Are you afraid that the people you love will leave you?
Is your fear of abandonment an ongoing issue for you and your relationship?
Do you find yourself becoming needy or even angry when someone you care about shows signs of separation?
Not only do young children or the elderly have the fear of abandonment, but adults (both men and women) can also have abandonment issues too. One can experience abandonment in marriage, romantic relationship, or even friendship.
Abandonment can be both physical and emotional.
It can come in the form of physical absence or emotional unavailability. For example, your spouse might be physically there with you but they withhold their care and affection for you. This can leave you feeling very lonely or depressed.
Before we look at how to cope with your fear of abandonment, let examine the causes and the effects it has on our relationships with others.
What Causes Fear of Abandonment in Adults?
Abandonment Issues from Childhood
Childhood trauma from the past is probably the most common cause of our fear of abandonment. The first relationship we have is with our parents and if the relationship is insecure, it will affect our attachment styles and future relationships.
If one or both of your parents were not around when you were really young or if you were adopted, you can feel abandoned by your parents. Your parents might be absent because they are divorced or they have frequent overseas assignments. It could also be that one of them had passed away early or was seriously ill (either physically or mentally).
Your parents were not there when you needed them the most.
As a child, you did not get the physical and emotional affection you desire from your parents. So you might end up with negative self-beliefs such as “No one likes you” or “People that you love will leave you eventually”.
Growing up in an unsafe environment such as an abusive family, war or poverty can also create fear of abandonment in us. When you are constantly uncertain or worried about your needs not being met in childhood, you will likely to carry this same fear into adulthood.
Past Relationship Trauma as Adults
Relationships, especially the intimate ones, that break your heart might also cause your fear of abandonment. If your partner has cheated on you or if your marriage ends up in a divorce, you might lose faith in future relationships and become afraid of being rejected and abandoned by other potential partners. If you have friends who betrayed you, you might find it hard to trust others again.
The pain of losing someone can be traumatic.
Sometimes, it could also be an unforeseen, shocking event such as the death of your spouse. When you put in so much time, effort, heart and soul in your relationship, only to lose your partner to an accident, this can be very devastating and difficult for you to overcome the loss and grief.
You might think twice about getting into another relationship because you don’t wish to experience the same pain again. Or you might get into a relationship and be very afraid that you might lose your partner again.
People who have low self-esteem have negative self-perception. They might not see themselves as someone worthy of love and attention from others. So they might have anxiety around people, thinking others will leave them because of their negative traits.
When you have low self-esteem, you can be in quite a dilemma.
On one hand, you want others to like you and notice you. You are afraid to be left alone. But yet, on the other hand, you are afraid that once other people know you, they might not like what they see and hence will abandon you. This creates your fear of abandonment.
Low self-esteem might be due to the abandonment issues you experience in childhood. But it can also be due to other childhood experiences that have nothing to do with you being abandoned. Both scenarios can cause you to fear abandonment.
How Do Abandonment Issues Affect Relationships?
Abandonment issues usually surface later in life when you are in a relationship.
People with abandonment issues might react very differently in a relationship. Sometimes, even contradictory to each other. For example, the fear of abandonment can make you clinging because you don’t want to lose your partner. Or it can make you very cold and unavailable because you don’t want to be potentially hurt or abandoned by your partner.
It depends on how you cope with your fear of abandonment and the attachment styles you have developed. Below are three common effects of having abandonment issues on our relationship.
Find out more about attachment styles in this book, Attached, by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.
Others Might Get Tired of Your Insecurity
The fear of abandonment creates anxiety in some of us. When your partner or friend don’t answer your text messages or they never return your phone call timely, this might be enough to activate your insecurity and send you into panic mode.
To ease your discomfort, you might try to reestablish your contact with them excessively, which usually make things worse. You either get more anxious and frustrated when the other party isn’t available or the other party might get irritated and exhausted of your clinging behaviors.
You can’t always rely on others to calm you down.
Even if you have a stable partner or friend, they can’t attend to you 24/7. They have their things to do.
Furthermore, when you have abandonment issues, your ability to trust others is low. You jump into conclusion quickly and misinterpreted people’s perception of you. You might think that they don’t like you when in reality, they are just busy.
No matter how many times they assure you or tell you that they like you, you find it difficult to trust them. That’s because your perception of how they perceive you is based on your deep-seated beliefs. If you think that people are going to abandon you, you will find more evidence to support your belief.
When you experience abandonment anxiety, it’s mostly emotional and irrational, so other people will not be able to talk you out of your fear. People eventually get exhausted and give up on you, and your negative belief becomes self-fulfilling.
You Choose Partners and Friends that Will Abandon You
People who have abandonment issues since childhood are usually attracted to people that are unavailable. In psychology, this is called trauma reenactment. You want to relive your childhood pain. Therefore, you pick partners who are most likely going to abandon or cheat on you.
Again, this is irrational but that’s what the mind does. There are many other potential partners out there who are secure but they are not attractive and appealing to someone who has a fear of abandonment. Even though the relationship can be potentially rewarding, the chemistry between the two parties is just not as strong as compared to someone who is cold and distant.
You settle for an unhealthy relationship and please your partner.
When you grow up with an unhealthy relationship with your parents, sometimes you have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. Being abandoned is something that you are used to and is familiar with. Therefore, you are more likely to seek a relationship that resembles your relationship with your parents. Subconsciously, you want to resolve the issues you have in the past with your current relationship.
You tried to be perfect and please your partner, giving them what they want and hoping that they return the same. However, most of the times, this doesn’t work because your emotionally distant partner have attachment issues of their own. They might have a problem of being intimate or too close with another.
