Abandonment Issues
and Attachment Styles

Abandonment Issues
and Attachment Styles

Do you ever feel like you’re unimportant to people or like everyone’s leaving you behind? If you answered a resounding “yes” to this, know that you’re not alone–many of us feel this at times. However, if you frequently feel this way in most (if not all) of your relationships, this may be a sign of abandonment issues

Abandonment issues are persistent fears that the people in your life will leave or reject you. These fears can arise for many reasons, but they typically relate to insufficient early care. As it so happens, insufficient early care can also cause us to develop an insecure attachment style. This similarity suggests there’s a link between the two.

Dealing with a fear of abandonment on a day-to-day basis can be a struggle, especially in relationships. So, it’s comforting to know that you can overcome abandonment issues in various ways. 

To answer all of the questions you may have on abandonment issues and how they relate to attachment styles, this article will cover:

  • What abandonment issues are
  • The causes of abandonment issues
  • Signs of abandonment issues
  • How abandonment issues and attachment issues relate
  • Ways to work through abandonment issues
  • Helping someone else with abandonment issues

Do you know your attachment style?
Take our attachment quiz and find out now – fast, easy, free.

What Are Abandonment Issues?

Abandonment is a state of helplessness; being without protection. Feeling abandoned involves perceiving that we’re unimportant and left on the sidelines. We may also feel betrayed by the person we believe is abandoning us. 

Abandonment issues, on the other hand, are a persistent fear or expectation that other people will leave or reject you. It involves various behaviors and thoughts driven by these fears and anxiety which might look like checking a partner’s text messages or becoming angry when they try to go out without you–we’ll cover more on these behaviors further on in this article.

What Causes Abandonment Issues? 

You may be wondering, “Where do abandonment issues come from?” Well, the causes of abandonment issues can vary. However, much of the time, abandonment issues stem from difficult early childhood experiences. 

Children can be “abandoned” in two ways: physically or emotionally. Physical abandonment involves a caregiver not being physically present. This could be due to a traumatic event leading to a death, parental separation, or a physical illness. Emotional abandonment, on the other hand, may occur when a primary caregiver isn’t emotionally available for their child. This may be because of:

  • A parent suffering from a mental health condition.
  • Emotional abuse or neglect.
  • Parentification, where the child takes on some of the parent’s responsibilities. 

To learn more about parentification, check out our article on parentification and attachment.

At this point, it may be worthwhile for you to assess whether abandonment issues are something you struggle with. For this reason, we address the common signs of abandonment issues below.

Do you know your attachment style?
Take our attachment quiz and find out now – fast, easy, free.

Signs of Abandonment Issues

Abandonment issues symptoms look different for everyone. However, there are some common signs that you may notice if you, or someone you know, has abandonment issues. Let’s start with the signs of abandonment issues in children.

Signs of Abandonment Issues in Children

Abandonment issues in children tend to manifest as separation anxiety. This typically appears at around 6–12 months of age. 

Common signs of abandonment issues in children are:

  • Panicking and crying when their caregivers go out of sight.
  • Anxieties around being left in a room alone.
  • Difficulties concentrating and appearing hypervigilant (such as always checking where their primary caregivers are).
  • Reluctance to go to daycare or be left with another adult.

Don’t take this information the wrong way–separation anxiety is common in children. In fact, it’s a natural part of their development: When children are first born, they assume that they are the same person as their primary caregiver and that they’re not an individual. It’s only when they’re around 7 months old that they begin to view themselves as separate from others. 

Let’s think about this stage of development from an infant’s point of view: At 7 months, an infant can’t do a lot for themselves. They can’t walk, change themselves, feed, or console themselves when they’re tired–they’re solely dependent on their primary caregiver for survival. Therefore, when they realize that their caregiver is a separate person from themselves, they begin to feel anxious that their survival needs won’t be met if their caregiver slips out of sight. 

So, separation anxiety is normal in infants. However, if circumstances cause it to continue past 3 years of age, then abandonment issues may develop. If abandonment issues aren’t addressed in childhood or adolescence, they can continue into adulthood. So, what are the signs of this?

