What is Abandonment?
Connection is a basic human need. Infants are born hardwired to attach to their primary caregivers. The child’s survival entirely depends on their caregivers, and if their needs are not met, it creates a high level of anxiety. When children experience ongoing losses without the psychological and physical safety they need, they internalize fear.
Abandonment is a child’s most predominant fear. If children are unable to form secure attachments and if insecurities are left unaddressed, abandonment wounds can significantly impact their adult functioning and interpersonal relationships.
Not only is abandonment a child’s most predominant fear, it is also a primal universal fear. All of us have experienced this fear; it’s a matter of to what degree and severity it impacts you. Abandonment issues are intense fears of losing connection with someone you care about. These anxieties originated from experiences that left you feeling like you could not count on others to take care of you or be there for you in the way you needed. You were left to fend for yourself.
Abandonment inflicts a deep penetrating emotional wound. People feel cut off from what Susan Anderson, an abandonment research expert, calls “life-sustaining support.” Anderson believes it is a “cumulative wound,” meaning all your disappointments, uncertainties, and losses from childhood to present are collected and reignited when triggered.
Abandonment can be real or perceived, emotional or physical. Causes of abandonment issues can manifest through absent, abusive, or inadequate parenting.
- Children who felt deserted due to divorce, death, foster care or day care;
- Children who felt forsaken because they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused;
- Children whose basic needs were neglected by their parents.
Some forms of abandonment are less obvious but by no means less significant.
- Parents who were emotionally unavailable due to mental illness or substance abuse
- Siblings who perpetually teased their brother or sister
- Children who felt routinely ignored and were left to solve problems without guidance
- Adolescents who were criticized and made to feel it was not okay to make mistakes
- Children who felt mounting uncertainty when caregivers would repeatedly leave town or come home late.
Other abandonment wounds arise from peer rejection, chronic sickness, romantic break-ups or prolonged singleness.
Does this sound like your story? Acknowledgment is the first step toward healing.
Common Abandonment Issues Symptoms
Here are seven common symptoms of abandonment issues.
1. Chronic Insecurities
Abandonment wrecks your self-esteem. In your mind, the abandonment reflects your worth as a person. You internalize their decision to leave as your fault. Your thoughts automatically go to, “There is something wrong with me. I am unlovable.” Children are egocentric thinkers and are particularly vulnerable to erroneously believe they are the cause of a problem that has no logical connection to them. They believe they are responsible for other people’s actions. Thus, children walk away from abandonment feeling like they are deeply flawed and often experience an inescapable feeling like everything is their fault.
2. Reenacting Trauma
Childhood abandonment sets the stage for the same dynamic to be recreated in adulthood. Many people position themselves in friendships and romantic relationships to be discarded or abused because they have accepted this core belief: “I will always be abandoned.”
Reenactment is a subconscious effort to resolve trauma. Perhaps you are attracted to the “wrong” people. You pursue individuals who are unavailable, noncommittal, and reckless. You are hyper-vigilant and self-protecting, always watching for threats of disconnection. Maybe you drive people away with your compulsive thoughts, standoffish attitudes or clingy behaviors. You project your insecurities onto others. You might find yourself accusing your partner of betrayal: “You never loved me. You are cheating on me. You will leave me. You will forget me.”
3. Pervasive Unworthiness
Being left leaves you with the raw emotional pain of feeling worthless. You feel discarded, undesired, and rejected. You believe you are unlovable. You struggle to imagine that you deserve to have good things in your life, including healthy relationships. Toxic shame and self-hate bombard you daily. You have internalized the message that you are defective and insignificant. You feel guilty for acting “needy.” When something goes wrong, you search within to find fault. The obvious choice is to blame and reprimand yourself. You do not trust your judgment and unceasingly question yourself, because why would you trust someone who is not good enough?
4. Heightened Emotional Sensitivity
The trauma of abandonment leaves an emotional blueprint on the brain. People who suffer from abandonment wounds experience extreme emotional sensitivity to anything that triggers rejection, for example, feeling insignificant, criticized, misunderstood, slighted, excluded, or overlooked. They may experience flashbacks that send them into emotional hijacking. Emotional hijacking, coined by David Goleman, occurs when the rational brain is taken over by the emotional brain called the amygdala. In this state, the person feels seized and overpowered by their emotions.
Unfortunately, many children have learned the heartache of uncertainty. Being rejected by someone you love makes you feel powerless. People with abandonment wounds were deserted by someone they depended on. Consequently, these individuals learned they cannot rely on others to care for and protect them. To cope with the disparity, they vow to become self-sufficient. They keep people at arm’s length. They put on a tough facade, stay guarded, and remain unavailable
6. Mood Swings
The aftermath of abandonment brings a tidal wave of depression and anxiety. To protect your shattered heart, you try your best to numb and detach yourself. The stark reality of aloneness feels too much to bear. You feel empty and lost. You are constantly paranoid that people will leave you. These out of control feelings pave the path for obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts. You overanalyze what people think of you. Anger surges when people are too busy for you. You battle with jealousy and fear failure. You feel defensive, disconnected, and misunderstood.
7. Self-Sabotaging Relationships
Fear of abandonment interferes with forming secure attachments in adulthood. As contradicting as it may sound, those who have felt discarded get stuck in an emotional pendulum between fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. They desperately cling to people but are threatened by intimacy.
Intimacy dodgers fear being controlled, dominated, and dismissed, ultimately resulting in losing themselves. To fully expose their heart to someone else puts them in an extremely vulnerable space. For some, this soul connection is too overwhelming, so to ensure that no one abandons them, they leave first. They reason that if people completely know you, then they can fully reject you.
Christian Counseling for Abandonment Issues Symptoms
Are abandonment issues holding you back in life? Are you tired of not feeling good enough? Counseling can be a tool to help you learn to trust someone again. Therapy is a place where you can share your story, grieve, and find the strength within to move forward with greater resiliency.
“Holding Hands,” courtesy of Lisa Williams, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Sadness,” courtesy of Dmitry Kallnin, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Where You Going?” courtesy of Lizzie Guilbert, unsplash.com, Public Domain License; “Contemplation,” courtesy of Simon Powell, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)