Forming a strong attachment to parents and caregivers is essential for young children’s emotional, physical, and psychological well-being. It allows them to develop self-esteem and gives them a solid foundation for building healthy relationships later in life. When faced with a sudden loss of their secure base, children may experience what is known as abandonment issues.
What Is Fear of Abandonment?
Fear of abandonment is a form of anxiety that a child or adult experiences when faced with the idea of losing someone they care about. This fear comes from a person’s past experiences that led them to believe they could not rely on others.
Abandonment issues usually emerge in childhood following a traumatic loss. As a result, a child may develop a fear of losing other important people in their lives. Some children will continue to fear abandonment as they grow up. Although it is less common, abandonment issues can also begin in adulthood. These may be reactions to a sudden loss such as a partner leaving or passing away.
Some people are at higher risk than others when it comes to suffering from abandonment issues. Individuals who have been neglected or abused as children, sustained a serious injury, or have been victims of a crime are more likely to develop abandonment-related fears.
Abandonment issues are also often linked to borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition characterized by an intense fear of abandonment. The combination of an overwhelming fear of being left alone and being overly sensitive and emotional leads people with BPD to see threatening signs of abandonment everywhere.
Is Fear of Abandonment Always BPD?
Abandonment issues are not always present in people with BPD, nor do all people with abandonment issues have BPD. It is not, however, a standalone mental disorder. A fear of abandonment is usually the sign of a greater anxiety or phobia.
What Causes Abandonment Issues?
Fear of abandonment is often caused by events that compromise a person’s physical and emotional security.
- Death of a loved one creates an emotional void that the person will try to fill by fear.
- Physical or mental abuse may cause mental health issues and a fear of abandonment.
- Poverty may give rise to a fear that emotional resources, such as love, attention, and friendship, are also limited.
- Relationship loss including divorce and infidelity may result in lingering abandonment fears.
- Emotional abandonment or neglect by parents with mental health issues or addictions, for example, can be deeply traumatic and bring about abandonment fears later on.
It is important to keep in mind that not everyone develops a fear of abandonment as a consequence of experiencing a loss. As with other forms of anxiety, several additional factors may play a role in developing these issues, such as the level of emotional support that a child receives, genetic predisposition, environmental factors, stress, and brain chemistry.
Symptoms of Abandonment Issues
People with abandonment issues may exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Inability to trust others
- Pushing others away in order to avoid rejection
- Always wanting to please others
- Feeling insecure in relationships
- Developing codependency
- Need for constant reassurance that others will not leave
- Need to control others
- Maintaining unhealthy relationships
- Inability to sustain relationships
In more severe cases, people with abandonment issues will develop unhealthy ways of coping with their fear, such as addictions, eating disorders, and self-harm.
Signs of Abandonment Issues in Childhood
Children who are affected by abandonment issues may show some of these signs and symptoms:
- Constant worry about being abandoned
- Panic whenever a parent leaves the room
- Clinginess to parents or caregivers
- Fear of being alone
- Frequent illness with no apparent physical cause
- Low self-esteem
In adopted children, common reactions to abandonment include aggression, sadness, withdrawal, sleep and eating disorders, and negative self-image.
Types of Treatment for Abandonment Issues
If left untreated, abandonment issues can have a pervasive impact. They may negatively affect any intimate, social, and professional relationships a person forms later in life and impair their ability to trust others. They constantly fear that they will be abandoned again. Individuals with low self-esteem may seek refuge in dysfunctional relationships that reinforce their belief that they will be left alone. In addition, people who have experienced abandonment are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and long-term mental health issues.
Understanding the fear and its origins is the first step toward resolving abandonment issues.
How to Work on Abandonment Issues At Home
Mild cases of abandonment fears can be treated by simply addressing their source and learning helpful behaviors and coping strategies such as:
- Acknowledging any past abandonment trauma
- Learning to trust others
- Practicing mindfulness
- Learning how to communicate in relationships
- Attending a support group
- Practicing emotional self-reliance
- Practicing self-care in order to be able to take care of others
Therapy treatment for abandonment issues
For many people, the fear of abandonment is so deeply rooted that it is not possible to deal with it alone. In this case, it is necessary to seek the help of a mental health specialist.
Therapists work with patients on understanding the origin of the fear and establishing strategies that they can use whenever the fear resurfaces. Therapy can help people with abandonment issues make a distinction between their vulnerable past self and the confident person they can become.
Several different types of therapy are used in dealing with abandonment issues.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of psychotherapy used in treating traumas, including those caused by abandonment. EMDR may help reduce symptoms of abandonment fears by reprocessing painful memories and diverting attention from their emotional consequences.
Dialectical behavior therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy consists of mindfulness and emotional regulation training either in one-to-one therapy or in a group. People with abandonment issues learn how to manage their emotions and to better communicate with their partner about abandonment issues.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps increase consciousness of feelings about the event that has caused the fear in the first place. It allows patients to change their perspective of that event and restructure their thoughts to reflect current circumstances.
Psychodynamic therapy helps identify thoughts and emotions that are causing fear. Through this type of therapy, patients can get a better understanding of the defense mechanisms they have created due to the abandonment and how they influence their relationship with others.