Abandonment Issues: Signs, Causes, and How to Heal

February 20, 2024

Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff, looking down at the vast void below. The fear that grips you is primal, instinctive. That’s what it can feel like for someone dealing with abandonment issues. While someone can avoid heights if they fear them, the fear of abandonment operates on a more insidious level, weaving subtly through the fabric of our lives. Often lurking beneath the surface, this fear is not always one we're consciously aware of. It manifests through various symptoms, influencing our daily lives, relationships, and mental health in profound ways. But why do some people fear abandonment to such an extent? What causes these issues, and how can they be addressed? Join us on a journey to unravel the complexities of abandonment issues and explore the path to healing.

Key Takeaways

  • Abandonment issues are rooted in fears of being deserted or rejected and can manifest into trust issues, jealousy, and codependency, often stemming from childhood trauma, unstable relationships, or loss.
  • Recognizing and addressing one’s attachment style may be important in understanding behaviors in relationships and guides in developing healthier coping strategies and nurturing secure relationships.
  • Therapy plays a critical role in treating abandonment issues through cognitive-behavioral techniques, emotional regulation strategies, and building interpersonal skills, with services like those offered by Resilience Lab providing accessible and holistic support.

What Are Abandonment Issues?

Abandonment anxiety, also known as abandonment issues or abandonment fears, refers to profound fears of being deserted or turned down, fears that can negatively impact mental health and significantly alter behaviors and relationships. This intense concern about being unneeded or overlooked can lead to:

  • Trust issues
  • Suspicion
  • Jealousy
  • Codependency

Abandonment issues manifest in a variety of ways, one of which includes neglecting one's own needs and engaging in people-pleasing behaviors to avoid rejection. This pattern can lead to unhealthy relationships and contribute to the development of mental health conditions. However, it's important to acknowledge that the impact of abandonment issues varies widely among individuals, with each person experiencing and responding to these challenges in their own unique manner.

In relationships marked by abandonment issues, navigating validation and support requires careful balance. Recognizing an individual's emotions is crucial for trust and empathy, yet an over-reliance on external validation can strain relationships. Constant reassurance may burden partners, fostering resentment and potentially leading to the rejection feared in the first place. Thus, it's vital to encourage a blend of understanding and self-reliance, avoiding the pitfalls of dependency while fostering secure, resilient connections.

The Psychological Impact

Abandonment issues can wreak havoc on an individual’s emotional landscape, leading to a storm of intense negative emotions, mood swings, and an increased propensity for arguments. These issues may be linked to an underlying mental health condition, such as borderline personality disorder, characterized by a profound fear of abandonment.

Moreover, individuals grappling with abandonment issues may also experience anxiety and depression due to the psychological impact of their fears. These issues can significantly affect romantic relationships, as individuals may struggle to trust their partners and maintain healthy connections. Additionally, abandonment issues may detrimentally affect self-esteem, resulting in trust issues that complicate personal relationships and distorted self-perception.

Person feeling distressed and alone

Different Types of Attachment Styles

Attachment styles may play a crucial role in our adult relationships and are influenced by our ongoing interpersonal experiences. 

The concept of attachment styles is not yet scientifically proven in a concrete way. Psychoanalyst John Bowlby and psychologist Mary Ainsworth originally addressed these attachment categories in the 1950’s and ‘70s, focusing on the relationships infants formed with their caretakers. Decades later, researchers began looking into these styles as related to adult relationships. 

As additional investigation into attachment styles continues, it’s becoming clearer that these styles are likely dynamic, capable of evolving over time as new experiences either reinforce or challenge our existing patterns of attachment. Furthermore, underlying mental health conditions may impact the development of abandonment issues and affect how our attachment styles adapt. This emphasizes the fluid nature of attachment, underlining its continuous shaping by both past and present interactions. Psychologists identify four main attachment styles:

1. Secure Attachment: Individuals with a secure attachment style generally have a positive view of themselves and their relationships. They feel comfortable with intimacy and independence, balancing both effectively. This style is less likely to be associated with abandonment issues, as it stems from consistent, responsive caregiving in childhood.

2. Anxious Attachment: Characterized by a preoccupation with relationships and a fear of abandonment, people with an anxious attachment style often seek validation and reassurance from others. This style is closely linked to abandonment issues, with individuals feeling insecure and overly dependent on their partners for emotional support.

3. Avoidant Attachment: Those with an avoidant attachment style typically maintain emotional distance from others, valuing their independence and self-sufficiency above intimate relationships. They may dismiss or suppress their feelings, which can be a defensive response to early experiences of neglect or rejection, indirectly relating to abandonment issues.

