during adulthood but on rare occasions only. 

For it to manifest in adulthood, the traumatic experience would need to be fairly repetitive and may develop other serious behavioral problems as a result. [Read: Intimacy issues – what it looks like, 39 signs, causes, and tips to date with it]

Abandonment can be intentional or unintentional. Death is one of the biggest unintentional acts of abandonment. Isolation is interpreted as abandonment. 

When someone leaves or dies suddenly, those who are left experience something akin to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Termination from a job, leaving a child at daycare, rejection from a date, a friend whose priorities have changed – anything that causes a person to feel deserted, left out, or unworthy can cultivate feelings of abandonment.

It can also develop in a child who constantly experiences loss on different levels. A friend moves away. A close relative passes on. Their parents separate. A nanny leaves the home. A parent travels a lot. 

It becomes an issue because a person may cease to trust new people in their life. They could base their decisions on the assumption that not everything is concrete. 

This is true for most things, but people with abandonment issues treat every new event in their life as a passing phase. [Read: Are you really losing your friends or are you just drifting away?]

They assume that nothing is consistent, so they develop defense mechanisms in order to counteract what they feel will be the end result – abandonment.

There is no scientific basis for the prevalence of developing abandonment issues in certain groups of people, but it usually occurs in an unhealthy emotional environment. 

Once the seed is planted, there is no turning back. All you can do is identify the signs and take the necessary steps to help yourself or another person who is experiencing this phenomenon.

Causes of abandonment issues

By now, you might be wondering what causes abandonment issues, more specifically. There are several contributing factors. [Read: Black sheep of the family – what it means, 22 signs you’re it, and how to deal]

Emotional abandonment occurs when parents:

1. Do not let their children express themselves emotionally

Everyone has emotions, but children are in the phase of their life when they are processing how to regulate them. So, when a child has an emotional outburst, one or both parents might try to shut them down.

This is emotional abandonment because it teaches the child that the parents don’t care about their feelings and force them to keep them inside. [Read: 47 hurtful signs and effects of being the daughter of a narcissistic mother]

2. Ridicule their children

No one likes to be made fun of or ridiculed. It’s not even easy to endure this when you’re an adult. But when you’re a child and your parents do it to you, it can have a profound effect.

The act of ridicule tells the child that they are unimportant and ridiculous. The child learns that no one takes them seriously and that they are nothing and a nobody. This is also a form of emotional abandonment.

3. Put too much pressure on their children to be “perfect”

There is a difference between encouraging your children to be the best that they can be because you believe in them and love them – and forcing perfection on them.

“Perfect” is subjective and can never be truly achieved. [Read: Dating a perfectionist – things you must know before you date one]

So when parents force their child to be “perfect,” their child is constantly chasing something that doesn’t even exist. This will make them constantly feel as if they’re not good enough because they can never please their parents.

4. Treat their children like their peers

While most children would love for their parents to not have rules or a curfew for them, it really doesn’t do them any good. The lack of rules and boundaries for children makes them feel unloved.

So, when parents treat their children like a friend and allow them to do whatever they want, it tells the child that the parent would rather not put in the difficult effort to express “tough love” to raise them right.

5. Abandonment

Of course, this is the ultimate cause of abandonment issues – when one or both parents actually physically abandon their child. 

When a parent leaves, whether it’s for a short time or the rest of the child’s life, it sends a profound message that the child isn’t good enough for the parent to stick around.

Unfortunately, the child doesn’t know why parents act this way, and as a result, they internalize the emotional and physical abandonment.

This unhealthy coping mechanism leads them to think there is something wrong with them and everyone will leave them. [Read: Silent treatment abuse – how it’s used and 40 signs and ways to respond to it]

Types of abandonment issues

When someone is abandoned as a child, they develop an unhealthy emotional attachment style into adulthood. An attachment style is how someone relates to other people in an emotional way. 

Here are some attachment styles that result from abandonment issues. 

1. Avoidant attachment style

Avoidant attachment style develops when a child’s parent or main caretaker doesn’t show care or responsiveness past providing essentials such as food and shelter.

As a result, the child ignores their own struggles in order to maintain peace and keep their parent from leaving them.

These children *and adults* feel anxiety and sadness, but they do it in isolation and deny the importance of their own feelings. This attachment style affects romantic relationships, friendships, and other connections.

