Letting your guard down and being your complete self around new acquaintances or a new love interest can be hard. But if you or a loved one have a hard time fully trusting or feeling confident around those you’re closest with, something deeper might be going on.
Feelings of distrust or insecurity—even with your closest friends—are common signs of abandonment issues, which can stem from childhood. You might not even realize or remember exactly why these feelings arise, but there is a way to try and work through them.
What are abandonment issues?
Abandonment issues typically stem from anxiety or a phobia of being alone, hurt or rejected and can affect the development of healthy relationships, according to Alyssa Mairanz, the founder of Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York. It’s a fear that everyone around you will eventually leave, usually because of deeply-rooted feelings that you are unlovable.
Abandonment issues negatively impact a person’s interpersonal relationships, both with themself and others.
“When we have poor relationships with ourselves, then this can lead to poor self-esteem, poor self-image, dependency on others or mood dysregulation,” said Sasha Jackson, a therapist based in Stockton, California. “When we have poor relationships with others, this can cause stress, loneliness and feelings of rejection.”
Signs of abandonment issues
Someone who experiences abandonment reacts negatively to real or imagined abandonment. Here are some of the main ways abandonment issues can manifest in someone:
- Throwing a tantrum
- Starting fights
- Aggression or violence
- Idealizing others
- Devaluing others to make yourself feel better
- Threatening to harm yourself to get your needs met
- Being a people pleaser
- Jealousy within an intimate relationship
- Lack of trust
- Feeling insecure with a partner
- Difficulty feeling emotionally intimate
- Seeking control or being controlled by a partner
- Frequent fear people are mad at you and you did something wrong
What causes abandonment issues?
Early childhood trauma can contribute to the development of abandonment issues as an adult. Events might include a lack of physical or emotional care as a child, death of a parent or divorce. Growing up in an invalidating environment (typically stemming from family but could include others like peers, teachers, etc.) provides feedback that your emotions are wrong. When you struggle to trust your own emotions, feeling safe and stable in relationships can be hard. This can lead to abandonment issues.
“Emotional abandonment might also stem from a lack of emotional support, such as being ridiculed as a child, treating a child as an adult peer or putting too much pressure on them to perform,” said Mairanz. “For instance, growing up in a household where expectations are high, and possibly even unrealistic, essentially expecting perfection.”
This can instill the idea that you are never good enough, making it hard to trust people will stick around. Abandonment issues may also develop from loss because of divorce or death of a close loved one.
“Attachment to others is important for our survival biologically and psychologically, so when an individual experiences rejection, then they can develop issues with abandonment,” said Jackson. “Trauma, negative experiences with caregivers/parents or learned behavior from caregiver/parents can also cause abandonment issues. Poor relationships, either platonic or romantic, can also compound abandonment issues.”
Types of abandonment issues
Although there are dozens of signs that might suggest a person has abandonment issues, they tend to manifest through one of three attachment types.
Disorganized attachment style
People with this attachment style can be inconsistent and have difficulty maintaining intimacy and relationships. This kind of hot and cold treatment can make things difficult for friends and partners. They may feel anxious about embarking on a relationship or avoid intimacy altogether.
Anxious attachment style
These people tend to feel less secure about all relationships. They may also express jealousy, controlling behavior or oversensitivity. In general, they have a negative or skeptical view of social interactions.
At the same time, anxiously attached people seek constant validation and relationship dependency to feel loved. They struggle being alone and may have a history of difficult or dramatic past relationships—the sort of person who insists all of their exes were the crazy ones.
Avoidant attachment style
In contrast with anxious attachment, these people tend to be more self-sufficient. They actually prefer being alone and may avoid commitment to opt for alone time instead.
Of the three styles, avoidant attachments are least interested in romantic relationships. They may have many friends but few very close and personal ones. Despite their security in their independence (or possibly because of it), they tend to have a hard time trusting others.
How common are abandonment issues?
A 2020 analysis by the Center for American Progress revealed that 1 in 4 young children have experienced adversity before age 4. Adversity can describe trauma and other issues that lead to abandonment.
“I would also say that it’s more common than statistics can show,” Mairanz said. “Often, people don’t realize they have abandonment issues and therefore don’t report it. That leads to people continuing to suffer rather than getting help.”
Treatment for abandonment issues
If this sounds like you or someone you love, take comfort in knowing that treatment for abandonment issues is widely available. It can even be overcome with an investment in self-care and emotional growth. Though the exact treatment path will depend on your attachment style, these are some of the best ways to try to overcome abandonment issues of all types/styles:
Seek the help of a mental health professional. Essentially, fear of abandonment leads to myths you create about yourself (i.e. no one will love me, I am not enough). The goal of counseling is to identify those myths and shift your thoughts to more factual observations.
Therapy for abandonment issues
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy is the one of the leading treatments to assist with attachment issues. The next helpful approach would be Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a popular form of exposure therapy that involves gradually putting yourself in situations where you feel fearful or uncomfortable. This can incrementally improve your behavior and mindset.
Self-care is one of the best ways to lessen abandonment issues.
“Putting yourself first and making the time to understand your needs and meeting them before someone else’s can help with abandonment issues,” Mairanz said. “Practicing mindfulness, attending a support group or journaling can improve your relationship with yourself and others.”
Be honest with yourself and your loved ones
Whether you think you’d like to enlist professional help to work through your issues or you’re hoping to work through them on your own, sharing your fear with loved ones and having an open dialogue about your thoughts also offer another path toward healing.