Abandonment creates a serious emotional crisis. Being left by someone you love is devastating and debilitating. Abandonment leaves an emotional imprint on the soul that says, “You are not worth it.” It crushes your self-esteem. You feel suddenly cut off from a vital relationship that sustained your life. You feel overwhelmed with loneliness, despair, and anxiety. The weight of emotional emptiness feels like it will crush you.
Fear of abandonment paralyzes you and sabotages your ability to form normal relationships. You didn’t choose abandonment; it happened to you. It feels like everything has been taken away from you. However, what you do have is the choice to pursue wellness. If you want to heal, it starts with your powerful decision to face the pain head on. It’s your choice on how deep you want to go. But recognize we are only confined by the walls we build ourselves. Don’t let unbelief hinder your recovery. You can handle this. Though there is no anesthesia for the hard work of walking through heartbreak, bravely encountering your pain is one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself.
7 Ways to Heal Your Fear of Abandonment
Here are seven practical ways to heal your fear of abandonment:
1. Acknowledge Beginnings
Do you know why you have a fear of abandonment? Healing is an invitation to discover why this fear affects you to the extent that it does. By pinpointing where these intense feelings come from, it gives you the perspective needed to clearly see the bigger picture. When triggers come your way, you will be in a much better place to stay grounded in the present moment rather than be engulfed by the past.
To uncover the source of trauma, start to unearth your personal history. When did this feeling start? What happened? Why did you feel abandoned? How did this experience affect you? What was lost? What did you need?
Your story deserves a response from yourself. Consider sharing it with a therapist, because your truth is worth hearing. Something significant happened to you, and therefore it deserves to be recognized. Whether physical or emotional, abandonment is a legitimate loss and requires a period of grieving.
2. Recognize the Signs
The problem with fear of abandonment is that it surfaces even though the people you are with have no intention of leaving or rejecting you. By acting on this fear, you can unknowingly sabotage good relationships. When you become aware of your triggers and reactions, you will be in a more powerful position to take control of the moment, instead of the moment controlling you.
Basically, any situation that makes you feel alone, devalued, uncared for, unheard, overlooked, or misunderstood can ignite fears of abandonment and send you back to reliving traumatic events.
Pay attention to when fear arises in your current relationships. Do you know how you act when you feel abandoned? Do you become clingy, overly dependent, controlling, possessive, helpless, disengaged, irritable, enraged, panicky, or withdrawn? What types of circumstances elicit your fear of rejection? Your friends are too busy. Your brother forgets your birthday. Maybe your boss corrects you. Your partner criticizes you.
Your brain associates these scenarios with the original abandonment event and alerts you that danger is ahead. Don’t take this warning sign at face value. Be mindful of your unique hot buttons and strive to calm yourself before jumping to conclusions. Take a moment to breathe and ask yourself, “Are my insecurities making this situation seem more urgent than it really is?”
3. Break Patterns of Traumatic Reenactment
Bystanders are often perplexed by how the abandoned person feels compelled to recreate dynamics that elicit emotional pain. This cyclical behavior is called reenactment, a subconscious attempt to resolve trauma. Reenactment is a visceral response to the memories stored in the body’s arousal system. When present day situations trigger abandonment, that person instinctively looks to the past for instructions on how to act.
Typically, people will cast themselves in the victim role and position themselves in relationships to be discarded and abused again. With the help of a therapist, you can become aware of your patterns of reenactment and what factors draw you into it. A critical part of therapy is to help you empower yourself to break this self-sabotaging cycle. Once you recognize you are no longer powerless and trapped, you can begin to exercise the power of choice.
What if you expected something different from yourself? Consider Sally, who felt abandoned as a child because her father verbally abused her. Sally’s coping mechanism was to dissociate. As an adult, she is frequently berated by her husband. But one day instead of shutting down, she fights to come to the surface and advocates for herself. If you change the script, you unlock yourself from the past.
4. Stop Building a Case Against Yourself
People who fear abandonment live defensively. They are hyper-vigilant, always searching for signs of disconnection to prep themselves for rejection. They expect to be discarded. A history of abandonment creates an emotional blueprint for how you see yourself. Healing will challenge you to think differently about yourself. You must stop gathering data to prove you are insignificant.
For instance, at social gatherings, do you filter people’s words and body language through a negative lens and use it as evidence against yourself? Are you aware of the frequency with which you accuse yourself of worthlessness? God does not condemn you, so neither should you. You must break your agreement with the judgments of your abandoners. Confront the lies.
