Abandonment Issues: Signs, Causes, & Coping Tips

Published on: 23 Sep 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
couple sitting on computers

People with abandonment issues struggle with worries that they’ll be left by those who are closest to them. While some anxiety is normal throughout life, ongoing, debilitating fears about being abandoned can be deeply destructive. Not only can these worries be a source of stress, but they can make it virtually impossible to build a satisfying and healthy relationship. 

Someone with abandonment anxiety may feel insecure and might struggle to believe that they deserve to be loved. Sometimes, their abandonment fear may be so overwhelming that they choose to end a relationship to avoid being hurt. 

Although abandonment issues can be painful, acknowledging your fears and identifying their causes can help you heal and cope. Learning signs of abandonment issues can be the first step to take if you or a loved one is struggling with this fear. Once you better understand the signs, you can then look into getting help, such as through online therapy. Read on to learn more about how abandonment issues can impact your life. 

What is Fear of Abandonment?

Interpersonal relationships are essential to our emotional well-being. The relationships we have with others can be a source of social and emotional support that keeps us from being lonely. When a person has a fear of abandonment, however, overwhelming anxiety of being rejected or left behind can make it hard to form close relationships with others.

Attachment styles 

Experts say that the relationships we form early in life influence how we connect with others as adults. Children are dependent on their caregivers, and the way those people meet their needs shapes how they’ll eventually be able to form attachments to others. The four attachment styles are:

  • Secure: When a child’s physical and emotional needs are met, they learn to feel secure in relationships. People with a secure attachment style can easily trust and communicate with others.
  • Anxious: Neglected children grow up feeling like they can’t depend on others to provide love and support. Someone with an anxious attachment may cling to others or crave constant reassurance.
  • Avoidant: Some caregivers meet a child’s basic needs, but don’t provide emotional support. People with an avoidant attachment style may be uncomfortable with physical closeness and struggle to express emotions.
  • Disorganized (or fearful-avoidant): Children who fear their caregivers may develop a disorganized attachment style. Adults with this attachment style desire close relationships, but are afraid of emotional intimacy.  

“Your attachment style is formed during early childhood due to the interactions and experiences you had with people in your life. Attachment styles affect how you form adulthood attachments and determine the ways in which you behave in your relationships.”

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Signs of Abandonment Issues

What are abandonment issues, and how can you recognize them? All people with a fear of abandonment worry that others will leave them, but they may react to their fear in different ways. 

Recognizing the different signs of abandonment issues can help you cope with your fears or support others. 

Anxiety

Abandonment anxiety can leave people with constant feelings of distress. When someone doesn’t feel secure in a relationship, it can put them on edge and leave them looking for signs of something wrong. Many people with anxiety over abandonment issues will struggle with intense separation anxiety when they spend time away from their partner. 

Distrust 

A strong fear of abandonment can make it hard to trust others. Someone with abandonment issues may find they’re often jealous or question everything that their partner tells them. Trust issues can shape how a person sees their partner’s behaviors and can lead to volatile relationships. 

Codependency

Many people with abandonment issues fear that others won’t want to be close to them. This leads them to engage in people-pleasing behaviors in an attempt to avoid rejection. Codependent people may ignore their own needs and feel unsafe when they’re not around their partner. 

“An unhealthy relationship can be where one person loses themselves in their attempt to take care of someone else, often ignoring their own needs and later feeling guilty or abandoned for focusing so much on the other person.”

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Unable to regulate emotions

Research shows that emotional regulation can be difficult for people with avoidance and attachment anxiety. People often experience intense negative emotions that can be difficult to control. These mood swings can be very distressing and frequently lead to arguments.

Staying in unhealthy relationships

Abandonment issues can cause someone to push people away, but they can also have the opposite effect. Someone with abandonment fears may refuse to leave their partner, even if they’re being mistreated in an unhealthy relationship. They may be afraid that they won’t be able to find someone else or believe that they don’t deserve better treatment.

What Causes Abandonment Issues?

Our fears may seem irrational sometimes, but they’re a natural response to perceived dangers.  Abandonment fears are generally rooted in deep, often-painful personal experiences. Fear of abandonment can impact people in many ways and has a variety of causes.

“Fear of abandonment is the fear or belief that you’ll be left behind by those you love. This can often leave you feeling unloved, insecure, inadequate, and unworthy of love. Fear of abandonment can come in several categories — the fear of being left by a romantic partner or of being deserted by your parents (or children as an older adult). It’s often caused by something traumatic happening in your past such as death of or being deserted by a parent or caregiver; neglect; feeling rejected by your peers; or being left suddenly by a romantic partner.”

