“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”
~ Brené Brown
The fear of abandonment is very real and can negatively impact a relationship and even sabotage it, if you aren’t careful.
It stems from prior relationships, childhood and adult, in which the person wasn’t there for you.
The emotional impact is still felt and the fear that someone will leave you in the present triggers all the old feelings of being abandoned unconsciously, subconsciously, and consciously.
The problem is that the fear presents itself in the present even if the person you are with is not going to abandon you and it is a powerful and all-encompassing fear.
You then act on your fear and the other person may feel smothered, confused, accused, misunderstood, rejected, and threatened and as a result, may actually leave.
Here is how you overcome the fear of abandonment.
Recognize you have it.
The signs are overreaction to being separated from a person, clinging then pushing away, imagined fears of the person cheating, extreme jealousy, possessiveness, and assuming the relationship is going to be over anyway.
Identify where it came from.
- Was it from your childhood or a prior relationship?
- What happened? How did it affect you?
- Why did you feel abandoned?
- Was it emotional and physical abandonment or just one of those two?
Identify how it is triggered in your current relationship.
What does the other person do or not do that triggers it? Be specific so you will be able to recognize it when it comes up.
Identify how it manifests in your current relationship.
- What do you do when you feel abandoned?
- What are your thoughts?
- What are your emotions?
- How do you act on those thoughts and emotions?
- Do you push the person away, get clingy, imagine things, feel irritable, panic or anything else?
Talk to your partner about it.
Own it as your problem. Express how it originated and how it is manifested. Express your desire to change your reaction and enlist the person’s help. It is not the other person’s responsibility to change this for you; however, if they are supportive and understanding when it occurs, it can really help you.
Detach from the feeling.
Here is the most important step.
When you feel abandoned, rather than acting on the feeling, you recognize it and then rationally decide whether it is real or not real.
If your partner is abandoning you, then you need to make a decision about whether you want to continue the relationship.
If your partner isn’t, then you need to identify the feelings as old feelings not connected to reality and then act on the reality rather than the old feelings. Eventually, the feelings will go away.
Karla Downing, MFT – www.changemyrelationship.com
Remember playing hide-and-seek as a child?
If you were like me, your competitive side wanted to find the best hiding place EVER, somewhere no one would think to look, a place from which you could emerge triumphant after all the other kids had been found.
But another, softer, side of us thought the act of hiding was kind of boring and lonely, right?
Scary, even. And so, in the middle of a game, we might start to panic a bit as the minutes went by and the other hiders were, one by one, discovered and released.
This softer side of us wanted desperately to be found.
Even today, though most of us are well past the age of neighborhood hide-and-seek, we find we still experience this same hiding tension.
Because, truth be told, the competitive and fearful side of us still has a major interest in hiding from the rest of the rest of the world, even from our partners.
So, we often don’t say what we really think, for fear of looking stupid. Or we hesitate to reveal our true feelings, especially if they have the potential to offend or create distance.
And when we am feeling most broken and alone, we are REALLY wary of revealing this, because we’re convinced no one, not even our partner, will understand.
Here’s the thing – a special kind of tragedy occurs when we’re too scared to share our unique perspective, our one-of-a-kind us-shaped puzzle piece, with the world.
As Anne Wilson Schaef so wisely observes,
“When we change ourselves to fit into a situation, we may be depriving that situation of the very element it needs to become what it can become.”
Yes. A partnership in which only one person speaks their true mind is only really a partnership of one, and is missing the richness of multiple perspectives.
Moreover, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we feel bored, lonely, and even despairing, when we withhold who we really are, what we really believe and feel, from our most important relationships.
Bored (and boring!) because we are so one-dimensional in this place. Lonely because we realize we have missed a chance to truly and authentically connect with our partner. Despairing because we don’t really want to remain hidden from this person, even if there is risk involved in revealing ourselves.
So don’t hold back. Reveal your true self. Let yourself be found.
Anne Barker, LCSW, LIMHP – www.barkertherapyarts.com
The fear of abandonment is really an issue of developing more self-confidence and autonomy when you enter a relationship.
It means you become a more secure, selective woman, resulting in the kind of “match” you want, feel good about and know is right for you.
It means you feel empowered, a sense that you truly know how important you really are.
An empowered woman knows that it’s okay to look for what pleases her and to shy away from what doesn’t.
Empowerment allows her to think independently and to live authentically, speaking and acting from her own convictions and values.
So, how do you overcome the fear of being abandoned, even if you consider yourself an empowered woman?
