Being abandoned by someone we love can be incredibly traumatic, especially if it happened to us at a young age. Maybe your parents went through a difficult divorce, or one of them walked out on you. Maybe a close friend or family member of yours died unexpectedly, or your significant other cheated on you in the past. Whatever the reason may be, it left you with an overwhelming fear of losing your loved ones, distrust of other people, and anxiety about being abandoned again.
Abandonment issues typically arise in childhood, but they can develop later on in life as well. Having a fear of abandonment isn’t a recognized diagnosis or mental health concern, but rather, a serious type of anxiety that often stems from a traumatic experience. Usually, most people with abandonment issues aren’t even aware of their own repressed emotional trauma, but it can still have a lot of unhealthy consequences and sabotage their relationships over time.
Do you think you might have abandonment issues? Here are 7 tell-tale signs that can help you figure it out:
1. You’re a people pleaser
Everyone you meet, you want to impress. Whether it’s your friends or your family members, you try hard to meet their expectations, get on their good side, and go along with whatever they want. You’re always the one who tries harder in the relationship and you’re willing to put everyone else’s needs ahead of yours, as long as it gets them to stay. Does this sound like you? If you have a strong need to please people and gain their approval, it may be because you still have some unresolved abandonment issues (Deng, Wang, Leng, & Chan, 2019).
2. You struggle with insecurity
People who are afraid of being abandoned often struggle with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy as well. Because the ones they love have walked out on them before or couldn’t be counted on, they’ve internalized this emotional trauma and wrongly believed that it was their fault they were abandoned, that it was because they weren’t good enough or that there’s something wrong with them (Cha, Lee, & Hwang, 2009). The result is low self-esteem (“Are you sick of me? Do you secretly hate me?”), clingy behavior (“Where did you go? Can’t I come along?”), and a need for constant reassurance (“How can you prove that you’re really my friend? How can I be sure that you won’t just leave me one day?”).
3. You find it hard to trust people
It’s understandable that someone who has been hurt in the past would find it hard to trust people again, but those with abandonment issues often take it to an extreme. They want to be in control of their relationship and know everything that’s going on with their loved ones. They have difficulties trusting the people around them to keep their promises or be there for them in their time of need. They have a strong fear of being alone, which can lead them to be unreasonably jealous, suspicious, and possessive over their friends and romantic partners (Leonard, 2020; Holland, 2019).
4. You’re afraid to be vulnerable
Do you feel uncomfortable during moments of emotional intimacy and honesty? Are you scared of getting too close to someone or needing them too much? Do you believe, deep down inside, that the only person you can ever truly count on is yourself? All of these things signify that you have a deep-seated fear of abandonment, which may manifest as a fear of intimacy and emotional vulnerability (Thelen, Vander Wal, Thomas, & Harlan, 2000). You push people away just as you’re starting to really care for them and you sabotage your own relationships. You struggle with commitment; you have difficulty maintaining long-term relationships; and you act detached and indifferent when really, you care more than anyone will ever know.
5. You look for reasons to leave
Everywhere you’ve ever been, you’ve always had one foot out the door. You don’t let yourself get too attached to anyone because you’re always looking for reasons to leave. You hold the people you love to unrealistically high standards and you don’t give them any room for mistakes. You focus too much on their flaws and find it hard to forgive them for the pain they’ve caused you in the past. Then, as soon as they disappoint you — which they are bound to do because nothing short of perfect will ever be good enough for you — you give up and go as if you were just waiting for them to give you an excuse to leave (Rodman, 2008).
6. You move on too quickly
When you cycle through relationships one after another and move on too quickly, you’re not allowing yourself the time and space to deal with the emotional fallout. Instead, you dive headfirst into something new and exciting to distract yourself, which shows that you have a need for constant companionship and a fear of being alone. You never want to be without a friend or a significant other because it would force you to finally confront the personal issues you’ve been repressing for so long. You have difficulty forming meaningful relationships that last because of a deep-seated fear of abandonment (Leonard, 2020; Holland, 2019).
7. You cling to unhealthy relationships
Be honest with yourself. Do you find yourself gravitating towards all the wrong people? Have you ever been in an unhealthy relationship? Did you know someone was bad for you but stayed with them anyway? The trauma of being abandoned by someone we love, especially if it happened at a young age, can stay with us for a long time. So it isn’t uncommon for those suffering from abandonment issues to find themselves drawn to people who treat them poorly and eventually leave. This is because your childhood has taught you all the wrong things about love, and no matter how bad things may have been, we’re all hard-wired to recreate our early childhood experiences because we find comfort in that sense of familiarity (Reder & Duncan, 2001).
Do you relate to any of the signs mentioned here? Is a fear of abandonment harming your relationships and keeping you from being happy? Abandonment issues can negatively impact you in a lot of ways, so it’s important that you learn how to work through them and move on from your emotional trauma. The first step to overcoming your fear of abandonment is recognizing the signs and acknowledging that you have a problem. Seeking help from a licensed mental healthcare professional can do a lot to help reduce your anxiety, reaffirm your self-esteem, and help you process your emotions in a healthy and positive way.
- Deng, Y., Wang, S., Leng, L., Chen, H., Yang, T., & Liu, X. (2019). Pleasing or withdrawing: Differences between dependent and self-critical depression in psychosocial functioning following rejection. Personality and Individual Differences, 140, 4-9.
- Cha, J. E., Lee, J. Y., & Hwang, S. H. (2009). The mediating effect of shame and fear of abandonment on adolescents’ depression and aggression: Comparison of boy and girl students model. Journal of Youth Facility & Environment, 7(2), 3-15.
- Thelen, M. H., Vander Wal, J. S., Thomas, A. M., & Harmon, R. (2000). Fear of intimacy among dating couples. Journal of Social Psychology, 24(2), 223-240.
- Rodman, S. A. (2008). Mechanisms Underlying Difficulties in Intimate Relationships: The Roles of Fear of Positive Evaluation and Fear of Abandonment (Doctoral dissertation). University of Michigan Press.
- Reder, P., & Duncan, S. (2001). Abusive relationships, care and control conflicts and insecure attachments. Child Abuse Review: Journal of the British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 10(6), 411-427.
- Leonard, J. (2020). “What To Know About Abandonment Issues.” Retrieved 06 May 2020 from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/abandonment-issues
- Holland, K. (2019). “Identifying and Managing Abandonment Issues.” Retrieved 06 May 2020 from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/abandonment-issues