Attachment and Abandonment

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What is the fear of abandonment?

Interpersonal relationships are essential to our well-being. People who have experienced abandonment worry that they will be left behind by the people closest to them. They have a constant fear of rejection, and often avoid relationships or prematurely end them for fear they will be hurt. It impacts the way they see the world and themselves.

These issues often result from painful or traumatic experiences in childhood including abuse, neglect or the loss of a loved one whom they were dependent on.  They may also involve situations where basic needs of food, clothing or shelter were not consistently provided or where emotional needs such as feeling unloved or unsafe  also create issues of abandonment. These fears may seem irrational at times but they are a natural response to perceived danger. 

Fear of abandonment can also develop later in life as a result of being emotionally, physically or sexually abused as well as being betrayed or experiencing rejection in an interpersonal relationship.  

A high ACE score can also impact fears of abandonment.

Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire for Adults

Abandonment and Attachment styles 

The relationships we form early in our lives impact the way we relate and experience  relationships moving forward.  If as children our needs are met we are generally able to form secure attachment with people and we are able to easily trust and communicate with others.  

When our needs are not met as children we can develop insecure attachment styles.   Our attachment styles affect our ability to develop healthy relationships, where we are able to trust and connect with others.  It also impacts  the way we see ourselves and it informs our core beliefs which drive our actions and choices.  Finally it can impact the way we manage conflict and stress.

The three insecure attachment styles include:

  • Anxious
  • Avoidant
  • Disorganized

People with an anxious attachment style believe they cannot depend on others to provide love and support.  They often cling to others and need constant reassurance.  They form codependent relationships, are needy and tend to engage in fear based behavior in relationships to avoid being abandoned.  They are acting emotionally reactive and interpret conflict as a sign their partner will leave.

Individuals with avoidant attachments often had their physical needs met but did not receive emotional support.  They often feel uncomfortable with physical closeness.  They often do not open up or trust others easily.  They often struggle to express emotions and come across as distant, private or withdrawn.  They may fear commitment and may avoid conflict by shutting down, or leaving.

Disorganized attachment often stems from children who fear their caregivers.  They desire close relationships but fear emotional intimacy.  They may lack empathy and are inconsistent in their behaviors and response in relationships.  They may display anxious features one minute and avoidant features the next.  Disorganized attachment is sometimes associated with personality disorders.

Signs and symptoms of attachment issues:

  • Anxiety
  • Distrust of others
  • Insecurity or anxiety in relationships
  • Inability to regulate emotions
  • Codependent behaviors- going to excessive lengths to preserve a relationship
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships
  • Blowing up when feeling threatened
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Excessively neediness or clingyness
  • Engaging in self-destructive behaviors
  • Wanting to control others
  • They may guard, avoid relationships or push others away.

What are some of the causes of abandonment?

  • Death of a parent of caregiver  at an early age
  • Abuse or neglect in childhood
  • Unmet emotional needs
  • Feeling rejected by caregivers
  • Being abandoned by a friend or loved one.

What are the effects of abandonment?

  • People with abandonment are more likely to develop mental health conditions later in life
  • Have a hard time seeing themselves in a positive light
  • Have difficulty maintaining relationships.
  • Struggle to share their thoughts and feels
  • Experiencing difficulty in having conversations in calm and respectful ways
  • Struggle to accept help
  • Trust issues in relationships
  • Struggle with memory or concentration

How do you cope with abandonment issues?

  • Determine your attachment style
  • Consider meeting with a therapist
  • Self-discovery-learn about your defenses and triggers
  • Explore your past experiences and the issues that stem from them
  • Identify what experience, thoughts or feelings, or memories,, or people trigger your insecurities now
  • Learning not to act on your fears, but instead to act in ways that protect the relationships you care about most
  • Becoming more independent and having healthy amounts of separate time and space in relationships, while still maintaining closeness
  • Avoiding becoming automatically defensive when someone hurts, upsets or offends you

If you are in need of understanding, support and help in moving beyond the fear of attachment, we can help.

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