Are you a serial dater? Do you need continual reassurance from your spouse? Do you micromanage your partner, always needing to know where and what he or she is doing? Are you a suspicious person? Do you have commitment problems? Do your fears of rejection keep you from entering new relationships? If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you might have abandonment issues.
Abandonment issues in relationships can surface when a significant relationship in your life fails to meet your physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional needs. This individual could have been abusive, absent, or neglectful. Basically, you relied on someone to take care of you but that person turned against you or let you down.
Abandonment is a feeling of disconnectedness, rejection, and neediness. The aftermath of this type of trauma generates a looming fear of not only losing connection with the people you love, but being forced to fend for yourself. Because these anxieties reside deep within the subconscious, many people are unaware that much of their choices are driven by the intent to defend themselves from getting hurt again.
Ten Abandonment Issues in Relationships
Here are ten signs that your relationships might be affected by unresolved abandonment wounds:
1. You Have a Hard Time Letting People In
Do you keep a low profile? Would people describe you as guarded? Are you cautious in new relationships? Abandoned individuals have deep-seated trust issues. They keep people at arm’s length and put on a tough exterior. They hold their cards close to the vest, and if they do reveal a part of themselves, they are very selective. These walls of privacy protect them from further rejection and disappointment.
2. You are Detached
Has your partner accused you of being cold and distant? Are you too self-reliant? One way people with abandonment issues cope with pain is through disengagement. You do not fully attach because if you don’t fully commit, then you cannot be abandoned. No one can hurt you if your heart is not invested. These people are counter-dependent; they do not allow themselves to need anyone. They refuse to depend on others. However, this power play comes with the price of profound loneliness.
3. You are Clingy
Do you come on too strong and too soon in relationships? Some people with abandonment issues impulsively jump into new relationships. They clamp on even if the relationship is dysfunctional. They continuously ask for reassurance and have a high need for attention. They are accused of relying too much on their partner or friends. People who fear abandonment might seem demanding. They are overly dependent on one person to satisfy all their needs. Tragically, the burden of the abandoned person’s emotional well-being becomes too much to handle, and once again they are ditched.
4. Difficulty Feeling Love
People who fear abandonment struggle to feel affection. They have trouble identifying and expressing their emotions. They might seem detached from their experiences and relationships. Abandoned individuals may rebuff physical and emotional comfort from their partners, like a hug or compliment. More often than not, they hide their authentic self, which makes bonding problematic. For example, instead of admitting you want more physical affection from your partner, you use defense mechanisms such as pretending like you don’t care, even though you do.
5. You are Controlling
People who have been abandoned know what unpredictable feels like. Hence, they do everything in their power to make sure abandonment doesn’t happen again. They fear being out of control and white knuckle almost every situation. Everything must be done your way, or you become anxious. Do you micromanage your partner? Do you fabricate white lies?
Do you make indirect comments and suggestions to try to influence your partner? Do you use threats like emotional blackmail to keep your partner from leaving you? Are you always thinking of one move ahead? Are you overly self-contained, making sure you appear perfect to control people’s perception of you? Manipulation tactics like these whether overt or subtle are used coerce your partner to love and stay with you. These controlling behaviors increase especially when relationship consistency starts to waiver.
6. Negative Core Beliefs
When faced with a problem, people with abandonment issues imagine worst-case scenarios. They get stuck in extreme thinking patterns. If your friend is late, you assume the relationship is over. If you sense disapproval, you think “I am stupid. I am always wrong.” If you get into a fight with a relative, you immediately think that person hates you.
These negative schemas are automatic and originate from trauma. Other types of abandonment beliefs include: “People always leave. I don’t need anyone. No one can be trusted. I am unlikable and unlovable. I need to earn people’s affection. I can’t survive without that person. It’s always my fault. I am unworthy. Everything turns out wrong.”
7. You Look for Flaws
Do you create a mental list of what is wrong with your partner? Looking for imperfections is a subconscious effort to create a barrier against closeness. People who fear abandonment expect perfection from their partner or friends. They need absolute certainty that the relationship will always be strong. They also demand perfection from themselves, because they fear judgment. They wrestle with performance anxiety, worrying about screwing up the relationship. These overcompensating behaviors are a result of a deeply held belief that they are seriously flawed.
8. Fear of Intimacy
Do you discard people before they have a chance to leave you? Do you smother your partner and become anxious when you are apart from each other? Individuals who struggle with fear of abandonment self-sabotage their relationships, either by holding on too tight or not holding on at all. Some pursue partners who are unreliable or abusive, which sets them up to be re-abandoned.
These counterintuitive behaviors are self-protective measures to elude intimacy. Intimacy is too risky because it demands vulnerability, which could expose you to further rejection. To avoid the possibility of pain, abandoned people shut off their emotions like a switch. For example, during sex you suddenly find yourself becoming “turned off” by your partner. Fear will steal your ability to give and receive love. You will not let yourself connect because you are too preoccupied with searching for signs of rejection or too busy clutching onto your partner, already anticipating them to leave.
9. Weak Boundaries
Do you comply with everything your partner wants? Do you suppress yourself to keep your partner happy? Are you people-pleasing at the cost of your well-being? Individuals who fear abandonment are highly likely to battle with codependency. They often stay in a destructive relationship and make excuses for their partner’s inappropriate behavior. They shoulder the responsibility for other people’s needs and play the rescuer role. They frequently feel guilty and blame themselves for flawed relationships. These people feel like they need to prove they are worthy of the relationship and sadly, they end up losing themselves for a partner who does not value them.
9. You Isolate
Do your fears of rejection cause you to hide? Do you feel like you don’t fit in? Do you feel misunderstood? Abandoned people typically withdraw into themselves for protection. They seclude themselves because they feel too exposed in social situations. Already feeling inferior, they do not want to open themselves up to additional criticism. They are quick to cut off ties because they believe no one will be able to meet their needs. Yet, they rarely give others a chance to get to know them.
10. You are Sensitive
Do you overreact? Do you frequently get defensive? Individuals who fear abandonment are paranoid that people will leave them. They fear rejection so much that they become extremely defensive when someone points out their flaws. This self-justifying attitude helps them cope with the gaping insecurity they feel inside.
Christian Counseling for Abandonment Issues
What would it mean for you to be free to be yourself? To not be driven by fear, but by love? What would it mean for you to trust someone else besides yourself? A counselor can help bring awareness to the ways you reenact your abandonment story.
In therapy, you can confront and reconcile the past so you can experience the intimacy you desire. We can explore what it means to have a deep connection with your partner, as well as what would it be like for you to break free from the lies that keep you inhibited and chained to a lifestyle of emotional torment.
“Downcast,” courtesy of Holly Lay, Flickr Creative Commons; “Diselo a la mano!” courtesy of Pablo, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0); “Couple’s PDA,” courtesy of Pedro Ribeiro Simões, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Maria & Eleanor’s Hands,” courtesy of Steve Hodgson, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY-SA 2.0)