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Trauma/past experiences

Abandonment trauma may be caused in response to a traumatic or distressing event. When a relationship ends suddenly or in an upsetting way, it can cause anxiety in future relationships. Infidelity, divorce, neglect or abuse, and the death of a partner can all cause fear of abandonment.

Childhood

The bonds we form during childhood shape the way we see relationships as adults. If someone experiences childhood trauma such as emotional neglect, violence, or abuse, it makes sense that it might be difficult for them to feel secure in future relationships. Studies also confirm that children may develop abandonment issues if they’re separated from a parent by divorce, incarceration, or death. 

Unhealthy relationships

For some, it can be difficult to recognize that a relationship is unhealthy, even in cases of abuse or after the relationship has ended. If a past partner — or even a primary caregiver — engaged in harmful behaviors such as intimidation, dishonesty, manipulation, gaslighting, or emotional neglect, you might expect to see those behaviors in future relationships. Unresolved abandonment issues after an unhealthy relationship can make it challenging for future partners. Dating someone with abandonment issues may be challenging to navigate if not addressed by both partners.

Death

Whether someone has lost a friend, romantic partner, or family member, the death of a loved one can cause deep and lasting grief and pain. After experiencing that kind of loss, it can be common to feel terrified about losing others. The fear of abandonment can be especially intense if the death was sudden.

Unmet emotional needs

We all need the basics — food, sleep, and shelter — to stay healthy, but we also have emotional needs. When these needs are met, we feel happy and content, but when they’re neglected, we may feel stressed, frustrated, or unloved. Someone may develop abandonment issues after a caregiver or romantic partner repeatedly fails to meet their emotional needs.

Long-Term Effects

No matter what causes abandonment issues, these fears can have a dramatic, lasting effect on a person’s life. They can be so damaging, in fact, that in studies we’ve found that people who learned to fear abandonment are more likely to develop mental health conditions later in life. These fears can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression, and make it difficult for someone to see themselves in a positive light. 

“Some of the long-term effects of dealing with abandonment issues might include severe difficulty forming relationships with friends or romantic partners, low self-esteem, issues with anger and jealousy, finding it hard to trust partners, and fear of being alone.”

Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW

Abandonment issues can also interfere with interpersonal relationships. People who fear abandonment often have trust issues and may be suspicious or jealous. Some might struggle with codependency, while others may pull away or sabotage their relationships.  

How to Cope with Abandonment Issues 

Learning how to heal abandonment issues can be tough, but it is possible to learn coping techniques. With the right tools, you can heal and overcome your challenges so you’re able to foster and nurture healthy, positive relationships in life. 

Determine your attachment style

We develop attachment styles during childhood, but the resulting expectations can influence how we react to people throughout our lives long after we’ve entered adulthood. Identifying your attachment style can give you insight into your fears, making you more aware of your behaviors. Over time, you can learn to connect with others in a healthier way. 

Self-discovery

Although it’s common for people who are scared of abandonment to feel ashamed, reflecting on your fears can make them easier to manage. These fears are often deeply rooted, and they aren’t likely to just go away if you ignore them. Confronting your feelings can help you make positive changes in your life.

Seek help in therapy

Abandonment issues are complex and can be difficult to control on your own. With the help of a therapist, you can learn more about your fears and where they stem from. You’ll begin to understand what causes abandonment issues you’ve been experiencing, so you can start to process your pain from the past and build healthier relationships in the present and future. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional. Therapy can give you the tools you need to cope with your fears about being abandoned and minimize the impact they have on your day-to-day life.

Sources:

1. Foley R, Gamble C. The ecology of social transitions in human evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2009;364(1533):3267-3279. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0136. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2781881/. Accessed August 11, 2022.

2. Liu C, Ma J. Adult Attachment Style, Emotion Regulation, and Social Networking Sites Addiction. Front Psychol. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02352. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02352/full. Accessed August 11, 2022.

3. Wolchik S, Tein J, Sandler I, Ayers T. Stressors, Quality of the Child–Caregiver Relationship, and Children’s Mental Health Problems After Parental Death: The Mediating Role of Self-System Beliefs. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2006;34(2):212-229. doi:10.1007/s10802-005-9016-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16502140/. Accessed August 11, 2022.

4. Schoenfelder E, Sandler I, Wolchik S, MacKinnon D. Quality of Social Relationships and the Development of Depression in Parentally-Bereaved Youth. J Youth Adolesc. 2010;40(1):85-96. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9503-z. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2941702/. Accessed August 11, 2022.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

Articles contain trusted third-party sources that are either directly linked to in the text or listed at the bottom to take readers directly to the source.

You May Also Like

Talkspace mental health services