Signs of Abandonment Issues in Adults

The signs of abandonment issues differ drastically between adults. For example, some adults with abandonment issues may struggle with trust and jealousy, and generally feel insecure within themselves. Whereas others may feel a strong urge to please others and work hard for approval. 

The exact pattern of behavior associated with abandonment issues can depend on a person’s attachment style, so we provide the common symptoms of abandonment issues in each form of insecure attachment:

Abandonment Issues Symptoms in Anxious Attachers:

  • The desire for constant communication and physical contact whenever possible. Not receiving this may trigger feelings of insecurity and unimportance.
  • Clinginess in a romantic relationship as being alone may bring doubts about how much a partner cares.
  • Seeking reassurance and validation to ease anxieties about rejection.
  • Engaging in people-pleasing behaviors to prevent others from leaving.
  • Jealousy around romantic partners spending time with other people, as it may feel like they’re choosing them.

If you’ve experienced jealousy in a relationship and want to know more, check out our article, Jealousy in Relationships: Do Attachment Styles Matter?

Abandonment Issues Symptoms in Avoidant Attachers:

  • Self-reliance from an early age due to feelings of not being able to rely on others for comfort and support
  • Asking for help triggers fears of being rejected, abandoned, or disappointed in others. 
  • Suspicion of other people’s intentions due to a deep-seated distrust in others.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and instead using techniques like distraction or changing the subject whenever emotions come up.
  • Avoidance of commitment due to the fear of being abandoned in a romantic relationship. If someone with avoidant attachment style does commitment, it may be accompanied by frequent requests for reassurance. 

Abandonment Issues Symptoms in Disorganized Attachers:

  • Discomfort around intimacy, particularly in romantic relationships where there is an expectation to be emotionally close. 
  • Flipping between an intense desire for connection and not wanting close relationships due to fears of rejection.
  • Self-sabotaging behaviors, such as frequently criticizing a close friend or romantic partner to keep them at arm’s length. 
  • Sudden changes in mood when feelings of rejection, abandonment, or unimportance are triggered.

If you don’t know your attachment style and want to find out, you can do so using the free Attachment Styles Quiz on our website.

So, we now know the ins and outs of abandonment issues. But how do abandonment issues actually relate to attachment?

Abandonment and Attachment Issues

Abandonment issues and attachment issues can be closely interlinked. However, one can occur without the other. So, how are they related? To understand this, we need to think about how insecure attachment arises. According to research, insecure attachment occurs because the primary caregiver is either:

A Inconsistently available and responsive, or

B Consistently unavailable and neglectful

When we consider what we already know about why abandonment issues arise, we can see that there are similarities; abandonment issues also occur when the caregiver provides insufficient care. 

When a child receives insufficient care, they may begin to develop beliefs about themselves and others, such as:

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “People can’t be trusted.”
  • “I can’t rely on others.”

These beliefs can then trigger abandonment issues, which, unless addressed can be carried into adulthood and potentially cause problems in relationships.

What It’s Like to Have an Abandonment Attachment Style

We haven’t yet used the term “abandonment attachment style.” However, it simply applies to someone who has developed an insecure attachment style after being physically or emotionally abandoned by their primary caregiver.  

When you have an abandonment attachment style, it can feel incredibly difficult to trust others or open up to them. It can also feel like you’re being left behind. If you’re an anxious attacher with abandonment issues, you may constantly fear that you’re not good enough for the people in your life, and believe that soon enough they will realize this too and leave. 

If you’re an avoidant attacher with abandonment issues, you may keep people at arm’s length to avoid them getting too close and meaning too much, due to a belief deep down that they will leave at some point. These behaviors may make you seem private, withdrawn, or emotionally unavailable to others. 

And if you’re a disorganized attacher with abandonment issues, you might display a combination of both anxious and avoidant behaviors. This could involve feeling anxious that your partner doesn’t truly care about you one week, then wanting to avoid emotional closeness the next. This behavior pattern is often confusing for the person on the receiving end, which can lead to difficulties in your relationships. 

