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Abandonment Anxiety

Updated: July 23, 2022

We have all likely experienced abandonment fears at least once in our lives.  For some who have experienced loss and trauma, this kind of anxiety can become chronic and intense, causing individuals to be distressed when they perceive a threat of being abandoned or alone. This brings many challenges in functioning, especially in social and relational contexts, for example staying in unhealthy or toxic relationships to avoid abandonment.

 

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What Is Abandonment Anxiety?

Abandonment anxiety is not psychiatric disorder, it is usually a symptom of another condition, like panic, or borderline personality disorder. Sufferers feel intense anxiety at the thought of being left and losing others. Abandonment anxiety often develops in our earliest relationships, which inform attachment style.

 

This insecure attachment makes the development of healthy relationships very difficult. Even though loss is a normal part of life, for those with abandonment anxiety, the loss feels overwhelmingly threatening and must be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately, this deep-seated fear manifests behaviours that can drive others away, fulfilling the expectation of loss and further deepening the fear, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

And even when sufferers can get others to comfort and reassure them, an unsustainable and unhealthy dynamic develops because the relief received reinforces the need for reassurance which can prompt people to leave out of frustration.  Although people who fear abandonment can behave in ways that are challenging for others, especially in romantic relationships, they do not do this maliciously.

Abandonment-Anxiety-Issue-Medium

What Are The Symptoms?

Blaming Yourself When People Leave

As children we blame ourselves when grown-ups leave, and internalise the belief that we are unlovable.  So when relationships fail, you think it’s your fault because you’re not good enough or because you caused it in some way.

Commitment Issues

Your fear of abandonment is so consuming and threatening, that you maintain a distance from others.  This makes you feel safe, but it is also a lonely place, and therefore, costly strategy.

Extreme Avoidance Of Separation

Due to your deep fear of rejection, your view separation as threatening and will attempt to avoid it at all costs.  This means you can be needy and unable to give the other person space.  You may even make frantic attempts to prevent real or imagined separation or abandonment, this can include self-harming or threats of it.

Forming Shallow Connections

You become attached quickly but because of your fears of abandonment, you do not allow yourself to be vulnerable and form deeper connections with others.  This is your way of protecting yourself so you can move on when what you believe will happen, happens – when others leave.

Inability To Trust

You feel suspicious, jealous, and may criticise your significant other, being unable to trust what they say.

Leaving Relationships Before Being Left

Due to a deep fear of intimacy and rejection, some people leave relationships before the other person can.  This means that their experience of relationships is shallow, and tend to reinforce their fears.

People Pleasing

You try too hard to please others, doing what you can to make sure they are happy.  This is because you’re scared that they’ll leave you.  But this means that your needs often go unmet.

Seeking Reassurance

Some people want to know that others will always be there, and frequently need emotional guarantees.  They may ask questions that elicit a response that conveys “I’ll always be here” and will sometimes seek further assurances by not accepting others’ assurances.

Self-Sabotage

Due to fears about being left, some people take pre-emptive action.  For example, they may act irrationally in relationships, deliberately pushing others away, and testing them to their limits.  This means they don’t feel as bad when people leave because they expected it to happen, but at the same time, influenced it to.  This is self-sabotage.

Sensitivity To Criticism

If you perceive that someone is annoyed or upset with you, or if they say anything even slightly critical, you may take it to heart and feel defeated.

Staying In Unhealthy Relationships

Because the fear of being alone is so strong, people with abandonment issues will cling to unhealthy relationships that they may not even want to be in.  This keeps them stuck in relationships that are not good for them.

Trouble Making Friends

Unless you feel confident you are liked, you do not risk forming relationships with people because of a fear of rejection.

Unhealthy Relationship Dynamics

Because of your deep fear of abandonment, you form shallow connections and leave relationships before others can leave.  You might also self sabotage by driving others away, for example, by being overbearing.  But this only reinforces your fears of abandonment and results in a vicious cycle.

What Causes Abandonment Anxiety?

  • You may have experienced somethings traumatic, for example the loss of a parent or caregiver, this may have been due to abandonment, or death.
  • Other kinds of trauma relate to injury, neglect, or abuse.
  • Perhaps your peers rejected you.
  • If you experience high levels of stress, you are unable to manage day to day anxiety which can lead to development of other forms of anxiety, like abandonment anxiety.
  • Someone you know was ill for an extended time, causing you to worry.
  • Your significant other left unexpectedly or caused you to feel you could not trust them.
  • If you have certain personality disorders, this may also be a factor (for example, avoidant personality disorder, separation anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, otherwise known as emotionally unstable PD)·
  • Poverty can cause a frugal mindset, with emotions (e.g., love), affection, and relationships being seen as limited in scope as well.

How Phinity Therapy Can Help

At Phinity, our therapists can help you to understand how your fears of abandonment developed, and impact you, for example, your self-esteem.

 

This enables self-understanding and the learning of coping mechanisms toward a different response.

 

There are various ways our therapists work with abandonment, for example by using the psycho-dynamic approach, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), or a mixture (integrative), to suit your needs.

 

Therapy can help minimise abandonment anxiety in the long term by teaching you how to set healthy emotional boundaries. This allows you to create a repository of more helpful responses to situations, rather than reacting to your fears.

 

Your therapist can also help you self-care. It is important to focus on your own emotional needs, this includes how you relate to yourself.

What Causes Abandonment Anxiety? How Phinity Therapy Can Help

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