Growing up, Nancy never knew who was going to be home to take care of her, so she had to become self-sufficient at a young age. Her mother had 5 children and worked 3 part-time jobs, while her father was only intermittently present. He would sometimes show up on her birthday and special holidays, but other than that he was mostly simply not around. Nancy was always so excited when her father was around, but felt heartbroken when he would leave. Frankly, Nancy often felt abandoned and uncared for by her parents, and often feels guilty because she knows at least her mother was doing the best she could. N, Nancy she struggles to make meaningful, adult connections.
Marcus is failing in the dating department. He repeats the same pattern over and over again with each love interest. Things start off great and he and his girlfriends quickly become inseparable, often with talk about long-term commitment. However, like clockwork, Marcus feels his girlfriends pull away at about the 3-4 month marker, and his anxiety becomes unbearable. To cope, Marcus pulls out every trick in the book — buying gifts, nice dinners out, sending flowers, continuous texting confessing his love, etc. But before long, things completely fall apart, leaving Marcus alone wondering what he did wrong…again. Growing up, Marcus’s mother did very little to protect him from his abusive father, who would come home from work and unleash a verbal (and sometimes physical) assault on both of them. It was so intense that Marcus’s mother sometimes simply leave the house when his father was home, forcing Marcus to fend for himself. Though he’s not quite sure how to articulate it, he’s reasonably certain his traumatic childhood has something to do with his likelihood to be abandoned in his current relationships.
Gwendolyn’s mother died in a car wreck when she was 12 years old. She was absolutely devastated by this loss. Though she in turn developed a closer relationship to her father and younger sibling, she lost her father about 7 years later when he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Gwendolyn took over the care of her younger sibling without bitterness or resentment. Now, at 35 years old, she struggles to become close to people and has never had a serious relationship. Her friends joke that she has “intimacy issues,” but she’s afraid they might actually be on to something.
Fear of Abandonment — What is the Source?
Abandonment issues can form in many different ways; the loss of a loved one, divorce, trauma, abuse and neglect, or simply the lack of emotional care in your primary relationships. Often, abandonment issues arise in childhood and in turn you may develop ways to cope such as becoming more demanding, thinking you are unlovable, or cutting relational ties entirely with someone. Patterns learned in childhood may be repeated in relationships outside of the nuclear family as you age, which can cause even more distress and emotional or relational pain.
Children who have been raised in families or situations where there was either chronic loss, lack of basic needs provided, or abuse/neglect, learned to be fearful from an early age and thus internalize that fear in order to protect themselves. If this fear is not addressed, it may develop into abandonment issues that can be very compromising to one’s perceived level of safety and intimacy in relationships.
The Psychological Impact of Fearing Abandonment
It is possible that additional psychological issues may arise out of the fear of abandonment such as mood swings, paranoia, anger, or low self-esteem. For example, someone who was neglected during childhood and didn’t receive adequate care may develop chronic trust and intimacy issues, which could lead to feeling depressed or anxious as well.
Trauma, neglect, or abuse often precedes abandonment issues. When this is the case it is important for both the trauma history and fear of abandonment to be addressed in therapy. The symptoms of trauma such as avoidance or re-experiencing the traumatizing event may complicate one’s ability to feel safe and increase one’s sense of anxiety or even paranoia in relationships.
Signs of fear of abandonment in relationships…
Abandonment issues can present in different ways, however, here are 3 of the most common signs that someone may be struggling with fear of abandonment.
- “Don’t leave me!” – Sometimes people who fear abandonment will handle the stress by making extreme demands on their relationships. This can be labeled as being “clingy” because the person needs to be reassured that everything is fine and thus require lots of communication throughout the day (e.g. texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, emails).
- “I’m not good enough…” – Some people will fear that they are never ever good enough for anyone and so they will become constant pleasers in their relationships. This can be in an attempt to turn inward their fear of abandonment verses projecting it onto the other person. Individuals who do this may be obsessed with caretaking, always say ‘yes,’ and think they need to fix themselves to be worthy.
- “I’m done!” – And other individuals may simply leave the relationship entirely for feeling completely overwhelmed by the anxiety they experience around their fear of abandonment.
Is there hope or help?
People who are struggling with fear of abandonment can find ways to cope with the stress and develop healthy relationships. It is important to work with a counselor in Nashville in order to fully address the origins of the fear of abandonment, which often resulted from a trauma.
Here are some key things you can do to begin finding relief from fear of abandonment:
- Honor your story – Fear of abandonment doesn’t show up for no apparent reason. Honor that you’ve experienced something challenging and that you deserve the support to find hope and healing.
- Take ownership – Taking responsibility for our feelings and behaviors is not always easy. However, there is power in taking responsibility because it means that we can do something to feel better!
- Know your triggers – The next time you notice your fear of abandonment showing up, take a look at what happened before you felt anything. Did something happen? Did someone say something? What thoughts were present? Knowing your triggers can help you to make more sense of what you’re experiencing.
- Develop coping skills – Find ways to self-soothe when you’re feeling triggered. This could be by talking it out with someone you trust, speaking with a therapist, or just simply going for a nice walk and taking a few deep breaths. Your fear of abandonment doesn’t have to take you down every time.
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