Continue to work on yourself, as you are a work in progress. Continue following your daily routines, nurturing yourself by repeating how well you are doing and how you really do deserve to be happy and fulfilled.
Know that your partner is lucky to have you by his side and that your relationship is valuable because it enhances all that you both are.
But remember, the most important relationship you have in your life is with yourself.
To find someone you like is great, but to like yourself is even greater. To respect your partner with admiration and love is important, but is more vital to believe in yourself and all the good in life that you deserve.
Here are some things to consider to maintain your strong sense of self and value:
1. Depend on yourself and those you most trust to encourage, support and lighten up a situation when you are feeling down.
It is empowering to know that you can decide how you feel, no matter what the circumstance.
2. Don’t be a martyr, sacrificing yourself on behalf of your new partner.
Take care of yourself, above all else, to ensure you maintain your health and well-being.
3. You life is yours to control.
Work on managing your challenges with skills that overcome obstacles and help you bounce back from adversity.
You will no longer fear being abandoned, when you know that you are a worthy, special woman, who does not need a relationship, but rather wants a relationship that enhances the unique qualities you already have.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
Through experience, I’ve come to feel that abandonment is one of the most suppressing and sabotaging fears that a human being can carry.
The fear of abandonment can show up in the most sneaky and unlikely of ways and can sabotage potentially great relationships.
It is of vital importance to get radically real about your past experiences and understand that healing in this area is priority one.
Unfortunately, there is no quickie method that can or will heal your abandonment issues. Each issue is completely unique to each person as were the details surrounding the event(s).
Additionally, we all process and react to situations as differently as each strand of our individual DNA. What I do know is that there are certain things we can do that can start us on our healing path.
How quickly and how effectively it works is completely up to the individual depending on
- how much time is spent focusing on healing
- the person’s determination to heal and
- the courage to keep going forward no matter what.
Being a person who has been abandoned in several different ways throughout my lifetime, I will share with you the work I did/do to heal the immobilizing fear of abandonment.
- I learned and came to understand that their abandonment was not about me. What others do is about them. It has nothing to do with my worth.
- I learned and understand that I cannot truly be abandoned unless I abandon myself. Others will do what they will, but if I always have me, I am safe.
- I learned that through forgiveness of another’s dark behavior, I heal a massive piece of my heart which allows me to have a clearer vision of the past and of my future. I take my power back through forgiveness.
- I understand that I have to be 100% open and vulnerable about my experience with my new person so that he has the opportunity to understand when/if I act from my fearful place.
- I understand that the “right” person for me will be willing to see me through my fearful moments and love me back to center.
Yes, abandonment is tough, really tough, however, it is 100% heal-able. As with everything in life, we must be willing to step up with courage and do the work necessary to manifest our dream life. It all starts within.
Kristen Brown, Certified Empowerment Coach/Mentor – www.facebook.com/SweetEmpowermentLifeCoaching
As with any fear it helps to break it down.
Fear of abandonment seems to me to be pretty universal, you might say it’s part of the human condition. That said, some struggle with it more than others. Maybe it helps to take small bites from the elephant and to tackle it gently, slowly and with compassion.
It helps to ask good questions.
Some of these include: what am I afraid of and how realistic is this? It could help to do some reality testing here. Will I really end up on the streets or a depressed alcoholic or whatever the fear might be?
Maybe the fear is co-created.
That is, if you are in a relationship with a person who is not committed, then abandonment issues will naturally be triggered. You feel vulnerable and exposed while not certain that you can trust this person to be there.
Sometimes it comes back to basic survival issues.
Maybe you worry you won’t be able to support yourself emotionally or financially. Then, it might be wise to take steps to move in a direction that feels supportive of your development and growth.
This might mean reaching out to increase your connectedness to others in a supportive way. It might mean that you take steps to become more skilled or more employable.
Alternatively, it could mean that you learn to manage money better or to curtail your spending.
It might look like developing skills in fostering resilience.
All of these steps would be moves towards creating and fostering independence. When you can trust yourself to “be there” for yourself, to back yourself, then the fear diminishes.
As trust grows so fear recedes.
It could be that you have never learnt to rely on yourself.
What would it look like to be able to trust yourself to be there for yourself?
In other words, to honor your needs and define what’s truly important for you. If you invest your energy in fear of abandonment you are also not investing your energy in what you need.
Another approach is to look at your past and face what needs to be healed.
Maybe you feared losing an important person growing up or maybe you experienced trauma and loss at a young age. These are real issues that need to be processed in order to move through fear of loss and abandonment.
Perhaps you have abandonment issues that stem from your very early development.
