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  • Writer's pictureBy Rachel Anyika

Fear Of Abandonment

Fear of abandonment develops in childhood and is the result of a parent (or caregiver) leaving you physically or emotionally at some point. This may have been only temporary; for example if a parent had a serious illness and was in hospital for periods of time or if they had to work multiple jobs and where hardly able to be at home. It may have been permanent; if a parent walked out and left the family or if they died. It might have been emotional rather than physical; if they where emotionally unavailable or preoccupied with some kind of addiction.

As a young child or baby we depend on parents to provide food, shelter and nurture. Without anyone to look after us we would be unable to survive as we are totally dependent. Therefore a child forms an attachment to the parent that is on high alert for loss of attachment, which could result in death. Children internalize everything at a certain age, and they will come to believe that it is something they are doing or something bad about them that causes the abandonment. If this alert is constantly activated, then it remains on high alert being acutely sensitive to abandonment into adulthood. As an adult, there will be a constant anxious feeling or feeling of danger. Even though as an adult we are not dependent on another person for our survival, the abandonment fear developed in childhood will not be able to determine this.

"When a child grows up with an absent parent, they may have feelings of grief and blame themselves for their parent’s absence. When the child is completely deprived of any contact with his or her parent, they may attribute parental abandonment as a result of something the child did or did not do. Young children are egotistical, believing they are the cause for events in which there is no logical connection. The damage caused by parental abandonment is particularly devastating if it happens before the child understands that he or she is not responsible for others actions. If this happens, the child grows up with the belief that there’s something wrong with them that makes them unlovable. While the remaining parent may be able to provide emotional support and help the child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem, oftentimes very young children will still believe they are at fault." - Abandonment & Attachment Related Trauma Treatment & Rehab Center, The Refuge


  • Obsessively worrying about abandonment.

  • Difficulty in trusting people.

  • Constantly comparing the present with things that happened in the past.

  • Always in a relationship or craving for one.

  • Jealousy and feelings of insecurity compared to other people.

  • Feel resentful if think excluded from any plans, this could be with friends, family or work colleagues.

  • Anxiety and depression.

  • Excessive neediness in a relationship.

  • Anxious attachment style.

"Adults who experience a fear of abandonment may struggle with a preoccupied attachment style. They frequently anticipate rejection and search for signs of disinterest from their partner. They may feel triggered by even subtle or imagined signs of rejection from their partner based on the real rejections they experienced in their childhood. As a result, they may act possessive, controlling, jealous, or clingy toward their partner. They may often seek reassurance or display distrust. “However, their excessive dependency, demands and possessiveness tend to backfire and precipitate the very abandonment that they fear,” wrote Catlett. She describes how some people who have a fear of abandonment behave in ways that are punishing, resentful, and angry when their partner doesn’t give them the attention and reassurance they believe they need to feel secure. “They often believe that unless they dramatically express their anxiety and anger, it is unlikely that the other person will respond to them,” wrote Catlett. However, some people with preoccupied attachments are more “reluctant to express their angry feelings toward a partner for fear of potential loss or rejection.” This can lead them to suppress their feelings, which can cause them to build up, and, eventually, spill out in outbursts of strong emotion." - Fear Of Abandonment, Carolyn Joyce

  • Constantly fear the worst-case scenarios.

  • Often leave relationships to prevent the other person from having the chance to abandon.

  • Low self-esteem.

  • Love addiction.

  • Attracted to partners that are unavailable.

  • Self-sabotaging behavior by constantly testing the relationship.

  • Sometimes leads to Borderline Personality Disorder.

"People with Borderline Personality Disorder often experience intense fears of abandonment, which can result in inappropriate anger even when faced with a realistic short-term separation or when there are unavoidable changes in plans. They may believe that this “abandonment” is because they have done something wrong. These fears of abandonment are usually related to an intolerance of being alone and a need to have other people with them. Because they desperately want to avoid being alone, people with BPD quickly latch onto new people and idealize them, making them the center of their lives. At the first sign they see as abandonment, these feelings will turn to hatred and distrust. If someone has to go out of town for work or decides to spend time with other friends, the person with Borderline Personality Disorder will become convinced that the other person no longer cares about them. Impulsive, self-destructive behavior is often a response to anxiety related to their fear of being left alone." - Abandonment Issues In People With BPD, Borderline Personality Treatment

Drawn to partners that relive the abandonment

People with fear of abandonment will often sub-consciously pick partners that replicate the early childhood abandonment that they felt. For example, if you were ignored in childhood you may feel more attracted to someone that is aloof and distant. These are the emotionally unavailable partners that will abandon them repeatably, and create a self-fulfilling prophecy that feeds the abandonment fears of being unlovable. Emotionally unavailable partners are also never able to get close enough that there is the option that they might reject the true you. This is also called a fantasy bond, as its more about what ifs and illusions rather than substantial connection.

"If, like Courtney, you fear abandonment, you may choose unavailable lovers so you can’t fall totally in love with them and not feel destroyed if they leave you. In this way, you play it safe. On the other hand you may repeat the original trauma of abandonment because it is familiar or because you hope that this time the person will not abandon you and you get it right. The unconscious fantasy is that no matter how poorly you behave, and try to push your partner away, he or she does not leave you. Then again, you may try to control your partner so that you will swallow him or her up and your partner is not able to leave. The irony is that when you swallow someone up, he or she does indeed abandon you. You have no one outside of you to discuss things with, no one to help expand you or to help you grow, and so you are more alone than ever." - Fear Of Abandonment, Frances Cohen Praver, Psychology Today


Learn to self soothe - This is vital to calm the stress-response in your brain that is triggered when you start to have feelings of abandonment. It will soothe the feeling that you are in danger and need to fight or flight. Good methods involve doing some activity that gets you into your body and out of your thoughts. This could be meditation, going for a walk, having a bath, doing some exercise etc. You can also develop this further by developing ways to re-parent your inner child. This could be by ensuring you don't put yourself in harm's way and by reassuring yourself that you will always be there to soothe yourself in times of pain.

Visit a psychotherapist or counsellor - A psychotherapist or counsellor will help you to understand and process the route course of your fear of abandonment. They will help you identify key childhood events and provide you with tools to change your present-day behavior.

Let people in slowly - Confide in your close friends and family small details that you would not normally share about yourself. This could be your feelings or things that happened to you in the day that made you feel something. Tell your partner about your fear of abandonment and what triggers it. You will find that your relationships become closer as you start to build trust with people in this way.

Accept your feelings - Do not try and resist feelings, even the difficult ones. Rather than attempting to ignore or doing something to stop the feeling, acknowledge it. Sit with the feeling and consider what has triggered it briefly then try to focus on what it feels like in your body instead of creating thoughts around it. This will enable the emotion to be processed healthily.

Monitor the people that you surround yourself with - Remember that the fear of abandonment will cause you to seek out people that leave you feeling abandoned. Whilst these people may be working through their own issues it is best to limit the time that you spend with them if you are often feeling nervous, insecure or uncomfortable.


Borderline Personality Treatment, Abandonment Issues In People With BPD -

Frances Cohen Praver, Fear Of Abandonment, Psychology Today -

Carolyn Joyce, Fear Of Abandonment, PsychAlive -


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