4. Disorganized Attachment: A disorganized attachment style arises from a lack of clear attachment behavior. It's marked by confusion and inconsistency in relationships, often as a result of traumatic or unpredictable caregiving. This style can be directly related to abandonment issues, with individuals exhibiting both anxious and avoidant behaviors, indicating deep insecurity and confusion about close relationships.

Each style describes how individuals form interpersonal relationships based on their early childhood experiences.

Individuals with an anxious attachment style may bring this insecurity into adulthood, potentially resulting in abandonment issues. On the other hand, a secure attachment style may pave the way for more positive and healthier relationships. Hence, gaining insight into one’s own attachment style can be vital to helping us understand relationship behaviors and fears while navigating towards healthier relationships and coping strategies.

What Causes Abandonment Issues?

Various factors can give rise to abandonment issues, each making a unique impact on a person’s psyche. They can be traced back to:

  • Traumatic events
  • Unstable or abusive relationships
  • The death of a loved one or the end of a relationship
  • Consistently unmet emotional needs

Each of these factors can seed the fear of abandonment, gradually blossoming into a deep-rooted issue that clouds the individual’s relationships and emotional health.

Childhood Trauma

Childhood experiences form a backdrop against which our understanding of the world is shaped. Any traumatic events during this period can leave lasting imprints on our psyche. Instances such as neglect, abuse, or other forms of childhood trauma can elevate the likelihood of developing a fear of abandonment, instilling feelings of:

  • Insecurity
  • Shame
  • Low self-worth
  • Fears of rejection

Traumatic Relationships

Abandonment issues can also arise from traumatic relationships characterized by abuse or instability. Such relationships can impact an individual’s emotional development and their capacity to form stable, secure relationships.

Experiences like infidelity or physical and emotional abandonment within these relationships can deeply instill the fear of being left again, contributing to the development of abandonment issues.

Death, Grief, or Loss

The loss of a loved one, particularly someone who provided emotional support or companionship, can elicit intense feelings of abandonment. This loss can result in a lasting apprehension of facing similar distress in the future, leading to the development of abandonment issues.

Unmet Emotional Needs

Unmet emotional needs, particularly during crucial caregiving or in romantic partnerships, can also contribute to feelings of abandonment. Emotional neglect, which is the prolonged absence of emotional support and connection, can lead to fears of abandonment and influence future relationships. This makes individuals feel unseen, unheard, and unimportant in the relationship, leading to a profound sense of loneliness and abandonment as they yearn for emotional connection and validation that isn’t being fulfilled.

Signs of Abandonment Issues

Like footprints in the sand, abandonment issues leave clear signs in an individual’s behavior and relationships. These can include:

  • A persistent feeling of distress
  • Separation anxiety
  • Difficulty in trusting others
  • An intense sensitivity to criticism or rejection
  • A lack of boundaries in relationships

These signs can affect an individual’s capacity to form secure attachments and have a significant impact on relationships, leading to difficulties in communication and trust.

How To Heal From Abandonment Issues

While the journey through abandonment issues may appear overwhelming, it is not a path one must traverse alone. Armed with the right tools and support, it’s possible to sail through these stormy waters. Overcoming abandonment issues oftentimes requires:

  • the development of coping strategies
  • professional mental health support
  • nurturing of secure relationships
  • comprehension of one’s attachment styles

Developing Healing and Coping Skills

Building coping and healing skills is akin to constructing a lifeboat that helps you stay afloat in turbulent emotional waters. These skills facilitate self-discovery and the confrontation of fears, leading to positive changes that support individuals in healing from their abandonment issues.

Some tools that can help in processing emotions and formulating adaptive coping mechanisms include:

  • Mindfulness
  • Self-awareness
  • Journaling
  • Creative expression

These tools can aid in articulating emotions, recognizing triggers, and attaining insight into experiences. Self-care is crucial in promoting personal well-being and recovery from abandonment issues. For many individuals it can be difficult to develop these skills or to even identify the signs of abandonment issues or separation anxiety without the help of a mental health professional.

Get started with therapy today.

Our team can help you find the right therapist.

Seeking Support from Mental Health Professionals

Enlisting the help of mental health professionals equates to having a seasoned navigator on this journey. Therapists at Resilience Lab, for instance, can offer guidance and support to help individuals address their abandonment issues. Therapy can provide individuals with the necessary resources to manage apprehensions related to abandonment and reduce their influence on daily functioning.