2. Anxious attachment style

Anxious attachment styles are formed in children who have an unpredictable or emotionally insensitive parent. One moment, the parent will be loving and available. But in the next moment, they’re not even trying to meet the child’s need for love, security, and attention.

Because love was unpredictable for these children, people with the anxious attachment style have a hard time depending on and trusting others. Receiving this treatment as a child often left them confused and doing anything to elicit love and connection with their parents.

3. Disorganized attachment style

The disorganized attachment style is the most extreme form of insecure attachment style. [Read: Attachment styles theory – types and signs and ways you attach to others]

It is developed as a consequence of abuse or trauma in childhood, such as physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse from the parent or caregiver.

People who have this style put up walls to protect themselves from getting hurt. They have a lot of fear, mistrust, and inner conflict.

As adults, these people have poor coping skills, erratic behavior, and difficulty dealing with issues in relationships and real-life problems. They can be unpredictable and volatile in relationships. That’s because they have high anxiety and high avoidance tendencies.

How do you know if you have abandonment issues or feelings of abandonment?

Most people don’t acknowledge that they have abandonment issues. It only becomes obvious when the constant patterns in their lives are causing them pain. 

If not resolved, a person can develop other behavioral disorders like depression, anxiety, and other serious mental illnesses. [Read: Powerful ways to combat and break out of loneliness]

A psychologist can confirm this through various tests and will then develop a plan of treatment to guide a person into releasing these types of feelings.

This does not mean that every time you feel alone, you resort to therapy. You need to identify whether these feelings have become destructive or if they are just products of a day or week that went wrong.

Common signs of fear of abandonment

Sometimes people know that they have a fear of abandonment, but sometimes they don’t. So, if you’re wondering if you fear being abandoned, here are some signs that you do. [Read: Negative thinking – 32 signs and ways to stop and get rid of negative thoughts]

1. Difficulty in making new friends

People with abandonment issues struggle with the idea *and the activity* of making new friends because they fear rejection from their peers. 

They have a hard time holding on to new friendships because their attitude reflects a negative perception of events, people, and places.

And that makes it worse for others because it’s not fun to hang out with people who are afraid to live their life and constantly complain about it, which is common for people with abandonment issues. [Read: 18 insightful reasons why you don’t have any friends]

2. Envisioning worst-case scenarios

People with abandonment issues do not tackle problems in a calm and reasonable manner. They always think the worst and have resolved themselves to the idea that everything will end badly.

This is especially true for the few relationships they’ve developed. If a friend forgets to call, they will immediately assume that the friendship is over as opposed to any other immediate reason like a busy schedule or a dead battery.

3. Excessive dependency on close relationships

Simply put, a person with abandonment issues becomes clingy to the point where they suffocate their relationships. They rely too much emotionally on their friends, family, or partner.

Instead of being interpreted as an endearment, the dependency that people with abandonment issues require becomes a job for the people involved. 

It becomes exhausting and repetitive which in turn causes people to abandon the person again. [Read: The guide to loving someone the right way without smothering them]

4. Staying in destructive relationships

This is the worst case for people with abandonment issues. Because they feel unworthy of developing new relationships, they tend to stay with abusive partners. 

Someone with these issues may also refuse to end a relationship despite not being happy. This is because they are holding onto the person in their life out of fear of abandonment. [Read: 21 signs of emotional abuse you may be going through without realizing it]

5. Paranoia over people leaving

Every time something out of the ordinary happens in their relationships, they quickly assume that their partner is leaving them.

If they get into a fight with their sibling, they will immediately think that their sibling hates them. They don’t trust people to stay. They think that if they do anything negative, they will be cast out.

6. Defensive behavior in any setting 

Regardless of where they are, people with abandonment issues will immediately put up a guarded front. Whether it’s with a waiter in an unfamiliar restaurant or a new teacher at school, they will be reluctant to engage in any sort of conversation or connection. 

This makes propagating a career difficult. It also keeps a person from developing the interpersonal skills needed to grow into a mature adult.

These are just a few of the usual nuisances that accompany people with abandonment issues. Some people have these traits in minor amounts. 