In this case you might like to have compassion for the small child that was not able to feel secure and safe in the world, not able to feel that there was a solid and reliable care-giver who could meets the needs of a very vulnerable child.
Meeting this child now with the compassion of your adult self can help to soothe the child within.
Have compassion for yourself and for others.
We are all fragile human beings with various unmet needs and fears. Take it gently, one step at a time. Take a deep sustaining breath and face into those fears with an attitude of curiosity and love. Do it again and again.
Margie Ulbrick, LLB/BA/GD SOCSCI – www.margieulbrickcounselling.com
We often look to our childhood experiences and the famed “daddy issues” to understand why we fear being abandoned by a partner.
Although it is true that early experiences may create barriers to developing relationship security, I believe trust in a relationship comes from the everyday emotional interactions we have with our loved ones.
Particularly, the exchange of attunement and nurturing that occurs between (and within) ourselves and another has a critical influence upon felt relationship security.
Childhood experiences can sometimes teach us that it is either unsafe, unrealistic or burdensome to ask others to understand and respond to our emotional needs.
This creates a pattern of emotional suppression, lack of self-understanding, and a reluctance to allow others to accommodate the emotional needs we have.
In order to feel safe in a relationship, to have trust and avoid fear of abandonment, we must feel “seen” by another and have faith that our partners can take the needed steps to nurture what they understand our needs to be.
Without this sense of attunement and nurturing from another, it is virtually impossible to avoid the “irrational” fears and insecurities that manifest as “abandonment issues.”
To overcome fear of abandonment, one must establish trust.
Trust comes not from the absence of bad experiences in a relationship, but rather from the presence of a strong relational exchange (a freely-flowing current of attunement and nurturing between yourself and your partner.)
To build emotional security in your relationship, start by identifying and challenging the underlying assumptions, labels, fears and self-stigmas that prevent you from giving yourself sufficient emotional attention.
Make your feelings a priority and allow others to make your feelings a priority too. Stop saying “nothing is wrong” when your partner asks you how you are feeling. Stop telling yourself you are burdensome or weak when you share emotional needs. Challenge the idea that you are creating undue strain on your partner by asking for and gratefully accepting emotional nurturing.
When you and your partner emphasize and attend to emotional needs in each other, you will see a reduction in fears of abandonment, an increase in emotional intimacy, and an overall improvement in relationship security.
Further, when you find “irrational” insecurities getting the best of you, try resolving these fears through the redoubling of self-empathy, emotional communication and active nurturing from without as well as from within.
Brett McDonald, M.S., LMHC – www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/brett-rene-mcdonald
Overcoming fear of abandonment is not a simple process of following a few easy steps.
That tight, constricted feeling that grips your body and the irrational voice that tells you that you will be nothing without him comes from a very old place and has been with you for a long time.
The key to letting go of that old fear is to recognize that it is old, that it is not about now, and that it is based on a lie.
The lie is that you are somehow not good enough just as you are and that you need to be completed by another person.
The lie says that you have to hang on really tightly, or be lost. That is the feeling of a little child who really did have to look outside of herself to get her needs met.
You are no longer that little child; when that fear of abandonment comes up, breathe and bring yourself back to the present.
The truth is that when you let go of that old fear, when you realize that you are whole already, that is when you create the space for true connection in your relationship.
It is ironic that trying very hard to hold on tight keeps you in that fearful place. Relationships need room to breathe, and fear brings constriction and suffocation.
Letting go creates room to breathe, and it begins with believing in your inherent wholeness.
It takes practice and is not easy, but both you and your relationship will grow as a result.
Wendy Dingee, MS, LCPC, LCADC, BCC – www.livewellnevada.com
First, it is helpful to understand that everyone, male and female, harbors within them the fear that they will be abandoned.
This fear, which, of course, is not understood at the time, begins to grow when we are infants, dependent on our caregivers for our survival.
This apprehension is embedded in our psyche for the duration of our lives.
In some cases it is more easily aroused than in others. Under a particular set of circumstances (the “perfect storm”) all of us are vulnerable to the provocation of these fears.
What to do?
First, we must identify what it is that is making us so uncomfortable.
It may feel like everything from the impending descent of eternal wrath to the suspicion that something has gone terribly wrong and that we are unsafe. The underlying cause of these feelings is our unconscious telling us that we are in danger of being deserted.
Once we have figured out the root cause of our unease, we might remind ourselves that we will never again be the helpless infants we once were.
However inadequate we may believe ourselves to be, we actually have acquired some pretty good survival skills or we wouldn’t be around today. When we are feeling overwhelmed it is necessary to, literally, tally up our strengths so that we can calm down and decide what, if anything, we can do about the situation.