Therapeutic techniques, including:

  • Attachment-based therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy

Therapists may do some inner child healing work. Here, therapists will help clients identify the source of their pain, or what contributed to negative core beliefs that shaped how they see themselves and the world. From there, they will help the client get in touch with the part of them that was hurt in the past to understand what happened, how it made them feel, what they would have liked to say/hear/do, and how they can nurture themselves now. Therapists may use Internal Family Systems (IFS), Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), or other trauma-based interventions. The goal is to heal and move forward.

Cultivating Secure Relationships

Establishing secure relationships can provide you with the support and trust that you need to move past abandonment fears or abandonment anxiety that has plagued you. Building secure relationships involves:

  • Establishing trust
  • Promoting open communication
  • Nurturing self-trust
  • Seeking therapy if necessary

These steps are crucial in cultivating secure relationships.

Open and honest communication plays a pivotal role in nurturing secure relationships, allowing individuals to freely articulate their thoughts and emotions. Implementing strategies such as:

  • practicing gratitude
  • perceiving challenges as opportunities for personal development
  • engaging in relaxation and self-care activities
  • actively listening
  • expressing appreciation for each other

Emotional stability can maintain healthy relationships.

Develop A Deeper Understanding of Your Attachment Style

Gaining insight into your attachment style can serve as a compass for navigating your relationships. Acknowledging your attachment style can help recognize patterns that contribute to abandonment issues and steer you towards more constructive relationships and coping mechanisms.

Each individual has different attachment styles which may play a significant role in separation anxiety and abandonment fears. It offers insight into your relational tendencies and responses to the fear of abandonment, allowing you to modify these patterns to foster healthier relationships.

Symptoms of Fear of Abandonment & How It Can Impact Your Life

The fear of abandonment, comparable to a looming storm, can display a range of symptoms, influencing mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. These symptoms can include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Distress or anxiety upon separation from loved ones
  • Difficulty in trusting others
  • Sensitivity to criticism or rejection
  • Lack of boundaries in relationships
  • Fear of intimacy or closeness
  • A general sense of distrust

The fear of abandonment can also have a significant impact on an individual’s mental health, potentially leading to long-term challenges. This fear may manifest in destructive behaviors that can harm relationships, such as insecurity, self-sabotaging actions, and fear of emotional intimacy. These behaviors are often indicative of trauma and insecure attachment, which can stem from mental health conditions or past experiences of abuse, neglect, or psychosocial stress during childhood.

The Role of Therapy in Healing From Abandonment Issues

Therapy, acting as a beacon guiding ships through tumultuous weather, can be instrumental in healing from abandonment issues. Therapy serves as a critical navigational tool for individuals grappling with abandonment issues, offering not just a way to cope but a path to healing. It integrates trauma-focused approaches to address the deep-seated links between trauma, attachment styles, and abandonment fears. Through techniques like trauma-informed cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), therapists help clients identify and transform harmful thought patterns and beliefs fueling their fear of abandonment.

Although the exact process can differ based on the individuals circumstances as well as the individual mental health professional they are seeing, the process of trauma therapy can involve:

  • Recognizing specific thoughts and beliefs that perpetuate abandonment fears.
  • Actively challenging and reframing these thoughts.
  • Cultivating healthier, more adaptive thought patterns.

Trauma treatment is central to this therapeutic journey, emphasizing stabilization, processing, and integration of traumatic experiences. This foundational work paves the way for changing detrimental attachment styles by:

  • Building emotional regulation strategies to manage intense emotions and mood swings, thus providing clients with tools to adjust, enhance, sustain, or diminish their emotional responses.
  • Enhancing interpersonal skills to improve communication, establish healthy boundaries, and build trust within relationships. Techniques such as active listening, effective communication strategies, role-playing, and problem-solving are employed to strengthen these skills.

Therapy, in this context, goes beyond mere coping mechanisms. It aims to facilitate a deep, transformative healing process, allowing individuals to navigate their fears of abandonment with newfound resilience and emotional agility. By addressing trauma at its root and fostering a secure attachment style, therapy offers a comprehensive approach to overcoming the challenges posed by abandonment issues.

Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

Cognitive-behavioral techniques function as a compass, assisting in the identification and modification of detrimental thought patterns associated with abandonment issues. These methods focus on:

  • Identifying the particular thoughts and beliefs that fuel the fear of abandonment
  • Confronting and challenging these thoughts and beliefs
  • Shifting perspectives and developing healthier thought patterns

By utilizing these techniques, individuals can work towards overcoming their fear of abandonment and improving their overall well-being.

Cognitive-behavioral techniques foster self-compassion and provide emotional coping mechanisms for managing abandonment-related feelings.

Emotional Regulation Strategies

Emotional regulation strategies serve as a ship’s rudder, aiding in navigating the tempestuous waves of intense emotions and mood swings linked to fears of abandonment. These strategies provide the tools to:

  • Adjust
  • Enhance
  • Sustain
  • Diminish

emotional reactions, enabling individuals to manage their emotional landscape more effectively.

