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Abandonment Issues: Identifying Causes, Signs, and Management Options

Fear of abandonment
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon




  • Abandonment issues are usually associated with childhood experiences, but they can persist into adulthood and cause distress and anxiety.
  • People with secure attachment styles foster healthy connections while insecure attachment styles lead to difficulties in intimacy and trust.
  • Signs of abandonment issues in adults include fear of rejection, trust issues, constant need for reassurance, difficulty setting boundaries, and people-pleasing behavior.
  • Causes of abandonment issues can range from neglectful or abusive caregivers to traumatic events.
  • Coping with abandonment issues involves self-help techniques and psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), etc.

The fear of abandonment is commonly associated with childhood perceptions, but adults can experience it too. If not managed properly, this fear induces anxiety and a constant dread of losing a loved one, profoundly impacting relationships and other areas of life.

Abandonment trauma and its associated challenges are not considered a mental health condition. Instead, it’s regarded as a type of anxiety and is treated as such. But, it’s important to understand the unique signs and causes of abandonment issues to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

Schedule an appointment with a licensed healthcare provider specializing in anxiety treatment.

Why Abandonment Has Such a Strong Psychological Impact

We are born with the fundamental need for physical and emotional care essential for healthy development. This need is deeply intertwined with our natural desire to be safe and loved, so on a deeper level, abandonment can feel like an existential threat.

Abandonment is a subjective emotional state that makes one feel undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded. A pervasive sense of feeling abandoned can be rooted in traumatic childhood experiences, not necessarily dreadful. Neglecting a child’s emotional needs during their formative years is one of the abandonment examples that can contribute to lifelong insecurities.

However, abandonment issues can develop in adulthood. They can be based on problems in romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional settings. Experiencing a fear of abandonment to some extent can be normal. But when it becomes frequent and severe, it affects day-to-day life, mainly how a person forms and maintains relationships.

The feelings of abandonment and one’s attitude toward such an experience are strongly interconnected with attachment styles. Let’s learn more about them.

Attachment Styles

A prevalent attachment style [1*] significantly impacts a person’s lifelong development. It influences self-perception, communication, interpersonal relationships, and responses to stress and conflict [2*] .

People with a secure attachment style cultivate trust and comfortably open up to others, fostering mutually supportive, healthy relationships. They are adaptive, can balance the need for closeness and independence, usually have a positive self-image, and respect their own boundaries and those of other people. Such secure attachment originates from growing up in a supportive environment with emotionally available caregivers.

On the other hand, early experiences [3*] of abandonment or neglect can lead to the development of an insecure attachment that can manifest itself in three styles [4*] explained below.

Anxious-preoccupied Attachment Style

People with the anxious attachment style tend to form intensely close and codependent relationships, clinging to others and struggling to establish healthy boundaries. They are usually emotionally reactive and may interpret conflicts or even small changes in behavior as signals of potential abandonment, making everything possible to prevent it. In this case, the fears typically stem from experiencing inconsistent caregiving, where a person could not predict whether they would be supported or neglected the next moment. That is why later they seek constant reassurance, can be possessive, and find it challenging to be alone.

Dismissive-avoidant Attachment Style

In contrast to people with anxious attachment, those with a dismissive style try to keep others at a distance. They avoid emotional openness, are afraid of showing vulnerability, and prioritize independence and self-sufficiency. They often choose to be distant, private, and withdrawn, fearing commitment and responding to conflicts by shutting down, leaving, or ending relationships. Usually, this attitude is rooted in having emotionally distant caregivers or those who could not provide effective support. Consequently, a child learns to be self-reliant and suppress current feelings and needs.

Disorganized or Fearful-avoidant Attachment Style

People with this kind of attachment may display elements of both anxious and avoidant patterns. This style is marked by discomfort with intimacy, a lack of empathy, and inconsistency in behavior and responses within relationships. It is sometimes linked to antisocial and narcissistic traits or borderline personality disorder (BPD). Often, abuse or traumatic experiences in early childhood cause this difficulty in balancing between the deep-seated need for closeness and the fear of pain, which makes them push other people away, initiate conflicts, and withdraw from relationships.

Signs of Abandonment Issues in Adults

Not every hurtful experience contributes to developing childhood trauma and problems with attachment in the future. However, if such traumatic experiences are severe, frequent, or prolonged, and a person gets into dysfunctional or otherwise unhealthy relationships where irrational behavioral patterns are not addressed, it can affect personality significantly.