They can be developed through their upbringing, environment, and experiences. For people with abandonment issues, these issues are greatly exaggerated and rarely acknowledged. [Read: Why do people get defensive? Reasons and ways to handle them]

7. Communicate poorly

A fear of abandonment usually develops early in someone’s life. And if they were abandoned as a child, then they likely grew up in an environment where people did not communicate effectively with each other.

Whether they scream and yell or completely withdraw from conflict, the way they talk to people isn’t healthy. So, when someone fears being abandoned, they can’t always articulate their feelings in an effective manner to people. [Read: 42 secrets to communicate better in a relationship and ways to fix a lack of it]

8. Engage in harmful behavior

When someone fears that people will leave them, they often become clingy and needy. However, there are even more extreme behaviors that someone who fears being abandoned can exhibit. These behaviors would include anything harmful to themselves or to others. [Read: How to stop self-destructive behavior and change your life for good]

How do abandonment issues affect your relationships?

Having a fear of abandonment makes it difficult for a person to develop lasting relationships.

They don’t open their doors to new romantic relationships. Instead, it takes them a long time to find someone that they like enough to get close to.

1. Impulsive relationship decisions

They could end up not dating anyone for years and then have a constant dating streak after. It’s not an unusual pattern.

Some jump into new relationships constantly because they always end up breaking up with people.

The pattern is unnoticeable at first, but sooner or later, they will realize that their dependent tendencies led to the relationship’s downfall. [Read: Autophobia – what it is, 25 signs, causes, and how to calm the fear of being alone]

2. Conflicting emotions

Because of their clinginess, they can irritate their partner to the point of leaving. If they are too guarded, their partner will not feel any emotional connection to them at all and then decide to leave.

3. Overreaction

When a person sees signs that they are about to be abandoned, they quickly change their tune and become excessively dependent. They become emotional and dramatic. 

When they do not get what they want, their abandonment issues are triggered. They start questioning their self-worth and resort to the idea that they are not good enough for their partner. [Read: Is your overanalyzing sabotaging your relationship?]

4. Fear of rejection

People with a fear of abandonment refuse to acknowledge their insecurities for fear of rejection. It’s an unproductive system that rarely resolves the person’s issues with abandonment.

If no one knows what they are really thinking, then no one can help them. People with abandonment issues rarely ask for help and their depressive state prevents them from fixing their problems personally. [Read: Fear of rejection – 56 signs, causes, and ways to overcome and get over it]

5. Shame and guilt

When someone has the fear of being abandoned, it’s because they think they are not good enough.

They have low self-worth and don’t see themselves as valuable enough to keep people around. It’s common for people feeling this way to also think that there is something wrong with them or else people would stay.

Along with those thoughts come the emotions of shame and guilt. Regardless of whether they actually did anything wrong or not, they still are overwhelmed by these feelings.

6. Self-blame

Because they feel so bad about themselves, they will probably blame themselves for everything that goes wrong in their life. And that includes whether or not other people treat them right or wrong.

They think everything is their fault. And if they could just be better, then they could keep people around. They see themselves as flawed individuals and never look to anyone else’s behavior for the fear of their abandonment – just their own.

7. Insecurity

Of course, if someone is feeling like they’re not good enough for people to stay with them, then that makes them incredibly insecure. They constantly think that there is something wrong with them.

This leads to constant negative thoughts about themselves. It’s incredibly difficult for them to see anything good. So, they never feel secure in their own skin. [Read: Why am I so insecure? 41 signs and 51 ways to deal with insecurity and fix it]

8. People pleasing

Many people with the fear of abandonment are so scared that people will leave them that they become people-pleasers. In other words, they only care about other people’s needs and don’t even think about their own.

Because they do this, it’s an act of self-abandonment. They think that if other people can abandon them, then they should also abandon themselves. Other people’s wants and needs are more important than their own.

9. Suicidal thoughts

In extreme cases, some people can even become suicidal. Because they feel so worthless and like anyone can easily discard them, they think that they don’t even deserve to live anymore. So, they might think that other people would be better off without them in their lives. [Read: 34 Steps to stop being sad and break out of the comfortable misery of sadness]

Treatment for abandonment issues

There are many ways to combat and treat the self-sabotaging behaviors that accompany abandonment issues. You have to deal with the root of the problem and acknowledge your fears.