Abandonment is not the measure of your value. You are not disposable, but treasured and adored by God. You are highly sought out by the King of Heaven. Focus on renovating your opinion of yourself. A positive self-image will set the course of your life. When you understand your worth, you will feel less threatened by people and more empowered to create the life you want live. Start to believe you matter and watch the environment shift around you.
5. Don’t Downplay Pain
Have you heard yourself say, “It wasn’t a big deal. People have it far worse than me. I shouldn’t be upset.” Trivializing your pain is dishonoring to yourself. A critical facet of healing is to acknowledge the depth of your emotional injury. Abandonment is frequently associated with physical absence such as neglect, divorce, death, foster care or break-ups. However, the damaging effects of emotional abandonment are not taken seriously enough.
Abandonment issues can stem from any event that causes feelings of disconnectedness and rejection. It leaves you feeling like you cannot count on others to take care of you or be there for you in the way you needed. We must look at abandonment through a broader lens to include experiences such as emotionally cold parents, parents with addiction or mental illness, sexual or physical abuse, sibling bullying, peer rejection, and workaholic caregivers.
These dynamics weather a person over time. The losses that accrue deeply reverberate inside the soul. If you find yourself belittling a painful incident from childhood, consider that children process experiences very differently than adults. So even if the root cause of the trauma seems minor to you as an adult, it was a big deal to your child self.
Put judgment aside and validate the wounds abandonment created in your life. Accept the legitimacy of your pain. If we truly knew God’s heart, we would know He never dismisses any harm done to us. What you experienced matters profoundly to Him, so maybe we should take our story seriously.
6. Challenge Shame
Many painful emotions accompany the aftermath of abandonment, but shame seems to be the most demoralizing of all. Of course, it’s easy to personalize abandonment. But struggling with abandonment issues does not make you inadequate or weak. It means you are human and have been profoundly hurt. Set an intention to oppose any shame that surfaces.
Here are a few examples of how to dispute shame:
- Why do I need to feel worthless for being rejected?
- Why do I need to feel bad for feeling bad?
- Who gave my abandoner authority to determine my value?
- How are these feelings serving me?
Shame is a liar. It seeks to convince you that you cannot be loved because who you are as a person is essentially bad; that something is fundamentally wrong with you. Shame also keeps you stuck in self-pity and blocks healing. Remember, feelings are not facts. Instead of rushing to rid yourself of intense emotions, try to understand it. Try to extract something constructive out of the moment.
For example, if your partner forgets to text you and you overact, ask yourself, “What is this moment revealing about myself? Where are these feelings coming from? What can I learn or change? What do I need? How can I encourage myself? How can I take better care of myself?” Learning to observe, identify and tolerate your emotions will help you feel less overwhelmed.
7. Be Compassionate Towards Yourself
Have you considered how you treat yourself? Especially during an emotional crisis, people with abandonment wounds are far from self-forgiving. They are extremely self-loathing and believe they deserve to be punished because they perceive themselves as defective. They use their emotional instability as further reason to harm themselves.
Are you hostile towards yourself during vulnerable moments? Do you chastise yourself when you emotionally collapse, saying “You should be over this by now! Why did you react that way?! You are so stupid and pathetic.” Stop beating yourself for the existence of an emotional wound. You must be realistic and recognize that fear of abandonment is a complex issue.
Healing requires patience as much as determination. Self-hate will derail recovery. Start to listen to your body. Can you connect with the emotional turmoil inside of you? Your soul is pleading for self-empathy.
During seasons of suffering, we must learn to radically love ourselves the way God loves us. Can you honor your inner child who was hurt? Resist the temptation to be self-recriminating. Choose kindness and be self-nurturing. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to care for yourself. Receive God’s radical grace when you fail yourself.
Healing is a journey. You will suffer bumps and bruises along the way. Recovery is messy, but God is not offended by your mess. He wants to meet you in your darkest place. Take the pressure off yourself “to just get over it” because God delights in healing hearts.
Use your pain as an opportunity to encounter the King. Allow Him to radically fill the void in your heart with the Father’s love. Your primary job in healing from abandonment is not to abandon yourself. If you have given up on yourself, it’s not too late to reclaim your personal value.
“Alone,” courtesy of Sam Headland, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Morning Chills,” courtesy of Ian Dooley, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Boots,” courtesy of holeysocksart, pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Lost in Thought,” courtesy of Matthew Henry, unsplash.com, CC0 License