Exploring the Fear of Abandonment

Published on: 20 Sep 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
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No one wants to lose the ones they love, but for some people, the fear of loss they experience can be so strong that it overwhelms them, taking over many aspects of life and preventing them from developing healthy, nurturing relationships. People with a fear of abandonment also may struggle with intrusive thoughts and anxiety. 

Although the fear of being abandoned can lead to unhealthy behaviors and thought processes, it is possible to overcome your fears and build secure relationships with others. Read on to learn how. 

What Is Fear of Abandonment?

Abandonment fear is a persistent concern that the people in your life will leave or reject you. These fears aren’t based on evidence and can be overwhelming. It’s possible to fear being physically or emotionally abandoned.

“Abandonment can be either physical or emotional, and it can be either real or perceived. Often, it follows when a primary caregiver and/or primary attachment figure is not able to meet basic safety and security needs. The individual who’s abandoned has a tendency to absorb it personally rather than seeing it as a reflection of the caregiver’s abilities or lack thereof.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Physical abandonment

Physical abandonment occurs when someone is no longer physically present. If you fear physical abandonment, you may worry that your partner will leave your romantic relationship, or you might have anxiety that something will happen to them when you’re not around. 

Emotional abandonment 

Emotional abandonment occurs when a person is physically present but neglects your emotional needs. You might fear rejection and have concerns that your partner will stop loving or caring about you. 

Causes

What is fear of abandonment, and where does it come from? Like many deep-seated fears, a fear of being abandoned often stems from events in the past. When someone has been left behind or neglected, it can teach them to fear similar future experiences.

“Feelings of abandonment can result from a combination of nature and nurture. People are born with a genetic predisposition to higher levels of sensitivity or an inward propensity to absorb environmental stimuli. If the environment is unstable, abusive, or traumatizing, it’s fair to expect that the higher levels of sensitivity will be triggered. You can work with a therapist on any of these challenges or experiences — you deserve support.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Trauma 

Emotional and physical abandonment has the potential to be traumatic experiences. When someone has been traumatized by abandonment in the past, it can lead to a fear of being abandoned in the present. Abandonment trauma has also been linked to mental health conditions like borderline personality disorder.

Childhood 

Someone who’s been abandoned or neglected by their parents may grow to fear abandonment in other close relationships, even in the adult years. While it’s common to develop these fears due to maltreatment during childhood, research shows that parental death can also leave a child with a persistent fear of abandonment.

Attachment 

The relationships we form with caregivers in our early years influence how we attach to others later in life. When someone’s emotional or physical needs are not met by their primary caregivers in life, they may develop an insecure attachment style. People with an insecure attachment are more likely to develop a fear of abandonment, according to studies.

Signs of Fear of Abandonment

It’s not unusual to worry about rejection or the loss of a partner, but for someone with a fear of abandonment, these worries can be so intense that they cause emotional distress and disrupt relationships. Fear of abandonment symptoms may include:

Panic/anxiety 

Many people who fear abandonment have an anxious attachment style. This can cause them to experience intense anxiety when they’re separated from their partner. Someone who fears abandonment might cling to a partner or frequently need reassurance. 

Sensitive to rejection

When someone has a strong fear of rejection, any perceived rejection can feel like validation that their deepest fears are justified. Rejection sensitivity can cause someone to perceive a fairly benign event — like a partner not responding to a text message immediately — as a form of rejection. 

Fear of intimacy/close relationships

A person who’s afraid of abandonment may associate close relationships with pain and distress. This can cause them to fear emotional intimacy and withdraw from others. Someone with a fear of intimacy may fear commitment or sabotage relationships because they’re scared of future hurt. 

Lack of trust/distrust 

When dating someone with abandonment issues, a fear of abandonment can make it difficult to trust others. It can cause someone to assume the worst about the people around them or treat partners with jealousy or suspicion. Trust issues can interfere with the ability to forgive and can be a source of significant shame and regret.

The Impact on Relationships

While people respond to the fear of abandonment differently, these fears can make it very difficult to form healthy relationships with others. Abandonment anxiety can lead to unhealthy behaviors that result in interpersonal conflict and damaged relationships. 

Some people may isolate themselves from others to avoid hurt. Others may cling to partners, even when they ask for space. Many people with abandonment anxiety really do want to be close to others, but they find themselves sabotaging relationships or pushing others away when their fears become more intense. 

“Typically, we see the negative side effects of abandonment pop up in relationships. People who’ve been abandoned feel far less trust, security, or stability when others get too close to them. They tend to reject people prematurely, so they don’t get rejected first. They worry about the trajectory of other people’s opinions or the status of their relationships often. Relationships bring up uneasiness.”

Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, PsyD, LPC

Many people with abandonment issues struggle with low self-esteem. This can cause them to enter codependent relationships or remain in partnerships that are harmful or unsatisfying. To build healthy relationships, it’s necessary to address these anxieties and find ways to cope with the fear of abandonment symptoms.

How to Overcome Fear of Abandonment

Even though abandonment fears can be overwhelming, the good news is that it is possible to overcome them and heal from past hurt or abandonment trauma. If you are looking for how to heal from abandonment issues, there are many ways to address fears of abandonment and take steps toward positive change.

Self-realization/discovery 

Learning more about yourself can help you understand where your anxieties and behaviors are coming from. Figuring out what your attachment style is, and looking at how it influences your interpersonal relationships is a great way to overcome a fear of abandonment. 

Check-in with yourself when you’re feeling distressed and consider where your feelings may be coming from. While many people with abandonment fears are afraid to address their feelings, confronting things makes managing them easier. Take the time to ask yourself questions and record your thoughts and emotions. 

Support groups

People with a fear of abandonment often feel like they’re alone. In a support group, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with people who have similar experiences and struggle with the same kinds of fears that you do. You can look for local support groups or participate in groups online. 

Therapy

It isn’t easy to confront your fears, but when you work with a therapist, you’ll have guidance and support every step of the way. In-person or online therapy will help you to identify, confront, and process the experiences that contribute to your fears. You can spot your unhealthy behaviors and develop skills to help you to make positive changes in your life. 

With the help of a professional, you can heal from your past hurt and form healthier and more satisfying relationships, where you don’t fear abandonment. Don’t let your fear of abandonment dominate your life. Talk to a therapist who can help you understand and work through your abandonment issues and fears.

To overcome your fear of abandonment, connect with a licensed therapist at Talkspace today.

Sources:

1. Palihawadana V, Broadbear J, Rao S. Reviewing the clinical significance of ‘fear of abandonment’ in borderline personality disorder. Australasian Psychiatry. 2018;27(1):60-63. doi:10.1177/1039856218810154. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30403145/. Accessed August 14, 2022.

2. Canetti L, Bachar E, Bonne O et al. The impact of parental death versus separation from parents on the mental health of Israeli adolescents. Compr Psychiatry. 2000;41(5):360-368. doi:10.1053/comp.2000.9002. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11011832. Accessed August 14, 2022.

3. Pascuzzo K, Moss E, Cyr C. Attachment and Emotion Regulation Strategies in Predicting Adult Psychopathology. Sage Open. 2015;5(3):215824401560469. doi:10.1177/2158244015604695. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2158244015604695. Accessed August 14, 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.

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