Many of us may struggle with the idea of losing the people we love. But if this fear or the worry of people in your life leaving you is intense, you may be dealing with abandonment issues.
Abandonment issues can negatively affect your mental health as well as have an impact on current and future relationships. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with abandonment issues and treat any anxiety you may have.
This guide will help you determine if what you’re experiencing are abandonment issues and how to deal with them.
There are many signs of abandonment issues as well as causes. But first, what are abandonment issues exactly?
Abandonment issues come up when someone has a strong or irrational fear of losing someone they love. The fear of being abandoned can stem from certain anxiety disorders and is one of many symptoms of anxiety. These issues can begin in childhood.
Childhood trauma can be one possible cause of abandonment issues. For example, if you experienced the death of a loved one when you were young, this traumatic experience may cause you to develop a fear of losing other people important to you.
Adults who went through traumatic experiences as a child may have been through a scary or dangerous situation or event that put their life at risk. Witnessing a dangerous event can also be traumatizing for a child and possibly result in abandonment issues as an adult.
Or you may have developed this intense fear of abandonment in adult relationships, such as in your romantic relationships.
Abandonment issues may develop if you have an anxious attachment style — an insecure attachment type derived from attachment theory or how we form unhealthy or healthy relationships with others.
In addition to the anxious attachment style, there are two other insecure attachment styles associated with abandonment issues: avoidant attachment style and disorganized attachment style.
Avoidant attachment style is when someone does not appear to show interest when another person has separated from them. In infants, this is present when the baby doesn’t notice if their parent has separated from them. A similar disinterest may show in adults when someone separates from them.
Someone with a disorganized attachment style may be uncomfortable with intimacy and closeness and often lack empathy.
Someone who struggles with insecure attachments may be extremely expressive or need lots of attention. Someone with insecure attachment styles may also idolize others and depend highly on interpersonal relationships.
People with insecure attachment styles who develop abandonment issues may have lacked a safe, loving parental relationship due to emotional abandonment, a form of abuse (sexual abuse or physical abuse), inconsistent parenting or inattentiveness to needs.
It’s unclear why one person may develop a fear of abandonment over someone else who doesn’t but experiences the same traumatic experiences.
Although not a standalone diagnosis like other mental health disorders, abandonment issues are a form of anxiety or even a phobia (the fear of abandonment).
Whether you experienced childhood trauma or developed intense anxiety over losing a loved one, there are some signs of abandonment issues you can look out for.
People with abandonment issues might experience:
Lack of emotional intimacy
Unable to maintain relationships
Pursuing or continuing with unhealthy relationships
Moving quickly from one relationship to the next
Being a “people pleaser”
Inability to trust others
Trying to avoid rejection by pushing others away
Insecurity in romantic partnerships and friendships
Need for continual reassurance or issues with other relationship anxiety
Signs of insecure attachment styles can also include needing reassurance, guidance and support because a person with anxious attachment doesn’t trust herself.
It’s also common for young children to have some separation anxiety and is a normal part of their development as they learn things like the concept of time or parents coming and going from a room, for example.
However, some children may develop separation anxiety disorder, a mental health condition where the child fears being lost from their family or of something bad happening to a family member.
Children who develop separation anxiety may also develop signs of abandonment issues like:
Worry when their parent drops them off at school
Excessive worrying about getting lost from family
Fearful to be alone
Refusing to go to sleep or fearing being alone at bedtime
Worrying when sleeping away from home
Frequent illness (stomachache or headaches) with no apparent cause
Research also shows that adopted children may have a fear of abandonment and experience the following:
Trouble falling asleep or nightmares
Fortunately, there are ways to cope with the fear of being abandoned.
There may not be a one-size-fits-all treatment for how to deal with abandonment issues. The key though is to find psychological treatment, typically through therapy.
This therapy involves working with a mental health professional to identify patterns and behaviors that may not be helpful to your life, as well as to develop problem-solving skills to cope.
There are other effective evidence-based therapies if you’ve experienced childhood trauma that resulted in abandonment issues. These include:
Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
People with abandonment issues may also benefit from some good ol’ fashioned self-care, as these issues can arise from anxious attachment styles or other anxiety disorders.
Talking about your abandonment issues doesn’t just have to be for a mental health professional though. Discussing your fears or anxieties with the people you love can be helpful to process your thoughts, making sure your emotional needs are met and serve as reassurance that these people care about and love you.
If you’re struggling with more anxiety symptoms than just a fear of abandonment, talk to your healthcare provider.
They’ll determine if you’re a candidate for anxiety medication. Or if you've been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, two medications are FDA-approved for treatment: sertraline (Zoloft®) and paroxetine (Paxil®).
Abandonment issues come from a strong fear in childhood or as an adult that those you love will leave you.
People with abandonment issues may struggle to form healthy relationships, trust others, become codependent and more.
However, there are ways to deal with abandonment issues, usually through therapy, to get to the root of the fear.
If you’re struggling with abandonment issues, you can get help. If you think it might be best to enlist the help of some professionals, it might be time to start an online consultation with a mental health care provider.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
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