Do I Have Abandonment Anxiety?
Updated: Jan 4
Every human falls on the spectrum of abandonment and/or inundation injuries. Why? Because there’s no such thing as perfect attunement and as children we all end up with needs that were met and unmet by our caregivers. We develop defenses which can later create challenges in our relationships with ourselves and others. We can learn to recognize and work with our own psychology in order to lessen the frequency and intensity of our suffering. When we are more conscious of our patterns, we can enjoy giving and receiving love more easily. In this article we will go over what abandonment is and what living with abandonment anxiety looks like.
What is abandonment?
All children are entirely dependent upon their parents or caregivers. When a caretaker fails to offer support and meet the child’s needs, emotionally and physically on a consistent basis, it could be considered abandonment. One form of abandonment is physical neglect/maltreatment which includes being deprived of the care necessary to maintain physical or mental health. Examples include not providing basic items such as food, water, clothing, a safe place to live, medicine, or health care.
Another form of abandonment is emotional/psychological abuse which is deliberately causing mental or emotional pain. Examples include intimidation, coercion, ridiculing, harassment, treating an adult like a child, isolating an adult from family, friends, or regular activity, use of silence to control behavior, yelling or swearing which results in mental distress. The child witnessing an adult being abused has similar impacts. The child is left feeling inadequate, rejected, damaged, and filled with shame. Abandoned children are left believing it is not okay to make mistakes, that it is not okay to show their genuine emotions, wants or needs, and that it is not okay to be successful.
When parents abandon their children, their kids can grow up with the fundamental belief that they are unsafe in the world, and that people can not be trusted. This can lead to difficulties receiving positive attention or even adequate care from others. It can also leave an imprint of chronic stress and fear that lasts into adulthood.
What does living with abandonment anxiety look like?
Adults with abandonment wounds often struggle with relationship anxiety, as they fear people will leave them. This feeling can be so deeply rooted that it is unconscious. As such, it is vital to recognize the signs of abandonment issues so that these issues may be tackled head-on. They include:
Fear of giving too much or losing oneself in a relationship.
Pushing people away to avoid rejection. Rejecting first is perceived as safer.
People pleasing and/or apologizing too much.
Perpetuating codependent relationship dynamics.
Feeling insecure in intimate relationships and friendships.
Requiring repeated reassurances that one is loved.
Feeling the need to control others.
Jumping from one relationship to another, cheating or having inappropriate boundaries with others to keep multiple options of relationships open should one fail.
Systematically sabotaging relationships.
Other symptoms that may be experienced:
Panic or anxiety
Fear of being alone
Frequent physical illnesses
For someone who lacks self-esteem due to childhood abandonment, the fear of being abandoned again becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as their clinginess, and other negative behaviors tend to push away potential life partners and friends. Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you recognize and ultimately heal your abandonment issues.
Modern science is also teaching us about the long-term consequences of childhood abandonment. A recent study published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging found that the offspring of mothers with abandonment trauma actually inherit brain abnormalities– scientists are able to observe functional dysconnectivity between the amygdala and medial prefrontal regions of these children’s brains. This is what we commonly refer to as generational trauma, which often manifests as patterns of dysfunction which pass from one generation to the next. Healing one’s own trauma breaks this cycle and can also heal the brain.
There are many ways to help increase a sense of stability and consistency internally and externally so that we reconnect with authentic selves and decrease our abandonment anxiety. We may need extra support while doing this work in the form of a group, individual therapy, or a journaling practice.
For more on how to heal from abandonment please read our article "Living With Abandonment Anxiety: How to Heal From Your Longings and Fears," where we discuss abandonment anxiety signals, how to reduce its impact and how loved ones can provide support. If you feel you may struggle with different childhood issues you may benefit from reading the article about Inundation Anxiety as a result of a controlling caregiver.
Author: Lindsay Rosser, LMFT #87065 - Lindsay is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the owner of WellBeings Therapy. She is a Certified EMDR and Integrative Body Psychotherapist who primarily works with adults who experienced complex trauma as child. For more on Lindsay you can read her bio.
Editor: Mckenna Coffey, Pre-Licensed Therapist - Mckenna is a pre-licensed provider who joined WellBeings during her graduate studies at the University of Southern California. She is an integrative therapist with a trauma-focused, identity affirming, and sex positive practice. For more on Mckenna you can read her bio.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, Ph.D., Beverly Kitaen-Morse, Ph.D (1996). The Intimate Couple: Reaching New Levels of Sexual Excitement through Body Awakening and Relationship Renewal.
The Long Term Effects of Abandonment (2021, February 25). Retrieved from https://cptsdfoundation.org/2021/02/25/the-long-term-effects-of-abandonment/