In childhood, signs of abandonment-related trauma may encompass:

  • Separation Anxiety. Heightened anxiety while separated from a caregiver even for a short time.
  • Emotional Dysregulation. Difficulty in managing emotions, leading to frequent upset feelings or mood swings.
  • Attention-seeking Behavior. Engaging in disruptive attention-seeking behaviors, like tantrums.
  • Maladaptive Social Behavior. Exhibiting either avoidant behaviors by withdrawing from peers or engaging in antisocial behavior like bullying.
  • Trust Issues and Dependency. Fluctuations between being scared of adults and suddenly becoming very dependent on them for security and comfort.

If unnoticed and unmanaged, these signs can escalate into obsessive and irrational thoughts and behaviors in adulthood with the following symptoms:

  • Fear of Rejection. A person constantly worries that their partner will stop loving them or will leave them even if there is no evidence supporting this idea. They may end relationships first, trying to control the situation and avoid the feeling of being rejected.
  • Lack of emotional intimacy. It can be difficult for people with such issues to reveal and discuss their feelings. They may avoid close connections altogether or avoid showing vulnerability in long-term relationships.
  • Trust Issues. A person may be so afraid of betrayal that they become excessively skeptical and do not trust even the closest people.
  • Need for Constant Reassurance. One may seek constant reassurance from their loved ones trying to reduce the fear of abandonment, but usually, it doesn’t help. While they require frequent validation of their importance, they do not feel worthy of love, so the cycle of seeking proof continues.
  • Difficulty Setting and Respecting Boundaries. People with abandonment issues often have difficulty setting healthy boundaries in relationships and accepting those of others.
  • People-pleasing Behavior. Individuals may suppress and sacrifice their needs to not get rejected even if the matter is not serious, and compromise is possible.
Go through a detailed assessment to receive personalized treatment and enhance the quality of your life.

Possible Causes of Abandonment Issues

The causes of abandonment issues are complex and multifaceted. The most common ones rooted in childhood are the following:

  • Having a caregiver who is neglectful or unresponsive to a child’s feelings and needs (more likely to lead to an avoidant attachment style).
  • Having a caregiver who is physically, emotionally, or psychologically abusive or intimidating, contributes to emotional abandonment.
  • Having a caregiver who is inconsistent: at times warm and attentive, and at others cold, unresponsive, or abusive (more likely to lead to abandonment anxiety).
  • Absence of a caregiver due to incarceration or death, especially if another caregiver doesn’t handle the situation well and performs the behaviors listed above.
  • Being a victim of sexual abuse, particularly as a child or adolescent.

However, parental abandonment or unresponsive and abusive caregivers are not the only reasons for developing insecure attachment styles. The factors behind the three insecure attachment styles and their interconnection can vary widely, let’s look at other common ones:

  • Abuse. Physical or mental abuse at any age, as well as inability to fulfill a child’s physical and emotional needs, can have lasting effects on mental health, often leading to abandonment issues.
  • Death. While everyone experiences the loss of a loved one at some point in their lives, for some people, particularly when the loss is sudden and unexpected, it can become a traumatic event. In this case, it leaves enduring emotional scars, including a lifelong fear of abandonment.
  • End of a Relationship. For some adults, their relationship can be more important than any other thing in their life. The end of a relationship through divorce, death, or infidelity can be so painful for them that it drains out all the happiness from their life.
  • Poverty. Abandonment issues don’t only stem from unmet emotional needs; neglect of basic survival needs can also give rise to a scarcity mindset. Poverty, for instance, can lead to concerns that emotional resources such as love, attention, and friendship are also scarce or not important.

How to Cope With Abandonment Issues

Putting yourself back together and overcoming abandonment fears is no small feat but it is an achievable journey. Self-help techniques are a good start. Then, assistance from a mental health professional aids in building a solid self. With a comprehensive approach, you can learn to not let irrational beliefs control your social connections.

Self-help Methods for Overcoming Abandonment Issues

To overcome your fear of abandonment, it’s essential to identify the source of your anxiety, improve your emotional well-being, and change negative behavioral patterns. Here are self-help methods you can practice to address your fear of abandonment.

Take Responsibility for How You Feel

While external actions may trigger feelings, your emotional responses are your responsibility. For example, if you rely on someone else to make you feel secure, you might become anxious when they don’t meet your expectations. To break this pattern, take responsibility for boosting and maintaining your self-esteem.

Don’t Generalize Your Experiences

In many abandonment examples, especially the ones where the abandonment comes from childhood trauma, it’s common to generalize and expect similar outcomes in future relationships. The solution is to avoid letting one negative experience color your expectations for all the upcoming events. Learn to not assume you can’t trust anyone but recognize differences in personalities and circumstances. Most often, it’s simpler to gain such skills with the help of a mental health professional.

