It’s normal for people to come and go throughout our lives; friendships may drift apart, relationships may end, or loved ones may pass away. However, for some people, the thought of losing a friend or loved one for any reason can be a major source of fear. These fears may carry a heavy emotional weight, affecting a person’s self-esteem and relationships.
While it’s not a clinical diagnosis, “abandonment issues” is a popular term society often uses to refer to these fears. Below, we’ll explore where these fears stem from, how they may present themselves, and some adaptive ways to handle them.
“Abandonment issues” is a non-clinical term that refers to the intense fear and anxiety surrounding losing a loved one. The term is not a diagnosis. When people use this term, they’re typically talking about the emotional difficulties someone experiences when they’re afraid of being abandoned.
Research finds that attachment style may play a role in someone’s fear of abandonment. This stems from the idea that your earliest interactions with caregivers can influence your relationships.
There are four main types of attachment styles (although it’s important to note that a person may have more than one):
What causes someone to develop these intense fears of abandonment? There are many culprits, but we’ll explore some of the most common causes in the following sections.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) refer to serious and often traumatic experiences during childhood.
Violence in the home or community or a caregiver’s emotional neglect are a couple of examples of these experiences. The trauma, fear, and other intense reactions to these experiences can lead to feelings of anxiety or abandonment in future relationships.
Other examples of ACE include:
When a family member or friend dies, it can understandably be traumatic; these important people are sources of support and companionship that you’ve grown used to leaning on. So, when they’re no longer there, it’s common to have trouble accepting the loss — especially if it’s unexpected. This can lead someone to develop an intense fear of losing others in a similar way.
When parents separate or divorce, especially during childhood, it can have a lasting impact on relationships. Research finds that parental divorce during childhood may lead to a fear of abandonment in children. However, it’s important to note that parents staying together in a toxic relationship can be just as harmful and may lead to similar fears.
When a friend betrays your trust or a romantic partner rejects you, it may cause you to feel abandoned. Betrayal and rejection in platonic or romantic relationships can be painful, and it’s normal to not want to go through it again. However, that strong desire not to experience that emotional pain again may make it hard to trust others, which can strain other relationships.
When someone is consumed with fear or anxiety about being abandoned, those intense emotions can surface in many ways, which we’ll discuss below.
While the signs in the following sections are helpful, you shouldn’t use the following information to self-diagnose — or diagnose someone else — as these can all also be signs of other mental health concerns. If you’re experiencing any of the signs below or know someone who is, talking to a mental health professional is the best way to find out what’s going on and get the right help.
It’s common to occasionally worry about a partner leaving you or losing a loved one in some other way — many people have these kinds of thoughts from time to time. But for someone with intense abandonment fears, these concerns are often frequent and severe.
You might not be able to let go of anxiety about being abandoned, even when there’s no evidence to support your fears. These persistent worries may end up affecting your relationships. For example, others might distance themselves if you constantly seek reassurance that everything’s okay or if they think you’re being clingy.
It’s not always easy to know how to talk about worries or concerns with others. Abandonment fears can make communication even harder.
For example, you might keep quiet about something that bothers you in a relationship out of fear that the other person will abandon you over the issue. Staying quiet about it might seem like the safer option to avoid abandonment.
In a secure attachment, you feel safe and respected. Even when conflicts occur, you can handle them adaptively — like calmly and respectfully talking it through.
Intense abandonment fears can make it tough to form these kinds of attachments with others. Instead, you may have insecure attachments that reflect an anxious, disorganized, or avoidant attachment style.
Abandonment anxiety isn’t a one-time thing: It may show up over and over again in relationships. These recurrent fears may make it difficult to get close to others, or may even lead you to fulfill your own fears by pushing others away with your words or actions.
For example, you might be convinced that your current partner is going to cheat on you because a former partner did. Constantly questioning your partner or showing that you don’t trust them could sabotage the relationship.
Abandonment concerns can show up as overly dependent or avoidant behavior. Someone with an anxious attachment style might act needy and insist on spending as much time as possible with others to ease their fears of being abandoned.
Someone with an avoidant attachment style might resist forming close emotional bonds with others, staying guarded and closed off instead of building emotional intimacy. This might be their way to avoid feeling hurt if the person leaves them.
Abandonment can create deep emotional wounds, which can make it difficult to regulate your emotions. As a result, you may experience unpredictable mood swings, going from one emotion to another suddenly. This may cause problems in your relationships, such as trust issues or communication problems.
Severe abandonment fears may make it hard to build satisfying, healthy relationships with others and may even affect your feelings of self-worth. However, know that you’re worth healing, and you don’t have to navigate the journey alone.
A therapist can work with you to build adaptive coping skills to help you move forward and build secure attachments — rather than focusing on past emotional scars.
Let’s explore the benefits of therapy for dealing with abandonment fears.
Recognizing and resolving abandonment concerns may be overwhelming. A licensed therapist can help you:
You may know how being abandoned makes you feel (like anxiety, anger, sadness, or all of the above), but in order to heal, you’ll need to dig a little deeper. Exploring your emotions on your own can be uncomfortable or even scary, especially if this involves childhood trauma or other traumatic events.
Talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy, provides a safe and supportive environment for you to explore your emotions in greater depth. You might even uncover deep-seated feelings about abandonment that you weren’t aware of, which your therapist will guide you through.
Negative thought patterns are unhelpful thoughts that are based on irrational beliefs or emotions. They fall into several categories, including (but not limited to) all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, jumping to conclusions, and overlooking the positive.
For example, with abandonment, instead of focusing on all the great experiences you’ve had with your partner over the last year, you may focus on the one time they forgot to return your call.
Therapy can help you identify these thought patterns and challenge them, which helps take away their power. Once you know how to recognize and challenge negative thought patterns related to abandonment, therapy can help you replace them with more productive thought patterns.
Adaptive coping strategies are a key part of managing fears and insecurities about being abandoned. Therapy can help you identify and develop coping strategies that work best for you based on your attachment style, past experiences, and other factors related to abandonment.
During therapy sessions, you can practice these coping mechanisms. As you get more comfortable using them, you can put them to work outside therapy in your interpersonal relationships.
Death, divorce, breakups, and other past losses can be hard to deal with. It’s important to understand that grief isn’t linear, and it’s common to feel strong, unresolved emotions related to grief and loss years — or even decades — afterward.
Therapy offers essential support for processing these emotions. A licensed therapist can help you accept and challenge difficult emotions so you can focus on healing and managing abandonment fears.
Self-care strategies may make it easier to cope with abandonment fears, especially when you combine them with coping strategies you learn in therapy. Self-care includes taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually, and within relationships: the four pillars of self-care.
How can you practice self-care in your day-to-day life?
If you experience intense anxiety or fear of being abandoned, know that you’re not alone. Therapy can help you build more adaptive skills for dealing with traumatic experiences, leading to more productive thought patterns and behaviors.
With SonderMind, you can connect with a therapist who can guide you through the healing process and help you form more secure attachments. Whether you prefer online or in-person therapy, SonderMind can connect you with an experienced therapist who can help you reach your unique therapeutic goals.