Building Interpersonal Skills

Developing interpersonal skills is akin to fortifying the ship’s crew, enhancing communication and trust within relationships, and thus mitigating abandonment issues. Therapists can aid individuals by fostering their self-esteem, educating them on establishing healthy boundaries, and facilitating effective communication with partners.

Employing strategies such as:

  • active listening
  • practicing effective communication
  • role-playing
  • problem-solving

Talk therapy can enhance communication, foster relationships, and promote emotional well-being.

Navigating Abandonment Issues with Resilience Lab

The journey through the turbulent waters of abandonment issues doesn’t have to be undertaken alone. At Resilience Lab, a supportive environment is offered to help individuals weather the storm of abandonment issues, connect with the right therapist, and provide holistic, affordable care. Our methodology behind therapy provides a personalized experience for your unique needs.

Connecting with the Right Therapist

Finding the right therapist is equivalent to securing a seasoned co-captain who can work together with you to steer through the storm. Resilience Lab assists in connecting individuals with the appropriate therapist to address abandonment issues, separation anxiety, or other issues that are unique to you. With access to a community of inclusive and experienced therapists, individuals can find high-quality mental health care and affordable payment options to treat abandonment issues.

Holistic and Affordable Care

Offering holistic and affordable care is akin to preparing a well-equipped ship that’s ready to withstand the storm. Resilience Lab integrates comprehensive care in our therapy programs, prioritizing:

  • Therapeutic fit
  • Collaborative work
  • Holistic treatment
  • Personalized care
  • Measurable outcomes

We ensure the accessibility of mental health services by providing group therapy programs, collaborating with insurance providers, and offering affordable payment options, enabling access to high-quality care for all individuals.


Sailing through the stormy seas of abandonment issues may seem overwhelming, but armed with the right tools and understanding, it is a journey that can lead to calmer waters. Understanding the nature of abandonment issues, their causes, and their manifestations can empower individuals to navigate these challenges. Coping strategies, the support of mental health professionals, and cultivating secure relationships can serve as lighthouses guiding us through the storm. Understanding your attachment style can provide a compass, pointing the way to healthier relationships. Therapy, especially when provided in a supportive and holistic environment like Resilience Lab, can be a beacon of hope, guiding the way towards healing and recovery. So, let’s set sail on the journey of understanding, acceptance, and healing, knowing that the storm does pass, and calmer waters lie ahead.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 5 stages of abandonment?

Although there can be a variety of different stages of abandonment and the experience can be unique for each individual, there have been 5 stages that have been popularized in recent years. The 5 stages of abandonment are shattering, withdrawal, internalizing, rage, and lifting, which is often referred to as S.W.I.R.L. These stages correspond to various aspects of human functioning and evoke distinct emotional reactions. Although these are 5 common stages of abandonment fear, it is possible that you experience other stages or these stages in a different order.

How does a person with abandonment issues act?

An individual who struggles with abandonment issues can act in a variety of different ways that can vary in degree of noticeability. Mental health and these types of issues are rarely a "one size fits all" which means that someone who is struggling with abandonment fears can potentially act in many different ways. There is potential that a person with abandonment issues may develop harmful communication techniques such as attention-seeking behavior and impulsivity to ease their anxiety. It's important to be understanding and supportive in such situations.

How should I interact with abandonment issues?

When supporting someone with abandonment issues, it’s crucial to maintain a sensitive and understanding approach. It’s important to avoid making promises that you cannot keep, as this can reinforce their fears. Minimizing their feelings or telling them they are overreacting is counterproductive; instead, their emotions should be acknowledged and validated. Steer clear of surprising them with sudden changes, as stability is key to their sense of security.

Consistent communication is essential for healthy relationships; erratic contact can exacerbate their anxiety. Criticism or mockery of their fears should be avoided, as it can deepen their distress. Patience is necessary, as healing from abandonment issues takes time, and pressuring them to quickly overcome these feelings can be harmful. Most importantly, their fears should never be used against them in conflicts, emphasizing the need for a compassionate and trustworthy environment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis and needs immediate help, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Clinically Reviewed by Christine Carville, LCSW-R.

Christine Carville, LCSW-R, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Resilience Lab. Christine developed the Resilience Methodology, a trans-theoretical training model for therapists to provide individualized, flexible, trauma-informed care. She has also been teaching at the Columbia School of Social Work since 2016 and continues to maintain her own private psychotherapy practice.

Get started with therapy today.

Our team can help you find the right therapist.