Nobody wants to feel abandoned. When it does happen, the emotions can be challenging to deal with; when it happens multiple times, the issues that result become exacerbated. While the fear of abandonment may leave you feeling hopeless, helpless and lonely, there is hope and help.
I should know. I often thought that I had to please everyone or else they would just leave. After struggling for years with abandonment issues, I finally sought help in the form of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Working through the emotions is a daily task, but, through getting proper treatment, I was able to understand my fears and start confronting them.
And you can do the same.
Fear of Being Abandoned: An Overview
To be blunt, the fear of being abandoned is a persistent and overwhelming worry that those closest to you will leave. This type of fear isn’t exclusive to certain people; anyone can experience it.
The fear of abandonment often start in childhood when someone is neglected or abused by someone close to them, especially a parent. As you get older, you might find yourself so consumed by this fear that you sabotage relationships, refrain from forming new ones, and have an unhappy relationship with yourself.
Whatever the case, there are ways to treat these issues. The diagnostic process involves taking a more in-depth look inside yourself, figuring out what is causing these fears, and committing to confronting the fear of abandonment.
Different Types of Abandonment Fears
There are quite a few types of fears when it comes to abandonment. Some people might experience these fears to different degrees or might only have particular fears.
Children and the Fear of Being Abandoned
Theoretically, there are many attachment styles that children can develop. These attachment styles grow along with us as we become adults. They tend to dictate how we form and maintain relationships with others.
Since parents are a child’s first point of contact, how they develop relationships later in life tends to hinge on what they experienced with their parents.
When a child fears being abandoned, they might develop an anxious attachment style preoccupied as an adult. Seeing a romantic partner start talking to someone else might spike fears that the partner will leave them for this other person.
This fear might even stop someone from entering into a new relationship. They could potentially have low self-worth reinforced by years of issues with abandonment. When you believe you aren’t worthy of forming a relationship, you’re going to avoid seeking one out actively.
Fear of Being Emotionally Abandoned
Emotional abandonment is an aspect of physical abandonment that can be psychologically damaging. Even if a person is physically present, you might still be afraid of them being emotionally closed off to you or totally absent.
Those who felt abandoned by their parents as children might feel that saying “I love you” isn’t enough. A lack of affection and empathy could leave them feeling rejected and even ashamed.
What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of abandonment anxieties or fears include:
- remaining in a toxic relationship
- trouble committing to relationships
- rapid attachment and detachment from people
- going to extreme measures to avoid rejection
- being a “people-pleaser”
- highly sensitive to criticism
- difficulty making friends
What Causes These Fears?
There are many potential causes of the fears of abandonment, ranging from environmental to genetic. These fears often start early in life and might involve forms of childhood trauma (like abuse or neglect).
Avoidant Personality Disorder
Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) is, in the simplest of terms, a lifelong bout of extreme shyness. People with APD fear rejection, criticism, and disapproval from others. They are often easily embarrassed and are therefore hesitant about forming new relationships. Intimate relationships are especially difficult for them to develop.
It’s easy for those with APD to misinterpret people’s comments about them. Something that might not have been said with any offense might come off as being detrimental to the person with APD. When the people they formed bonds with drift away or deliberately cut ties, those with APD can feel abandoned, which increases their fears.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Social difficulties are at the heart of the issues that many people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) face. They struggle to develop secure attachments, which could correlate with activity (or a lack thereof) in different parts of the brain.
One study found that those with instances of childhood physical neglect correlated with lower inclusion responses during a controlled social inclusion task called Cyberball. These responses happened in the middle anterior cingulate cortex (which connects with the cognition-based prefrontal cortex and the emotion-based limbic system) and the bilateral superior temporal cortex.
Those with BPD tend to cycle through attachment polarities, which is sometimes referred to as “push-pull” or even “tug-of-war.” The fear of abandonment drives them to seek social inclusion, but they end up devaluing the relationships they form. Once they feel the need for inclusion again, they idealize those relationships and try to return to them. Thus, a vicious cycle fueled by the fear of abandonment perpetuates itself.
Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder is actually a normal stage of mental health for infants and toddlers to go through. Most kids outgrow it by the age of three.
Not all kids move past it, though. Some kids may also experience stress/anxiety about being away from home, being home without a parent, and even have repeated nightmares about being separated from their parents or home. Any sort of significant loss can contribute to separation anxiety. This can develop into full-blown panic attacks.
Of course, if left untreated, this might continue into adulthood. Adults might feel like they’re reluctant to move away from their parents and can even go to the extreme length of never leaving the house, period.
Helping Yourself or Your Loved One
Many types of therapy are available for those who have abandonment fear. From Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to ACT, help is out there, so get help. Any form of therapy you pursue will take time; changes don’t happen overnight. The first step is to want to do something about it and just let go of the fears.
Still, you can regain control over your worries and develop skills necessary for establishing and maintaining healthy relationships. The fact of the matter is that some people will leave, but those who stay deserve to experience you at your personal best and make you feel secure. Getting professional help for the fear of abandonment is nothing to be ashamed of since it can help you form better relationships with others – and with yourself.