1. Acknowledge the cause

Go back to your childhood and recall the family members or other people in your life that you lost. Tell yourself that none of it is your fault. Their leaving, intentionally or otherwise, was out of your control.

Once you accept that, you can breathe easy knowing that you never drove anyone away. They either had no choice or were too weak to stay. [Read: Loneliness in a relationship – whys and ways to fix it]

2. Self-care

Know that you are always good enough. You need to recognize your worth and not depend on other people to validate it. The only person whose approval you need is yours. 

You need to start loving your appearance, your talent, your traits, and your life. Love yourself first so you can realize that others love you just the way you are. [Read: Justifying your life decisions – why you shouldn’t worry about it]

3. Support and resources

You need to look for support and resources that can help you. Yes, it will be difficult, but the benefits outweigh the fears that you have been nursing for a long time. Once the people who love you know that you are struggling, they will be more than willing to help. 

If not, then don’t fret. The fact that you were brave enough to ask in the first place is the first small step in the right direction. [Read: 17 signs of a supportive partner who encourages you and your goals]

4. Therapy

If you can’t seem to help yourself and your loved ones also aren’t helping you enough, then you should seek therapy if at all possible. Sometimes people can’t deal with such deep emotional issues on their own.

A trained professional will help you uncover all the negative experiences you had as a child. They will also help you unpack the feelings and put them into perspective. Loving yourself and forgiving your abuser are important parts of the healing process.

So if you feel that you are experiencing these signs constantly and are noticing their effects on your relationships, contact a professional. Do some research and see if you can develop your own system to fix your fear of abandonment. 

Everyone needs help at some point in their lives. It is up to you to decide whether you are ready to face your problems and find a healthy solution.

How to help someone with abandonment issues

If you’re not the one with abandonment issues, but you know someone who does, then there are some ways you can help them. Here is what you can do. [Read: How to help someone with trust issues open up and overcome their fear]

1. Offer plenty of reassurance

Remember, this person never got any reassurance from their parents or caretakers growing up. They lived in a very unpredictable environment which caused them to constantly question and be negative about themselves.

So, one of the things you can do is offer a lot of reassurance. Let them know that they are a good person and worthy of love.

Point out all the people who like and love them and won’t ever leave them. You need to paint the picture for them because they won’t be able to see it. [Read: How to help someone with anxiety and not say or do the wrong things]

2. Focus on them and how their fears are affecting their happiness

Many times, people with abandonment issues don’t know why they are the way they are. It’s just their “normal” way of being, so they don’t know how to feel any other way. They haven’t done enough introspection to analyze themselves.

So, you can try to point out what their fears are and how it’s affecting their happiness and overall life as it is today. Because they don’t see them and therefore aren’t aware of them, they rely on others to be their amateur coach and counselor.

3. Express concern and love

Remember that these people were not shown a lot of love growing up – if any. As a result, they don’t feel worthy of love because their caretakers showed them that they weren’t *even though they were*.

Reassure them that you love them and are very concerned about their happiness. Tell them that they can count on you and you will never abandon them.

Try to be the “surrogate” parent that they never had. It will help heal some of those old wounds. [Read: Emotional baggage – how to help someone put it down and find freedom]

4. Discuss what might help, if they are open to that discussion

People with abandonment issues probably don’t have very good communication skills because they weren’t allowed to hone them growing up. Plus, they never saw a healthy example from their parents. So, they learned to shut down.

But try to encourage them to talk about their issues. Tell them it’s safe for them to express their feelings with you and discuss what they think might help them try to resolve some of these fears that they have.

If they’re not open to that discussion right away, just give them time to think about it. [Read: How to help someone when they’re feeling down and depressed]

5. Remain calm and consistent throughout the conversation

In addition to not having good communication skills, they also probably don’t know how to control their emotions in a healthy way. They might either lash out or shut down completely. So, you have to be prepared.

Remain as calm and steady as you can when you have conversations with them about their abandonment issues. Don’t get pulled into their emotional state because that won’t help either of you. You have to be their rock and guide them toward healing.

[Read: Low self-worth and steps to see yourself in better light]

It’s never easy to cope with abandonment issues, but with a little effort, better understanding, and contemplation, you can work your way out of feeling abandoned and lead a happier and much more satisfying life.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...