Confront Your Negative and Irrational Beliefs

Reflect on whether your attitudes and actions align with your core values and if they are based on facts in each particular situation. Consider alternative explanations instead of exaggerating, try to stop seeking tiny clues that tend to support your fears when they are not a big deal in reality, and avoid overemphasizing negative events while overlooking positive moments.

Engage in Activities that Boost Your Self-esteem

Working on self-esteem is beneficial for people with different insecure attachment styles. Those with prevailing anxiety learn to be more self-sufficient and those with avoidance behaviors learn to accept potential rejection without thinking something is deeply wrong with them. When you feel good about yourself and your abilities, you won’t need to rely on others for validation or attention. The best way to empower self-esteem is to spend time doing what you love.

Understand How Abandonment Issues Affect You

Mood swings, fits of anger, and other behaviors can result from unresolved abandonment issues and may alienate you from those you hold close. Once you analyze these signs and their fears, it will motivate you to deal with them and battle against your fear.

Mastering the art of handling abandonment issues equips you with the resilience to face life’s challenges. See an expert to get personalized advice.

Therapies Commonly Used for Treating Abandonment Issues

Sometimes, self-help is not enough, and psychotherapy is needed. It is the most effective way to heal abandonment issues because it fosters self-compassion and self-exploration. A person establishes a connection with a psychotherapist, learning to communicate openly and identify repetitive unhealthy patterns under professional supervision. Therapeutic approaches that can help with abandonment issues include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT): This technique assists people in reshaping their thoughts and behaviors, fostering a more constructive perspective on the events that trigger their fear of rejection. CBT has a lot of practical exercises and helps one be grounded in reality, mindful, and accepting of any circumstances.
  • Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR is often used to treat PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but can also help address abandonment issues. During EMDR therapy, people work through traumatic memories and related emotional pain, which can alleviate distress.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: This type of psychotherapy teaches people what emotions and thoughts drive their actions. It can help individuals see how they relate to others and reveal defense mechanisms that formed due to abandonment.
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT includes mindfulness and emotional regulation skills and aids people with abandonment issues. It helps to learn techniques for emotional management and facilitates open communication about their feelings.

Summing Up

Abandonment issues can stem from many emotional and environmental factors. Whatever the underlying cause is, it’s important to address these problems because otherwise, they can create a foundation for various mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression. Improving your emotional well-being can seem challenging, but getting help from a mental health expert can make a big difference in making this journey easier.

Frequently Asked Questions

Abandonment fears can affect any area of life, not only romantic relationships. Attachment styles and associated patterns can also affect friendship and professional development. For example, constant worrying and feelings of unworthiness can affect concentration, productivity, and decision-making. A person may struggle to collaborate with colleagues or be a part of another community.

Also, chronic stress can eventually lead to fatigue and sleep issues, which significantly decreases the overall quality of life. So, it’s important to notice the signs of abandonment issues early to seek professional support and prevent negative outcomes.

Abandonment issues themselves are not classified as a mental illness. However, sometimes, they might represent an underlying mental health condition, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or borderline personality disorder [5*] . But even if abandonment fears occur without any mental disorders, they still affect different areas of life and overall well-being. Note that only a qualified healthcare provider can conduct a detailed assessment and make an accurate diagnosis, so consider seeking help if any mental health symptoms disturb you.

Prolonged fear of abandonment can cause constant stress and tension, which, in turn, can lead to problems with physical health. For example, a person may start having frequent headaches, muscle tension, fatigue, and sleep issues. Sometimes, severe anxiety may cause cardiovascular problems and affect digestion. Consult a therapist to learn effective stress-reduction techniques and self-care strategies to reduce the possibility of developing such symptoms.

Supporting someone with the fear of abandonment involves affirmation of their value and strengths, active and empathetic listening, patience, and the ability to be a dependable friend or a partner. Establish healthy relationships and demonstrate that it’s safe to trust you and rely on you. However, remember that supporting your own boundaries and preventing manipulations is important. Also, in severe cases, it’s essential to assist a person in getting professional help.


5 sources
  1. Adult Attachment, Stress, and Romantic Relationships
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  2. Contributions of Attachment Theory and Research: A Framework for Future Research, Translation, and Policy
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  3. The development of adult attachment styles: four lessons
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  4. Infant-parent attachment: Definition, types, antecedents, measurement and outcome
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  5. Borderline Personality Disorder
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon



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