You Avoid Intimate or Close Relationship
Sometimes, abandonment issues cause us to avoid intimacy. To be close with another means to share your deepest thoughts and feelings, and be vulnerable. If deep down inside, you don’t feel good about yourself, you might not want others to know you that well. Because opening up puts you at risk of being abandoned. People might not like what they see in you.
So to not get into the situation where someone can hurt you, you run away from intimacy at all costs. You keep people at a distance that you are comfortable with. Even though you want closeness, your fear of abandonment is much stronger than your desire of having intimacy.
People who have abandonment anxiety avoid their emotional pain by getting themselves attached quickly. They would rather stay in hurtful relationships than being single. Unlike them, if you have avoidance attachment style, you have difficulties committing to a relationship. You rather be alone and remain single than to deal with your abandonment wounds.
You repress your need for closeness in order not to get hurt.
In the short run, this seems beneficial because your fear of abandonment doesn’t get triggered and you don’t get hurt when you don’t give your all in a relationship. But in the long run, your relationship is lackluster because, without enough self-disclosure, the relationship is kept at a superficial level.
How to Overcome Fear of Abandonment
1. Learn to calm down your own fear and anxiety.
First and foremost, calming down your emotions is key. When our fear of being left alone is activated, our emotional brain hijacks our rational brain and we do things that we later regret. Anxiety causes us to be clingy, needy, and possessive. Whenever your objects of affection are pulling away from you, you want to get closer to them or find someone to replace them.
The problem with this is you are always looking for someone else to soothe your anxiety. Instead of succumbing to your fear, learn to attend to your own anxiety and calm down your abandoned, inner child.
Treat your anxiety like a baby crying for help.
When a baby is crying, what do you do? You pick it up, you give it attention, and you calm it down. Do the same for yourself. You might find that stroking your chest or holding your own hand helps to release some of the tension. Giving your body the attention and noticing how the body reacts to the triggers also helps to slow down the anxiety.
But you have to do this mindfully. In other words, you need to watch yourself be anxious without judging it. If you think that your heart is beating too fast or your body is feeling weird, you are going to aggravate your anxiety. Instead, take slow breaths and just be there for your inner child. Wait for your anxiety to wear down.
2. Examine your past experiences with compassion.
Examine your abandonment issues from childhood helps you to understand the impact it has on you now. Most people either deny their past or get stuck in it. There is a better way to heal your emotional pain from the past, which is to treat it with compassion.
Know that whatever events that you had experienced in your childhood have nothing to do with you or your self-worth. You are not to blame. You are not abandoned by your parents or caretakers because you are unlovable or unimportant. Instead, understand the sufferings that you as a child has to go through and be kind to yourself.
When you are in the midst of working through your abandonment issues, it’s very likely that you will experience deep emotions which you have previously avoided such as shame and anger. You might be angry at your parent or partner for leaving you and that’s okay. Be angry for a while if you have to. Just don’t let it linger and be the core emotion that you carry around with you in your daily life.
Moreover, you are angry because you are hurt.
Delve deeper into your feelings of anger and see how hurt you are by the people that you love. Leave a space between your awareness and your emotions so that you don’t get fully consumed by your emotions. Then, attend to your hurt emotions with care and kindness. This will soften the anger residing within you.
3. Learn to tell the differences between real and perceived abandonment.
Our fear is caused by our belief that something bad, dangerous or threatening is going to happen to us. It is our interpretation of the future based on the information we have gathered now. In other words, it’s not entirely true. It’s just a perception that we have. Yet, this perception can feel very real to us because of the beliefs that we have developed since childhood.
Whenever something triggers your fear of abandonment, ask yourself, “Is this real or made-up?” If someone doesn’t return your call or message, are they abandoning you or are they just busy? Could it be that they need some time to think about what to say before they return your message or call?
Furthermore, even if your partner or friends don’t reply your message intentionally, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like you anymore or they will leave you.
Don’t jump into conclusion too fast.
People who have a fear of abandonment tend to have a super sensitive attachment system. We tend to be hyper-vigilant and constantly looking out for threats that might cause us to be abandoned. So our interpretations of other people’s action can be skewed.
Before you jump into conclusion, notice and question your belief. Don’t believe your first thought. Calm yourself down first and give yourself some time to form a conclusion. Talking to and clarifying with the other party might also help you to understand their intentions better.
Also, by being more aware of what triggers your fear and later realize that it’s untrue, you will be more mindful of these triggers the next time they come and be less reactive to them.
4. Be mindful of your reactive behaviors to abandonment.
Apart from the triggers, it’s important to be aware of our reactive behaviors to abandonment. Understand what strategies you have been using to cope with your fear of abandonment, especially when it comes to relationships.
Are you someone who is constantly seeking to be in a relationship? Are you afraid of staying single? Does your fear of abandonment makes you cling onto your partner? Do you feel a need to contact them on a regular basis to feel reassure?
Or are you someone who avoids relationship? Do you find it difficult to trust anyone because you are hurt before? When people get close to you, do you distance yourself from them?
Once you know your reactive patterns,
you can change your habitual behaviors.
If you know that your fear of abandonment makes you jump into a relationship too quickly, take a break from dating. Stop the reactive cycles. When you don’t deal with your fear first, you keep getting into toxic or unfulfilling relationships. You keep finding partners that abandon you so as to keep your fear alive. Also, when you are too insecure or needy, you drive great, potential dates away.
On the flip side, if you notice that you have too many criteria while searching for a mate, ask yourself: Are you afraid of intimacy? Do you fear that you will be hurt and abandon if you open yourself up in a relationship? If yes, you might want to take some risk. You can never be 100% certain or in control of the other person’s behaviors. Relationship is built on trust and trust can only be achieved when both parties let down their defenses.
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