Signs and Causes of Abandonment Anxiety
No one wants to be let down by the people they depend on. We hope that the people who care about us continue to do so, and that any promises made to us by our loved ones are kept, even as we try to do the same for them. Being let down can cause us pain and disappointment, but when being let down leads to a fear of entrusting yourself to other people in other relationships, that’s a big problem that needs to be addressed.
Sometimes known as abandonment anxiety, the fear of abandonment is challenging in relationships. When a person harbors this fear, it can cause them to act in ways that negatively affect their relationships, often making them act in a manner that ultimately fulfills the very thing they dreaded.
Abandonment anxiety can lead a person to eschew vulnerability in a relationship or to worry excessively about and distrust a partner, for example, and that can make the other person in the relationship pull back, thereby making the very thing they wanted to avoid becoming a reality.
What is abandonment?Unfortunately, loss is a part of life for all of us, and it is a reality with which we must all come to terms. There are, however, healthy ways of dealing with loss that don’t undermine our relationships, and unhealthy ways that have a deleterious effect on our connections with other people.
A person may experience abandonment in various ways, especially if they experience childhood loss such as the death of a parent or another significant loved one or their parents’ divorce. Abandonment sets in when the person lives in fear of experiencing such losses, and they begin exhibiting behaviors that prevent the development of healthy bonds and can push people away so that they are not surprised by loss when it inevitably comes.
When we lose the people we care about, whether through death or another means, that loss of relationship can leave us feeling lonely and alone. When we fear the loneliness that can flow from loss, that too can lead to feelings of abandonment.
There are several types of abandonment issues that can manifest in three insecure attachment styles. Attachment is about how well we are able to form healthy emotional bonds with other people in which we feel safe and feel that our needs are being met. In an insecure attachment, one feels that their needs are not being met and they generally struggle to create meaningful emotional connections with others.
These three insecure attachment styles are:
Avoidant attachment style is when a person feels like they can’t be vulnerable or open with others, and they struggle to trust others. A person with this attachment style will often appear distant, withdrawn, or private, and they don’t allow people to get close to them.
Disorganized attachment style is one that is associated with other potential disorders, and it is typified by the person having a hard time remaining emotionally intimate because that proximity makes you anxious even though it is desirable, leading to wide-ranging inconsistencies in behavior.
Anxious attachment style will manifest as anxiety about being away from a romantic partner, being emotionally reactive, and being fearful that conflict in the relationship may end the relationship. This attachment style is dominated by fear of losing the relationship, and consequently doing everything to avoid that end. It can lead to developing dependent relationships that aren’t healthy for either party.
What are the symptoms of abandonment anxiety?
You’ll be able to pick up on how the insecure attachment styles negatively affect relationships in the symptoms below. Some of the more prominent signs of abandonment anxiety include the following behaviors:
1. Being overly sensitive to criticism from others and avoiding even healthy conflict for fear that it means the relationship is in trouble.
2. Experiencing difficulty making a solid commitment to a relationship and cycling through relationships. This may look like having many shallow relationships and being afraid of intimacy in those relationships. This also may also manifest as getting easily and quickly attached to people, and then moving on from the relationship just as quickly.
3. Having difficulty trusting the people in your life and being emotionally intimate with them.
4. Taking extreme measures to avoid rejection or separation, including even sabotaging your own relationships by acting irrationally to get out of the relationship. Out of fear of intimacy, one might find a reason to leave a relationship before the other person can or may knowingly push a partner away to avoid being hurt if they decide to leave.
5. Having a pattern of unhealthy relationships and clinging to unhealthy relationships. A person with abandonment issues may choose to remain in a relationship even if it’s not healthy for them and despite the desire to leave. That’s because the fear of being alone is greater than the ability/desire to leave the situation. One may also find themselves going above and beyond to please the other person so that they remain in the relationship.
6. Having difficulty making friends unless you can be certain that they like you.
7. Needing constant reassurance and emotional guarantees of affection from friends or partners.
8. Blaming yourself when things don’t work out in a relationship, even when that’s not the case.
Exploring the causes of abandonment anxiety.
When a human being is developing, to do so in a healthy manner requires that their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs are met, and for them to feel that these needs are being met. In our younger years, these needs and the assurances of those needs being met come from our parents and caregivers, and when we are adults such needs are met in our relationships with others.
The sense of assurance that our needs will be met can be disrupted at any stage of our development and growth as people, and that disruption can result in abandonment fears developing.
Early childhood experiences are likely the biggest contributor to developing abandonment issues when one becomes an adult. These experiences include:
The death of a loved one such as a parent or sibling, or the desertion of a parent/caregiver, can create an emotional void that can be filled by fear.
Poverty and neglect, which result in one’s basic needs not being met. The resultant scarcity mindset may lead to fears that emotional resources such as attention, love, and friendship, are similarly limited.
Abuse, whether physical or sexual abuse, can create lingering mental health issues including a fear of abandonment.
Rejection by one’s peers.
Emotional abandonment is when a child is not provided with consistently warm or attentive interactions with their parents, with the result that they experience chronic stress and fear that their needs won’t be met.
Emotional abandonment can also set in when parents or caregivers relate to the children in their care in various inappropriate ways, such as by relating to their children as though they were peers, not letting their children be emotionally expressive, ridiculing their children, or by putting an inordinate amount of pressure on their children to be “perfect.”
It is also important to note that while it is a crucial stage of human development, abandonment issues don’t always stem from childhood trauma. They can also develop in later life through losing an intimate partner through divorce,
death, infidelity, or a very painful breakup that leads to lingering fears of abandonment developing.
Pursuing your peace amid abandonment anxiety.
If you have abandonment anxiety, and you recognize it in your life, there are several things that you can do to begin the healing process.
Speak truthfully into your own life. Remind yourself of the good qualities that you possess as a person that make you a good friend or partner. We often focus so much on our flaws and faults that we don’t stop to see the good that has been given to us by God in his grace. Just as the Lord reminds us that “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV), we need to learn to cut ourselves some slack and stop judging ourselves needlessly.
If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? – Romans 8:31-35, NLT
Remember the Lord’s words “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).
Put in the work of cultivating and maintaining friendships and developing a strong support network that will walk with you, remind you of the truth of who God made you to be, and can help foster a healthy sense of belonging.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and make your concerns known. For example, if you’re in a romantic relationship, you should speak to the other person and explain your anxiety about abandonment. This will help them understand where you are coming from, and they can help keep you accountable for having healthy and reasonable expectations of them and your friends.
Abandonment anxiety can lead a person to want to extract guarantees from loved ones that they’ll always be there, and it’s also easy to make your abandonment anxiety something for them to fix, but that’s a temptation that both of you should resist.
Get help. Working through the layers of experiences that have led to developing abandonment anxiety is hard, and it may be helpful to pursue that journey with the help of a qualified therapist. There is a lot to gain from individual counseling for abandonment anxiety, including the tools to understand your anxieties and develop healthy patterns of relationship behaviors.
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