Dr. Maria D. Reyes
Abandonment issues aren’t something most people are willing to talk about. Acknowledging the fear often makes people feel needy or weak. But, in reality, most people will experience some anxiety surrounding the fear of being abandoned.For most, these feelings may arise when you go on the first date with someone who is distant and cold, or when a significant other is ignoring you on their smartphone. Instances like these can trigger the fear of being rejected in almost anyone.
But for some, these feelings will go beyond reality. For example, someone in a healthy relationship who is feeling isolated or rejected, can go to their partner and express their feelings.
Likely, their partner will apologize and seek to make sure their partner feels more valued and seen. However, for some, even this slight hint of rejection will push them further away, resulting in an extreme narrative in their mind based on their prior experiences of abandonment.
For these people, simple moments of feeling rejected are monumental and devastating, potentially causing serious anxiety and social distress.
If you can relate to extreme or unmanageable fear of abandonment, you are not alone. Many people experience these emotions, and it is possible to move beyond them. As you seek to grow out of your abandonment issues, it is important to consider the origins of these fears and that they aren’t in control.
What Causes Abandonment Issues?
Abandonment issues are the result of prior trauma. For example, if a close loved one unexpectedly dies or if you experience a sudden break up, then it is likely that you will develop some sense of fear regarding abandonment.
This is particularly true for experiences that occur to children. As adults, who are more confident of their own reality and identity, when they experience loss, it should have a lessened impact, although that is not always the case. But, as children, traumatic experiences can create a deep and lasting fear of abandonment. It’s also important to note that not all trauma will be dramatic.
Sometimes trauma can go unnoticed for years. As children, everyone needs to be soothed when they get upset or scared. Unfortunately, even the best parents can’t always be there for their children.
Thus, everyone will have a certain fear regarding abandonment. However, if your home was more unstable, then this fear will likely be greater. For example, if your parents were emotionally distant and unconcerned with your feelings, then you may be afraid that no one will ever be there for you.
Similar effects can be caused by overly attached parents who are more concerned with their emotional needs, and how their children can help meet their needs, than the actual needs of the children. In these situations, children may grow up in seemingly “healthy homes,” only to realize they have deep fears and anxieties regarding abandonment
Coping with the Fear of Abandonment
Once you realize that your abandonment issues are rooted in prior experiences of trauma, then you can begin to try to move beyond them. You don’t have to be controlled by your fear, but can recognize where it is coming from and move on from it.
Three key ways to cope with the fear of abandonment and step into healthy relationships are by being compassionate toward yourself, being mindful, and being aware of your true identity as a child of God.
Have Compassion on Yourself
Being compassionate toward yourself is more difficult than it sounds. It’s often true that people are far more critical of themselves than others. Being compassionate to others may be possible, but when it comes to yourself, you see every flaw. Part of coping with abandonment issues is learning to be compassionate and kind to yourself.When someone abandons you, it’s common for your self-esteem to drop because you take on the responsibility for the person leaving. You assume it was your fault. This is often not true. Instead, people with a fear of abandonment need to recognize it isn’t always their fault.
When someone can learn to be kind to themselves, it will help alleviate the fear of abandonment. If you learn to be okay with who you are, then you won’t need to have the affirmation of other people to feel good about yourself.
Next, to cope with abandonment issues, it is important to be mindful. What this means is you need to keep in touch with reality. Fear need not be rooted in reality. If you’ve experienced abandonment before, then you will begin to expect it, and even look for it.
So, if you are on a date and afraid it isn’t going well, then you might read meaning into the situation. If your date gets up to use the restroom, you might think, “They’re hating this. Maybe they are going to call an Uber and leave.”
This might sound extreme, but for someone dealing with abandonment issues, this isn’t an unrealistic thought process. Sadly, this often results in the person becoming more and more clingy until their behavior actually does push the person away.
This is why mindfulness is needed to cope with abandonment issues. Mindfulness is growing in awareness of your own thoughts, emotions, and actions, so you can analyze and reflect on them without being driven by them.
For example, let’s go back to the dating analogy. When your thoughts start to race as they walk to the bathroom, stop and acknowledge you are afraid. Then think about the fact that you asked them out, or you’ve been asked out by them.
Remember you are a kind, attractive person who deserves to love and be loved. Don’t let the fears take control and dictate your action, instead remember the truth of who you are and be patient. The date may or may not work out, but you don’t have to live and operate out of fear.
Remember Your Value as a Child of God
As a child of God, you are deeply loved by Him. You need to hold onto this. All humans were made and imprinted with His image, making each and every human meaningful. If you don’t believe this, then it might be hard to remember that you matter and are worthy of love.
That’s the message of the Bible, that human beings matter and are deeply loved by God. Part of your coping with abandonment may mean you spending time processing and reflecting on this truth so you can really incorporate it into your way of thinking.
Because the more it’s ingrained in your mind, the more power and freedom you will have from the lies of abandonment that say, “Nobody wants you. You don’t matter.” That is the opposite of what God tells us in Scripture, and you need to hold onto his truth as you confront your abandonment issues and step into healthy relationships.
The fear of abandonment is a normal emotion, but it shouldn’t control our lives. Moving beyond these fears will require you to develop a sense of confidence rooted in your own identity as a person and child of God.
If your sense of self is rooted in the affirmation of others, then you will always live on edge, wondering, “What do other people think of me? Will they leave?” Developing a sense of self is by no means easy. It will require time, patience, self-compassion, healthy community, and maybe even professional support from a counselor or therapist.
But what is important to remember is at the end of the day, God makes us a powerful promise. In Deuteronomy, He says, “For the Lord, your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath.” This is a powerful promise of his commitment to his people. And it is a promise to you that He will never abandon you.
“Abandoned Clinic”, Courtesy of Daniel Adesina, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Abandoned”, Courtesy of Nicholas Bui, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Trapped”,Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Danger”, Courtesy of Chris Rhoads, Unsplash.com, CC0 License