Our past can have a profound impact on our present and future well-being. If you were hurt in a past relationship, it’s possible to carry that pain with you into your other relationships. The new relationship can end up bearing the burden of the past relationship – for instance through trust issues and having difficulty opening up due to a past betrayal – leading to fear of abandonment. It’s possible, however, to overcome these wounds and build healthy relationships.

A fear of abandonment is one of the wounds that a person can carry from their past experiences. That fear can affect intimacy and one’s sense of safety in a relationship, among other things; the health of the relationship is thus jeopardized. Understanding what fear of abandonment is, what causes it, and how it affects a person are a few of the important steps that need to be taken to begin overcoming it and move toward healthier relationships.

Understanding fear of abandonment

One of the most important things we can experience in a relationship with someone is their presence. When you’re with the person you care about, there’s likely nothing more precious than hearing their voice, speaking with them, holding their hand, hugging them, and watching their facial expressions as they react in real time to something you’re sharing with them. Their physical and emotional presence makes a world of difference.

There are various reasons a person could be absent, whether emotionally or physically. The possibility of that absence hurts, but most people don’t let that prevent them from enjoying what they have now, or from entering a new situation where those new connections and relationships can be formed. When a person fears abandonment, however, making these connections and enjoying them is difficult.

A fear of abandonment can be defined as when a person has an overwhelming, but unjustified, worry that the people that they love will leave them, whether those loved ones are leaving physically or emotionally. That leaving could look like a loved one dying, or it could look like breaking up and the end of a relationship.

Any person can develop a fear of abandonment at any stage of their life. That fear is often deeply rooted in a traumatic experience that may have occurred either when they were a child, or it may be related to a distressing experience that occurred in a relationship as an adult. Physical or emotional abandonment in the past, whether recent or remote, can lead to fear of abandonment in a current relationship.

Some examples of these past experiences of abandonment that can cause fear include experiences such as being neglected and not taken proper care of by a parent or caregiver. This may include not having physical and emotional needs being met, such as being held, played with, or paid attention to.

Other examples of events that can lead to a fear of abandonment include witnessing and going through a prolonged and serious illness of a loved one, being rejected by peers, experiencing the desertion or death of a parent or caregiver when one was younger, or going through a situation where a romantic partner acts dishonestly or leaves the relationship suddenly.

How fear of abandonment affects relationships

If a person carries a fear of abandonment into their relationships, it can affect the health of those relationships. This fear can be paralyzing, and it can result in isolating oneself from others to avoid getting hurt or staying in unhealthy relationships for fear of being alone. Some of the ways that fear of abandonment affects relationships include the following:

Difficulty letting people in

When you’re afraid that you could be left behind, it’s difficult to let anyone in and be vulnerable with them. The thinking is that if you don’t let anyone in, then you can’t get hurt when they (inevitably) leave.

Struggling to commit to relationships

Along with struggling to let people in is having difficulty committing to relationships. Commitment requires vulnerability, and it can be easier to have shallow relationships that don’t require vulnerability or carry the risk of being hurt.


Often, a fear of abandonment will result in self-sabotaging behaviors. Because one fears being abandoned, they may push the other person away in anticipation of being left alone. This, in turn, really does push the person away, leading to a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Codependency and unhealthy relationships

If you’re afraid of being emotionally or physically abandoned, it can make you hold tighter to the relationships you have. This may include remaining in unhealthy relationships that you probably shouldn’t be in. You may end up ignoring your own needs to fulfill another’s needs in a codependent dynamic.

Being overly sensitive to criticism

When you’re afraid that you may be abandoned by a loved one, your antennae may be so fine-tuned to anything resembling criticism, and you may process that criticism as the precursor to them leaving. This introduces constant insecurity for you, on the one hand, and the inability to speak freely for the other person who must closely watch what they say to you lest you take it as criticism.

Attaching too quickly to others

At the opposite end of being reluctant to commit to others for fear of being hurt is the response of attaching to others too quickly because any sign of connection or affection is magnified in significance. Instead of having a reasonable amount of caution about forming attachments, fear of abandonment can result in recklessly forming attachments due to an unhealthy desire to connect and feel secure.

Needing constant reassurance

Fear of abandonment also often results in needing to be constantly reassured that you’re not being neglected or left behind, that criticism doesn’t mean the relationship is over, or that you’re unloved.

Repressed anger and control issues

To overcome the fear of abandonment, one might resort to being as controlling of others as possible. Fear can result in having too tight a grip on others to ensure that they don’t leave you. However, it’s hard to control others and to get them to follow your script, so there will also often be repressed anger that results from being constantly thwarted in your attempts to control others.

Engaging in self-blame frequently

Fear of abandonment can also lead to self-blame and taking blame when it’s not warranted. Fear of abandonment makes one fundamentally insecure in themselves and the relationship. If something goes wrong, more likely than not the person with abandonment issues will blame themselves for what happened, when there may be other factors at play.

From the above, fear of abandonment has many negative effects on the individual’s well-being, as well as the well-being of the relationships they are in. That fear can eventually be the cause of the relationship’s demise, and so it needs to be brought under control.

Building healthy relationships

Having a fear of abandonment doesn’t mean that you can’t have healthy relationships. It’s possible to build healthy relationships despite having experienced trauma that makes you fearful of losing loved ones. One of the first steps in overcoming the fear of abandonment is to acknowledge that this is what’s going on and is driving your behaviors. It is also helpful to understand why you feel and approach your relationships this way.

Fear of abandonment can be addressed by developing deeper self-awareness and taking a few self-help steps to bring certain tendencies to heel. However, fear of abandonment may be part of a personality disorder such as avoidant personality disorder, and that requires treatment through therapy with a trained and licensed mental health professional.

Just because you’ve had certain experiences that have affected your sense of security in relationships does not mean that your relationships cannot be strengthened and their quality improved. Some things you can do include the following:


You can cut yourself some slack and show yourself compassion. Instead of judging yourself harshly, focus your attention on the positive qualities that you possess as an individual, and also the qualities you have that help to make you a good partner or friend.

Be honest

Talk with your partner about your fear of abandonment, and the ways it can manifest in your relationship. Help them to understand where you’re coming from so that they know what drives your behaviors and thoughts. They can’t and shouldn’t handle the issues for you – that’s for you to do, with help – but they can walk alongside you as you do this necessary work.

Build your support network

One of the casualties of abandonment is your confidence taking a knock. One way to remedy this is to put in work to build and maintain relationships with others such as friends. Healthy and strong friendships can improve the sense of belonging and self-worth. Having a sense of connection with a community of others will help immeasurably in overcoming the fear of abandonment.

Seek help

Whether through therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment-based therapy, or behavioral therapy, you can begin to manage and reduce the impact of abandonment issues in your relationships. These therapies can help with uncovering unhealthy patterns of thought and behavior, tracing their origin, and replacing them with healthier ways of conducting relationships.

Let us connect you with a trained therapist to help you improve your relationships by addressing your fear of abandonment. Give us a call today.

“Chair”, Courtesy of Frederik Lower, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Intruder”, Courtesy of Tim Hufner, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Listening”, Courtesy of Timon Reinhard, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Meeting in the Middle”, Courtesy of Shane Rounce, Unsplash.com, CC0 License