It’s important to note these are the most common ways abandonment issues manifest in each attachment style. If this doesn’t align with your experiences, that’s OK. Everyone is different. But regardless of how your abandonment issues present, there are ways to overcome these difficulties.

How to Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Knowing how to deal with abandonment issues isn’t easy. So, if you’re scratching your head wondering how to get over abandonment issues, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered. Various options are available to help you overcome abandonment issues from childhood. These are:

  • Therapy
  • Self-care
  • Challenging your negative beliefs

#1 Therapy for Abandonment Issues

Abandonment issues therapy can focus on different things, depending on the form of therapy you choose to go for. The main types of therapy for abandonment issues are:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT can help people to change their perspective on their fear by challenging their abandonment beliefs and restructuring their thinking to focus on their life now rather than their circumstances when they were a child. 
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR can support people in managing their past trauma experiences, reducing the effect of challenging early experiences on current life.  
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT uses various techniques to improve people’s ability to understand and manage their emotions and communicate these with their loved ones.

Couples therapy is also available if you’re experiencing abandonment fear in your relationships.

#2 Self-Care For Abandonment Issues

Being abandoned as a child often involves not having your emotional needs met. When we carry abandonment issues into our adulthood, we often continue the cycle by not meeting our own needs. 

One reparative way to make up for insufficient emotional care from childhood is to learn how to meet your emotional needs in adulthood. You can do this through self-care.

Self-care looks different for everyone. However, for someone with abandonment issues, self-care may involve:

  • Communicating your emotional needs to your partner.
  • Recognizing your past traumas and the influence this has on your current thoughts and behaviors.
  • Practicing mindfulness. 
  • Seeking therapy.
  • Getting help from a support group.
  • Learning ways to calm yourself in times of high-stress. 

Self-care could also involve challenging your negative abandonment beliefs–which we discuss in the next strategy.

#3 Challenging Your Abandonment Beliefs

Part of the reason why CBT works so well for abandonment issues and insecure attachment is because the therapist encourages you to challenge your negative beliefs. So, if you can begin to do this on your own, you can start to independently overcome abandonment issues.

Challenging your negative thoughts involves taking a step back from your negative self-talk and asking, “Is this really true?” But how can you do this? Challenging your abandonment beliefs could involve:

  • Logging your thoughts: Creating a thought journal has shown several key benefits in research; it helps to manage anxiety, reduce stress, and help people cope with depression. It can also assist you in tracking your symptoms and identifying triggers–so you can start developing coping strategies. 
  • Practicing gratitude: This technique helps to combat negative self-talk and alter your brain by increasing the release of “happy” hormones. This not only helps with abandonment issues, but can boost your overall mental health.
  • Trying mindfulness: Evidence suggests that regularly practicing mindfulness can increase your resilience, which can help to reduce the symptoms of abandonment issues. 

Final Words on Abandonment Issues and Attachment Styles

Abandonment issues and attachment issues can both arise after insufficient care in childhood. However, despite this big similarity, the two can occur separately.

Signs of abandonment issues differ depending on someone’s age; children often show abandonment issues through separation anxiety whereas an adult’s may manifest in negative beliefs about themselves and others and difficult to manage behaviors in relationships.

If you’re struggling with abandonment issues from childhood, it’s OK–it is possible to overcome these. It may take time and patience, but through therapy, self-care, and challenging your thoughts about abandonment, you can begin to conquer these fears and feel more in control of your life.

Abandonment issues and attachment issues can both arise after insufficient care in childhood. However, despite this big similarity, the two can occur separately.

Signs of abandonment issues differ depending on someone’s age; children often show abandonment issues through separation anxiety whereas an adult’s may manifest in negative beliefs about themselves and others and difficult to manage behaviors in relationships.

If you’re struggling with abandonment issues from childhood, it’s OK–it is possible to overcome these. It may take time and patience, but through therapy, self-care, and challenging your thoughts about abandonment, you can begin to conquer these fears and feel more in control of your life.

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