Difficulty communicating, seeking reassurance, and unhealthy relationship habits can all be signs of abandonment issues. But treatment options are available to help you cope.
Many of us have experienced loss in some way, perhaps through the death of someone close to us or the ending of an important relationship or friendship. And as we live through these experiences, it’s only natural for us to feel a range of intense emotions, such as anxiety and grief.
But for some people, these difficult emotions can stick around and lead to extreme anxiety or fear of abandonment. People with abandonment issues may struggle with things like having healthy relationships, communicating with others, or even acknowledging their own self-worth.
Ahead, we’ll explore more about what abandonment issues actually are, including some of the symptoms of these issues and what you can do to cope if you’re living with a fear of abandonment.
“Abandonment issues” isn’t an official mental health diagnosis. Rather, the term describes the emotional difficulties that someone might experience because of their anxiety or fear of being abandoned.
Because these things can affect your ability to regulate emotions like fear and anxiety, they can change the way that you behave and communicate with others.
Types of attachment styles
Attachment style theory – first developed in the 1950s by John Bowlby – states that the bonding styles we form as children influence how we behave in our relationships as adults. According to the theory, there are four primary attachment styles:
- Secure attachment style: develops when a child is raised in a safe, comforting, secure environment with supportive caregivers. People with secure attachment styles are comfortable with themselves and can easily form healthy relationships.
- Anxious attachment style: develops when a child isn’t given with the security they need from caregivers, and their needs aren’t met. People who have anxious attachment styles struggle with self-esteem and may have abandonment issues.
- Avoidant attachment style: develops when a child has emotionally distant caregivers, which can affect their emotional intimacy with others. People with avoidant attachment styles are fiercely independent and may have issues with commitment.
- Disorganized attachment style: develops from neglect, abuse, or other childhood trauma. People who have disorganized attachment styles may deal with many of the same issues as those with anxious or avoidant styles.
As humans, we all have a need for safety and security in our lives. When we’re children, we rely on our parents to provide us with a stable home, adequate food and clothing, and emotional support. And as adults, we rely on family, friends, and partners to help us meet our needs.
But when our physical and emotional needs aren’t met, it can lead to a variety of negative mental health effects, including anxiety and fear around abandonment. Some of the life events that can lead to abandonment issues include:
- Abuse or neglect: Exposure to behaviors like neglect or abuse in childhood, whether from a parent or another authority figure, can have an impact on a child’s ability to make healthy attachments. For example, one recent
studyfrom 2022 found that both emotional abuse and neglect were associated with abandonment issues.
- Death of a family member: Losing a close family member, especially a parent, can be a painful and traumatic experience. Grief is strongly associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety, according to a 2021 meta-analysis. Those with fears of abandonment and other attachment issues experience grief at higher and longer levels compared to those with more secure attachment styles.
- Unstable living situations: Poverty can significantly affect someone’s ability to have access to basic necessities, such as housing, food, and medical care. Research has found that children raised in poverty are at a higher risk of developing anxious attachment styles, which may contribute to a fear of abandonment.
Abandonment issues can affect the way that you interact with and form relationships with other people – platonic, romantic, or otherwise. If you have a fear of abandonment, you may:
- have trouble communicating with other people
- seek out reassurance that others won’t leave you
- constantly try to get attention from your partner
- find that you’re unable to fully trust your partner
- quickly jump from one relationship to another
- intentionally sabotage your personal relationships
- force yourself to stay in unhealthy relationships
- have trouble engaging in intimate behaviors
- engage in abusive, manipulative, or coercive behaviors
- experience frequent, or constant, anxiety symptoms
Signs of abandonment issues in children
Children who have abandonment issues may show certain signs early on that they’re struggling with abandonment anxiety.
For example, a child with abandonment issues may experience intense separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is a mental health condition characterized by excessive worry, anxiety, or dread when separated from a safe attachment figure.
While this anxiety often happens when an attachment figure leaves, it can also happen when a child even anticipates that the person they’re attached to will be leaving. In some cases, this fear can be so strong that a child may not want to engage in regular activities, like playing in another room or sleeping alone.
If your fear of abandonment affects your ability to function in your daily life, there is support available. One of the first steps to consider is reaching out for professional help.
Therapy is of the most effective treatment options for helping people overcome anxiety, including abandonment anxiety. Several different treatment options exist, all of which have a different approach to help you tackle your fear of abandonment.
For example, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can teach you skills you need to better regulate and soothe emotions related to relationship or separation anxiety.
And emotionally focused therapy (EFT) can help you recognize and understand what your attachment style is so that you can form healthier relationships with others.
It can also be helpful to reach out to people you trust and explain what you’re going through. Sometimes support from a loved one or friend is the push you need to reach out and get help.
Abandonment issues encompass a variety of emotions and behaviors that develop when a person has severe anxiety or fear of being abandoned.
When someone goes through experiences like neglect, abuse, or other childhood trauma, it can place them at a higher risk of developing a fear of abandonment. Abandonment issues can also be a symptom of mental health conditions like BPD or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If abandonment anxiety is negatively affecting your life, there is professional help available. Consider reaching out to your doctor or a mental health professional to learn more about what treatment options are available to you.