Living With Abandonment Anxiety? Here’s How to Heal Your Longings and Fears
Updated: Jan 4
In this article we are going to focus on how to heal and overcome abandonment anxiety. Please reference the "Do I Have Abandonment Anxiety?" article which focuses on how we might obtain abandonment anxiety and what living with it as an adult might look like. This article focuses on identifying abandonment anxiety signals, practical action steps you can take in your day to day life and how loved ones can provide support while healing from abandonment issues.
Abandonment Anxiety Signals
Often, when there is an abandonment wound, there is a tendency to focus on how we are being treated by others. Yet, the first step to healing is turning inward and discovering your unique signals of abandonment. Everyone has a unique set of feelings, body sensations, and stories that get triggered by particular experiences that mimic the original abandonment wound in some way. Some of the following may help you identify your body clues more clearly. You may feel:
Longings in your chest; a calling or need for love, to embrace or reach out. Paradoxically, the outpouring of longings may cause a sinking, closing feeling in your chest from the effect of cutting off these painfully strong desires.
Oral habits, desires, or obsessions; smoking, drinking, biting fingernails, eating, etc.
Eyes that search restlessly from face to face, object to object, eyes that seek but do not really see. Vision and other senses that are fuzzy or dull.
Holding onto a conversation after delivering the message, a reluctance to hang up the telephone, or a need to reveal more about yourself than anyone asked to know, telling the same stories to many people or too many times.
Colds, sore throats, stomach upsets, headaches, and other physical symptoms. These pains inadvertently allow you to nurture yourself - something you crave.
Breathing shallowly or holding your breath, then desperately sucking air in, sighing or muttering expressions of sadness, “oh dear, my god, oh brother, what will I do?”
Rapid heart rate accompanied by anxiety, jittery feelings of panic in your body.
Tears for no reason, lump in the throat, cracking of the voice, and feelings of loneliness.
Thoughts and dreams about death.
Make every effort to detect abandonment signals early while it is easiest to restore your sense of wellbeing. Abandonment anxiety is cumulative, and the longer symptoms linger in your body-psyche, the more opportunity for everyday slights to be compounded into a total fragmentation (aka emotional dysregulation) and all the problems that this state brings about. Remember that if you carry a large load of abandonment, it takes only the tiniest injury to make your load become unbearable. With awareness and patience, healing is possible.
Healing & Recovering
What happened to you was not your fault but, it is your responsibility to learn how to lower your abandonment anxiety. Only you can do the work to heal these emotional injuries. Don’t forget that your emotional pain did not originate in the present or with your partner. It is an old unresolved wound that needs tending to. When it is difficult to contain your feelings and thoughts, write them in your journal rather than spilling them out on others in an attempt to soothe your discomfort. In this way your journal can hold them for examination so they can deepen or dissolve with clarity.
These are practical suggestions for keeping your abandonment anxiety at a lower level. Building consistency in your life is one of the most important themes.
1. Create a routine.
Eat, exercise, sleep, etc, at the same time of day.
Shop at the same stores - use the same checkout person.
Use a planner.
Schedule regular activities as well as pleasant social occasions. This will keep you from feeling adrift. Know when you will see someone you care about next.
In relationships, schedule certain routine times for skin time, sex, conversation and nonproductive playtime.
2. Develop friends you can count on and see them regularly. Allow yourself to work through the anxiety and vulnerability of creating new friendships by attending new community events, social clubs, or start a new hobby (other than work and chores).
3. Develop consistency, order, a sense of wellbeing, and prevent feelings of isolation through reading, writing, art, outdoor activities, etc.
4. Give yourself positive messages and compassion - the ones you needed and wanted to hear as a child. Learn to treat yourself like you would want to be treated by others.
5. Become an avid journal writer. It can become a trusted friend. Making our thoughts and feelings into physical reality helps decrease rumination.
6. Pets keep you connected to something alive. Gardening does too, and is also grounding.
7. When you travel...
Always plan where and what you are going to do
Stay in familiar hotels
To feel more included, participate in the planning
Carry pictures of loved ones wherever you go
Bring anything you need for your self-care practices (i.e. yoga mat, essential oils, etc)
8. Learn to meditate and develop a mindfulness practice. It will deepen the connection to yourself.
9. Try to have jobs where you work with others on a regular schedule. Don’t work with unreliable people. People who show up late or not at all will upset you more than you can tolerate. Be choosy as each disappointment will increase a sense of abandonment.
10. Change your residence as little as possible. When you must move, make your new home as comfortable and homey as you can, and do so quickly.
11. Shop with a friend. You’ll be less likely to long for things you can’t have.
12. Never spend holidays alone. Plan ahead to spend them with people you want to be with or volunteer your time to a venture you feel connected to.
13. Exercise regularly, with a partner or trainer, if possible. Team sports or group exercise classes are ideal. Exercise helps you gain a sense of wellbeing, strength, and consistency in your body.
How can I help a loved one who has abandonment anxiety?
Should you love someone who has abandonment issues, there are ways you can support them while they heal. Remember it is their responsibility to learn how to identify, interrupt and repair their anxiety and it’s not about you and what you did/said that triggered them but, an unresolved wound that lives inside of them. Do not take on the responsibility of healing this for them. What you can do is validate their fears and allow them to feel seen and heard by you. This means that you should acknowledge their feelings of abandonment without judgment. This move is vital to maintaining open communication. Validating a loved one’s fears doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but instead, supporting their feelings to further build on trust and compassion.
You can do this by following the six-level approach mentioned in Psychology Today.
Be present and actively listen to their concerns.
Reflect and summarize your loved one’s feelings verbally and without judgment.
Listen to what they say and help them identify their emotions.
Understand their history so you can openly state that you understand when circumstances trigger their past history of abandonment.
“Normalize” their fears by acknowledging the fact that others with their history have fears of abandonment and that their feelings are understandable.
Use radical genuineness to deeply validate your loved one and share your loved one’s fears as your own.
When you get into an argument with someone with a high level of abandonment anxiety it's crucial that you give them an exact time you will come back to the conversation should you need to take a break. Taking a break is a healthy choice and the partner with abandonment issues needs to also allow you to have space to calm down and gather your thoughts. Try to take at least a 20 minute break when needed but, no longer than 24 hours before coming back together to revisit the subject.
This article lays the foundation for understanding abandonment anxiety and how to work with it. Continuing to work on creating more consistency in your own self-love and self-care practices will be vital to your recovery as this was in some way missing for you in childhood. Be all that you need for yourself now - show up and do not abandon yourself when you most need your own support!
Perhaps this article didn't resonate as much and you are still searching for more information about your own childhood experience. If so, please read this article about Inundation Anxiety which is often the result of a controlling, powerful or overly involved 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.
Rosenberg, J., Kitean-Morse, B. (1996) The Intimate Couple: Reaching New Levels of Sexual Excitement Through Body Awakening and Relationship Renewal. Nashville, TN: Turner Publishing.
The Long Term Effects of Abandonment (2021, February 25). Retrieved from https://cptsdfoundation.org/2021/02/25/the-long-term-effects-of-abandonment/
Understanding Validation: A Way to Communicate Acceptance (2012, April 26). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pieces-mind/201204/understanding-validation-way-communicate-acceptance