Dark trees surrounding bench in mist by riverAbandonment fear often stems from childhood loss. This loss could be related to a traumatic event, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce. It can also come from not getting enough physical or emotional care. These early childhood experiences can lead to a fear of being abandoned by others later in life.

How Abandonment Works

Healthy human development requires needs for physical and emotional care to be met. Unmet needs can result in feelings of abandonment. Experiencing abandonment can become a traumatic life event. The death of a parent can be a traumatic event for a child. Feeling unsafe due to a threatening situation like abuse or poverty can also cause trauma. 

Some degree of abandonment fear can be normal. But when fear of abandonment is severe and frequent, it can cause trouble. It may impact how a person’s relationships develop. When this is the case, the support of a therapist or counselor may help.

Emotional Abandonment

A pattern of emotional abandonment or neglect can also be traumatic. It can qualify as a form of abandonment. Emotional abandonment can occur when parents:

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  • Stifle their children’s emotional expression
  • Ridicule their children 
  • Hold their children to standards that are too high
  • Rely too heavily on children for their own sense of worth
  • Treat their children as peers

People who felt abandoned as children may be more likely to repeat this pattern with their children. But some emotionally abandoned children recognize this pattern. They can go on to nurture their own children and break the cycle of abandonment. Many of these signs of abandonment may also play out between people in a relationship.

Stress or overwhelm can contribute to emotional abandonment. People with unmet needs often have a difficult time meeting the needs of others. Practicing self-care is an important part of making sure one’s own needs are met. The person who practices self-care can then meet the needs of their child or partner in a healthy way.

Abandonment Anxiety in Relationships

Adults who did not experience abandonment as children may still have feelings associated with abandonment. These can come from losing an intimate partner to separation, divorce, or death. Abandonment may occur in childhood or adulthood. Either way, the impact can be pervasive. It may negatively affect any other relationships a person develops, whether they are intimate, social, or professional.

Fear of abandonment can impact an otherwise healthy relationship. People may worry their partner is having an affair. This anxiety can come from experience with previous affairs. It may also come from previous loss or anxiety issues. Adults who are afraid of being abandoned may work to keep their partner from leaving. They may pour hard work and effort into the relationship. Then, they might worry their partner does not appreciate or reciprocate their efforts.

Signs abandonment may be affecting a relationship include:

  • One partner “gives too much” or is a “people pleaser”
  • Envy of other people’s relationships
  • Lack of emotional intimacy
  • A need for one partner to control the other
  • Settling in a less-than-satisfactory relationship

People who were abandoned as children may also seek partners that treat them in a similar way. This can lead to a cycle of abandonment. A cycle like that may be difficult to get out of. 

Fear of Abandonment in Children

Children may worry about their parents abandoning them. This can be natural, as children form attachments to their parents from birth. Young children may get anxious about their parents leaving for a short trip. They may get anxious when a parent drops them off at daycare or school. It is possible for children not to be impacted long-term by these worries. This can mean making sure they have a secure caregiver attachment. This will help them learn social skills and have healthy relationships later in life. 

Signs a child may have abandonment issues include:

  • Clinging or separation anxiety
  • Worrying or panic
  • Fear of being alone
  • Getting sick more often due to stress
  • Difficulty concentrating

If your child shows these signs, there are things you can do to help. It is possible to address fear of abandonment early. This can help children form a secure attachment. One way to help children with this fear is to reassure them of your love and role in their life. Parents may also find it helpful to let children know what the “plan” is on any given day. Knowing what to expect may help children feel reassured of their parents’ presence. They may start to feel more secure even when their parent or caregiver is not present.

Some children experience what is called “abandoned child syndrome.” This may take place after the loss of a parent or caregiver. It can also develop due to physical or emotional abandonment by a parent. Symptoms may show as isolation, low self-worth, and unhealthy coping mechanisms like eating issues or addiction. If not addressed early, symptoms may become severe and make it difficult to form relationships or lead a healthy life.

Long-Term Effects of Abandonment Issues

A person who has experienced abandonment may be more likely to have long-term mental health issues. These are often based on the fear that abandonment will recur. A child who was abandoned by a parent or caregiver may have mood swings or anger later in life. These behaviors can alienate potential intimate partners and friends. A child’s self-esteem can also be affected by lack of parental support.

Abandonment fears can impair a person’s ability to trust others. They may make it harder for a person to feel worthy or be intimate. These fears could make a person prone to anxiety, depression, codependence, or other issues. Abandonment issues are also linked to borderline personality (BPD) and attachment anxiety. Someone who lacks self-esteem due to childhood abandonment may seek relationships that reinforce their beliefs.


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