How To Reconcile Abandonment Issues In A Relationship For A Healthier Connection

"Abandonment issues" is a broad term for a pretty complex life experience characterized by loss, grief, mistreatment, neglect, or abuse, MindBodyGreen reports. Early experiences of death, divorce, or instability can develop into a full-blown fear of being abandoned, which in turn affects our trust levels and how we behave in relationships. It undermines our sense of security that we'll get what we need. Psychologist Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., shared with The Body that abandonment issues are "self-protective behaviors employed to prevent a person from feeling the painful emotions connected to real or feared abandonment (or rejection)."

Fear of abandonment is often associated with an anxious attachment style (attachment styles describe how we formed early bonds with our parents as kids). Abandonment is a disruptive energy within a relationship and should not be underestimated. It's a powerful force if left untreated. As an inner experience, it feels like a fear that people will leave, a projection into the future that relationships will dissolve or not take root, or a fundamental mistrust of others.

Other ways abandonment manifests include a feeling of apprehension and hesitance, trouble forming or keeping relationships, engaging in superficial relationships or otherwise keeping intimacy at bay, needing to control your partner, allowing subpar — even abusive — people into your life just to avoid being alone, and feeling grabby and clingy. And this doesn't just happen with your spouse or partner, who may not share your anxious attachment style. Different, even opposite attachment styles happen with your friendships, too.

What causes abandonment issues?

Licensed counselor Chrystal Dunkers, LPC, told MindBodyGreen, "Abandonment issues can largely be created based on childhood trauma and schemas developed as a result." Unfortunately, when someone comes from an abusive or neglectful home, that's the perfect laboratory in which to grow abandonment issues. But Healthline notes that poor behavior from caregivers isn't always the root cause of abandonment problems or anxious attachment styles.

Specific circumstances in childhood contribute to a sense of instability. Children are often devastated by the early death of a parent or caregiver. Similarly, when a child's parents divorce, even if the divorce ultimately provides a healthier, more stable home, it can also be experienced as a devastating loss. Losses that happen later in life can also contribute to abandonment problems.

People who have been adopted may find that they question their worth and become agitated at the thought that they were abandoned by their birth parents. For some, intense poverty and scarcity earlier in life can create an expectation that all areas of life will be scarce, including relationships. Another contributor to an intense fear of abandonment — or perhaps the cause of it — are mental health conditions such as anxiety or borderline personality disorder. 

What are good treatments for abandonment?

As with any real diagnosis, it's best to leave it to the pros, which is why seeking therapy is the best first step to addressing abandonment issues. Find a practitioner you trust. If you're not sure where to begin in therapy, we have tips to kickstart the conversation. Licensed marriage and family therapist Douglas Corrigan shared with Forbes that therapy can, "establish a stable environment and build positive experiences with the primary caregiver to strengthen attachment." 

Aside from a safe space where you can express yourself, a therapist will help you reframe some of your repetitive thought loops. We all get caught in a type of repetitive, habitual inner monologue — when we work with a skilled therapist or counselor, they can help us interrupt that speeding train and get us to question whether our line of thinking is even true. Or helpful. Types of therapy you can explore include EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), which is especially good for people with a trauma history, family therapy, which can help you deal with an early, devastating loss, and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), which is designed to help people with anxiety become mindful about their thoughts and question their validity.

Radical self-care is another crucial treatment. Aside from lifestyle recommendations about nutrition and regular exercise, a journaling practice is effective. When we write out an emotional vent by hand, it gets it out of our heads and helps us process difficult emotions.

How to cope with it on a day-to-day basis

According to Verywell Mind, coping with abandonment issues on a daily basis might look like first identifying and then penciling activities into your schedule that specifically raise your self-esteem. Cast your mind back and remember something you truly loved and adored doing as a child (or even from six months ago) — and no one had to prompt you to do it.

This could be making art projects with your hands, spending hours outside communing with sunlight and flowers, weeding the garden, or riding your bike. If your favorite thing was to assemble your dolls in a boisterous tea party and make them talk to each other, maybe you'd enjoy becoming a community builder and holding events to allow people to make new friends or contacts.

You might find it healing to join some type of team sport that has more of a joyful, collaborative vibe than a cutthroat competitive vibe. These healthy relationships can help you experience firsthand that your contribution is a vital part of the team's success.

Can people heal from abandonment issues?

Yes, healing is possible. And you (or your partner) might need professional assistance. Support is essential, and shopping around for a therapist can be done by getting referrals from people you know, from your doctor, or from a local mental health agency.

To move forward, remember two essentials: The first is to take a holistic approach to your healing. A holistic approach means you're treating a series of interlocking systems — emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. For best results, you'll need to integrate multiple tools from each of those areas.

The second essential to keep in mind is that it's key to recall that we live in a hyper-fast online culture. We've gotten used to receiving instant answers from Google, we can shop and hear the news 24 hours a day, and there's a stronger emphasis in the U.S. on productivity than on work/life balance. Here's a reminder — these are all forms of conditioning, and healing does not and cannot happen as quickly as the culture we live in. Prepare yourself. Healing moves more slowly than we might expect.

How to help your partner or friend

If everything you're reading makes you recognize you might be dealing with a soul who's anxious and afraid, who gets triggered at even a hint that you might leave, becomes volatile or angry, feels insecure around you, or who might be overly suspicious of your behavior, there are a few ways you can help them.

To retain your sense of self, Healthline suggests that you first do your best to not take your mate's suspicious, clingy, or fearful behavior personally. What they're going through is a reflection of their conditioning. Hone your deep listening skills. It's very healing for people with an anxious attachment style to feel they're seen and heard by someone who cares for them. It's also important to let your friend speak and open up at their pace without pressure.

Being genuine and fully present is also smart because people who've experienced rejection and abandonment can tell if you're phoning it in. Practice your own self-care. If you're not in a place to comfort them because you're dealing with your own difficulties, then let them know you'd like to talk but that it needs to happen later. Follow through with that promise. There's no room for broken promises in this type of relationship. If you can't keep a commitment that's okay, just communicate and reschedule.