People with abandonment issues frequently find themselves engulfed with fearful anxieties when their relationships — especially their close relationships — enter turbulent phases.
In reality, few, if any, intimate relationships can remain permanently steady. Life throws too many obstacles in the path of most people for that.
But pre-existing abandonment anxieties can often turn a difficult situation into an impossible one. Psychoanalysis suggests that abandonment fear in the present has roots in unresolved and unacknowledged abandonment issues from the past.
The Unconscious Never Forgets
Contrary to popular misconceptions, psychoanalysis does not consider the unconscious as a psychological warehouse filled with buried memories.
The unconscious lives, actively evolving and influencing conscious thoughts and perceptions.
Small children and babies lack the mental resources to remember early experiences and rely on parents to tell them about their early lives, but a troubled parent who abandons the child at this stage may leave a permanent imprint in the unconscious.
Formative Experiences of Abandonment
Sigmund Freud argued that experiences that cannot be processed properly, either because they occurred too early in life when mental structures had not yet grown to reflect on them, or because they were too shocking and incomprehensible, never disappear.
But neither do they get stored as memories. They persist in the mind as existential anxieties instead.
Abandonment, from this perspective, can take many forms. A small child can feel abandoned through the tragedy of parental death, or parental separation and divorce.
She can also feel abandoned by a parent drowning in personal depression, for example, or one who is emotionally incapable of tuning in to the child’s inner world.
All of this can show up later in life, as abandonment anxiety.
Reliving Early Abandonment
A fear of abandonment that feels eerily familiar but simultaneously indescribable is existentially known, because somewhere in development it’s been experienced, but consciously “unthought.”
Thinking, from this perspective, involves embracing and integrating disturbing emotional states using the most cognitively advanced resources of the mind.
But defense mechanisms impede this process – if something feels potentially overwhelming or unbearable, the mind shuts it off from conscious processing. Freud called this “repression,” but it’s a mechanism that sometimes founders, fail to protect the mind from anxiety.
Anticipating abandonment signals a failed repression – the unthought known of early abandonment gets powerfully transferred into here-and-now relationships.
Gaining an understanding of where these fears developed from, will help give you the right tools to have self compassion and allow yourself to heal from this and let go of your abandonment fears.
A Safe Base
If separation wasn’t negotiated sensitively between parent and child, or the child was too young to sustain a comforting inner picture of the parent in his mind during the separation, enormous and inconsolable distress would ensue.
Bowlby argued that children needed a “secure base” of safe, unbroken attachment to a loved parent as a precondition for exploring the world more independently. He also saw psychoanalytic therapy as the provision of a safe base for adults to explore their early abandonment anxieties and heal from them.
Consequences of Abandonment Fear
Children who suffer unmanageable separation anxieties early in development inevitably evolve a range of defenses aimed at protecting them from further distress.
A severe defense, called “defensive detachment” involves an impossible quest to remain independent of all relationships with others. Such people may appear aloof or superficially charming, but never risk deepening their attachment for fear of abandonment.
A more tortured development occurs with people who crave intimacy but fear it in equal measure; the paradox here is that intimacy is desperately needed, but once experienced, instantly evokes fears of abandonment, transforming love into hate in the process.
Psychoanalyst Eric Brenman described this agonizing deadlock as “clinging and hating.”
If you have been rejected in the past or you are in a relationship where your partner needs to leave for work purposes or other things, you may be left feeling abandoned.
Struggling with abandonment issues in a relationship can leave you utterly devastated and destroyed. It’s hard to move on with your daily activities because you may feel as though everyone is out to hurt you in some way. This can lead you to overreact to a lot of situations and it can ultimately destroy your self-esteem and overall image of yourself.
The fear of abandonment is common for many people as they do not want to be alone and they might not have the best self-esteem, to begin with. This can cause them to question why another person wants to be with them and it often leads them to allow the fear of being alone to destroy their ability to be with anyone.
What Are The Common Signs of Abandonment Issues?
Some of the common signs of abandonment include the following:
- Being very clingy
- A person starts to get panicky if they feel “change” is occurring
- Constant need to be reassured
- Low self-esteem
- Quit a relationship before it develops because they want to “leave first”
- Feelings of isolation
Many other character traits indicate a person may have abandonment issues but these are by far the most common and the ones that have a big red flag next to them.
If these signs symptoms and traits resonate with you, you don’t have to accept anxious attachment as your permanent attachment style, or think that this will always be part of your personality. It is possible heal fear of abandonment, and to overcome these challenges.
The one thing to remember if you do have some of those doubts is that every relationship can work and every relationship can fail, it all depends on how hard you work together to make it last.
Sometimes people don’t even realize they have abandonment issues until their relationship ends and they start blaming themselves for the demise of the relationship.
It’s common for things like “I should’ve given them more space” or “they were so good to me and it’s all my fault” to creep into your brain.
Once the relationship is over, take lessons from it and move on. Do not place the other person up on a pedestal and glorify them as this is a huge sign of abandonment.
How To Overcome Fear of Abandonment
So what can you do about your fear of abandonment? The best thing to do is to talk it out with your partner and seek out professional counseling.
Sometimes a person thinks they are being “abandoned” when the other party doesn’t realize that the actions they are taking are hurting them. You need to watch the little things you do and talk about them as it could be sending a completely different message to your partner.
Counselling or therapy is one of the best ways to work through your issues as a counsellor can help you talk out things.
They won’t be the cure but they can help you to recognize things and they will be able to offer you tips and advice on how to improve yourself to create a healthier and stronger marriage.
One of the best things you can do for yourself is to start thinking positively. This means that although things can get stressful and you might worry, changing the way you think can help.
Don’t bring up the negative thoughts and other things and instead try to focus on how these things can turn into something positive.
Try to do activities each day that will help you to feel better about yourself and bring out energy. It can have a huge impact on your mental health and may be able to help you reduce your fear of abandonment.
Anna is a Wales-based writer and graduate from SOAS University of London.
As the voice behind On Your Journey, she empowers women to embrace holistic well-being and spiritual growth through her expert insights into wellness and symbolism.
When she isn't writing thought-provoking articles, you'll find her busy crafting and raising her 4 children.