It is always a mistake to place all of our confidence in another in the belief that we need to be taken care of.
A lot of what we call “love” is actually this imagined dependency. Our attachment to another may make life easier in many ways, but, it is not necessary for survival.
If you are accepting abusive treatment as the cost of receiving help, you are discarding your self-respect.
If you believe this is the only person you will ever love, you are wrong. Your soulmate is not an acceptable choice if your soul is being destroyed in the process.
Accept your fears, they are normal. Assess your strengths.
Move forward in the world with the knowledge that you and all others hold the same anxieties. It’s hard to be human, but you can do it.
Ruth Gordon, M.A., MSW, LICSW – www.foreverfabulousyou.com
Fear of abandonment is one of our most primitive fears.
It is linked to our survival instinct. Human babies are helpless; we cannot survive without a constant caretaker.
Because humans develop slowly, we are dependent for a long time, longer than almost all other animals including primates, our closest relatives. This is all to say that the fear of abandonment is hard-wired for survival. It’s not an easy fear to manage.
As we get older and more independent this fear should recede, although like our other instincts it will never disappear entirely.
Obviously, the more self-sufficient you become, the less this fear will impact you. If, by and large, you can take care of yourself, the loss of significant people, while painful, will probably not impact your long-term ability to function.
I don’t want to minimize the emotional pain of being abandoned. It hurts; but if you are emotionally and/or physically dependent, it can feel terrifying.
Loss is a part of life.
We all die; there’s no getting around that one. Although logically we understand that our loved ones don’t want to die, we can still feel hurt, anger and abandonment when they do.
People move away, get married, have children, all life events that can trigger the fear of abandonment. However, this is a fear that must be managed if we are to live fully and experience the joy of intimacy.
The more intimate the relationship, the more vulnerable we are to its loss.
But people who protect themselves from loss at the expense of intimacy are paying a very steep price. Whoever said “No pain, no gain” was addressing this very issue. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain, it’s the people who take the risk who reap the greatest rewards.
So to overcome the fear of abandonment, you need to work at growing your independent self.
Taking care of yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually makes you less dependent on other people. Know and like who you are.
Never mistake fusion for love.
If you are an independent person, you will want to share your life with someone equally independent. These are the strongest couples.
Because each partner has a strong sense of self, they have the courage to really love. They know that if and when loss occurs they will grieve, but they will survive.
Sally LeBoy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
An important thing to remember as you try to address your fear of abandonment is that at some level, every human being has this same fear.
The need for connection is hardwired into us, and so it only makes sense that we fear the opposite: that the one we most want to connect with will leave us.
Having said that, there are reasons why one person might have a stronger fear of abandonment than others.
- When have you experienced rejection before?
- Has someone you really counted on let you down, and abandoned you emotionally?
If you’ve had a difficult experience in the past with being left – either physically or emotionally – by someone important to you, the fear of abandonment will understandably be strong, as you seek to prevent being left again.
It’s vital to understand what’s behind your fear, because then you have more power to address it and make lasting change.
When you find yourself in the grips of your fear, the first thing to do is take deep breaths to calm yourself.
Research has shown that once triggered into “fight or flight”, it takes us about 20-30 minutes to calm ourselves down to the point where we can once again think clearly.
You might need to excuse yourself from the situation in order to do this – please let your partner know what you are doing, so you don’t unknowingly trigger the fear of abandonment in them!
When you are physiologically calmer, ask yourself these questions:
- What was it that triggered my fear of abandonment in that situation?
This could be a phrase or even a look. Try to pinpoint exactly when you began to feel afraid, and what immediately preceded it.
- Was there an actual risk that the other person was going to permanently leave me at that moment?
Oftentimes the answer to this question will be no, with obvious exceptions.
If you can realize that the other person was probably not going to imminently leave you, you can further calm yourself and own what part of the interaction was yours.
- What do I need to communicate clearly to my partner in order to resolve or at least move this situation forward?
Once you’ve recognized that your fear has been triggered, you can move it to the side and focus on the interaction at hand.
Chances are your fears cloud whatever the true issue is, and when you’re calm you can go back and ask your partner what they need, what you said to upset them, and communicate your needs of the situation clearly as well.
Remember that if you’ve had traumatic experiences of loss and abandonment in your life, particularly as a child, you may always have an underlying fear of abandonment.
However, you absolutely can learn to manage it and not let it influence every interaction you have with your partner.
Laurel Fay, M.S., LCMFT – www.laurelfay.com
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