Tacoma Christian Counselor
Most everyone has heard the term “abandonment issues,” but what does it really mean? Abandonment issues happen when an individual is fearful of losing someone they care about. It is a form of anxiety that dictates certain symptoms and behaviors in that individual’s life.
Their fear of losing the people in their life is extreme and they may behave irrationally to protect themselves from getting hurt. But what causes individuals to develop abandonment issues? Lets take a look at the factors that cause people to develop abandonment issues and the symptoms that arise from these factors.People who have abandonment issues often have unhealthy relationships, continually need reassurance, and sabotage relationships as a way to protect themselves. If they sabotage the relationship then they can prepare for the fact that the relationship is going to end and because they were in control of pushing the individual away they feel less hurt when the individual leaves.
Abandonment issues are a coping response. Therefore, because of the past hurt of abandonment, a person’s brain transitions into high alert as a means of shielding them from any repeated trauma. As an individual with abandonment issues if we do not process our events our brains continue to stay in protection mode, becoming more intense with time.
What causes Abandonment Issues? During childhood, the child learns that their emotional and physical needs can be met, mostly through their parents and other adult figures involved in their life. Children are completely and utterly dependent on their caretakers to provide for their physical and psychological needs.
When these needs are not met, this may cause a disruption in the child’s view of relationships and people. Imagine what a child’s world would look like without security or trust and safety? When a child does not have this safety the child interprets their experience as teaching that people are not to be trusted, they will get hurt and they cannot depend on others.
When a child’s needs are not met, the internal message that the child begins to believe is that they are not good enough or important. As the child replays these messages they begin to feel intense shame. Because of this shame, these children often grow up into insecure, clingy and codependent adults.
Some events that can cause abandonment issues are death, physical or emotional abuse, poverty, the divorce of the child’s parents, and neglect. A child that learns they are alone and have to fend for themselves becomes skeptical of others at the same time that they want and craves a relationship to fulfill their need to be desired.
Their fear gets in the way of getting emotionally invested and their actions create a vicious cycle of not being able to allow others in and therefore their belief continues that no one will desire them. The individual with abandonment issues must look at the behaviors that are creating an unhealthy relationship and the role that is being played of being emotionally unavailable to others.
An individual who has abandonment issues often displays the following symptoms. The individual gets attached quickly in relationships, committing fast after only a little time with their partner. They may feel a fear of loosing the individual if they do not act quickly.
They not only move quickly in relationships but also move quickly once that relationship is over. The individual may jump from relationship to relationship without much time at all in between them. For some, this is a protection mechanism that allows them to be distracted by their new relationship in order not to feel any hurt from the previous one.
The individual often has a tendency to repress their anger out of fear of the partner leaving if the individual expressed their frustrations. The individual likes to be with their partner as often as possible because when they are apart it triggers bad memories and their past abandonment resurfaces.
They begin to envision their partner leaving them and they think about the hurt they will feel. This leads to extreme anxiety and depression. The individual often avoids emotional intimacy because in their past emotional intimacy resulted in hurt and neglect.
People with abandonment issues create emotional space between them and their partners or choose partners who are emotionally unavailable to them so they do not have to be vulnerable with them. The individual stays in damaging relationships and sacrifices themselves for their partner.The individual is often jealous and insecure in relationships, which makes them constantly believe that their partner is seeking out someone better. The individual blames themself for their failed relationships and the internal message they have always told themselves – that they are not worthy or important – repeats again. The individual is hypersensitive to criticism and jumps to the conclusion that their partner is unhappy in the relationship.
Abandonment issues often bring secondary problems. Each person is different when it comes to what other problems may occur. Some secondary issues involve depression and mood effects due to the extreme feelings that are present when away from the individual’s partner.
Additionally, social anxiety, which could be caused by the individual’s low self-esteem and fear of rejection. Sleeping disorders due to the anxiety and fear that are continually present. Finally, addictions due to a high level of negative emotion and a need for a coping outlet which often leads to a negative coping decision such as substance abuse.
If you are in a relationship with or close to someone who has abandonment issue know that this individual’s behavior does not have to do with you. Understand that their behaviors come from a very deep and dark past hurt. Their trust was broken by someone they were closest to. They trusted that individual, only to be neglected, lied to and left with the confusion of putting the pieces together alone.
The individual who was abandoned needs time to trust you and they need continual validation. A good quote that helps explain the mindset of someone with abandonment issues is this, “She did not know who would leave or stay so she pushed them all away.” In that person’s mind, it is not worth the emotional hurt.
It is too much of a gamble because in the mind of someone with abandonment issues there is no such thing as trustworthy. Also, the individual dealing with the abandonment issues needs to not find their worth in the relationship but find their self-worth. The individual should stop viewing their relationship partner as the fixer of all problems because this is simply not possible. Unhealthy fears begin to rise and the cycle is repeated.
As an individual with abandonment issues, you need to learn to separate the past from the present and redirect the fear when it begins to try to control your behavior. Having a relationship with someone with abandonment issues is very difficult. It may feel like whatever you do or say you are continually walking on eggshells.
You may feel that your partner is not listening or hearing what you have continually expressed to them about your loyalty, their worth or anything positive you express about the relationship. You may feel like you have to prove yourself to your partner and that your partner is always thinking the worst outcome out of every situation.
There are certain behaviors that individuals with abandonment issues have learned in response to their past and continually repeat. Know when to walk away from an unproductive argument. Often, people with abandonment issues get overly emotional in fights and get fearful. Learn to step away until you are both calm and you will communicate better. Communicating that you feel you are being manipulated is important to help your partner best learn how to not enable their unhealthy behaviors.
Steps to Overocome Abandonment Issues
Here are some steps you can take, as an individual with abandonment issues, to become healthier:
Learn to trust again.
Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to be as big as it sounds. Choose a small detail of your life you haven’t shared with anyone and open up to someone about it. Set small goals to reach learning to trust again. Slowly choose someone to open up to. Keep adding more areas of your life to your topics of conversation and with time this will get easier. You will eventually feel comfortable opening up and you will realize that good people do exist and that you can trust others again.
Create a safe place to externalize your thoughts, worries, and hurts.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be with a person; you can start to journal your thoughts, instead. Some people have an actual safe space – this may be the beach or on a trail. Find a place where you feel at peace and work on processing your thoughts.
Accepting your emotions as your responsibility.
Allowing yourself to think about what made you feel how you are feeling, what triggered your hurt, how to prevent the negatives, and how to better deal with them will help minimize your anxieties.
Examine your relationship.
What kind of relationships do you normally seek? Do you see a theme in the characteristics you choose? Are these overall positive or negative? Do you see a trend in picking people who are emotionally unavailable? What role do you play in these relationships?
Build a good support group.
This could be a supportive group of friends, a church group, a counselor, or a therapeutic support group. Choose to put yourself in uplifting environments.
Pick healthy coping skills.
When you are feeling anxious or down, share this with someone. Do something positive. Go for a bike ride, get out of the house, take a relaxing bath – get creative. Find your niche and the things that elevate your mood.
Know your triggers.
Identify what situations and or thoughts make you feel anxious or down. Learn how to challenge these situations and change the way you view them.
End unhealthy and damaging relationships.
This may be a slow process but begin taking the right steps in closing off the negative friendships and relationships in which you currently find yourself. Know that you deserve more than you are allowing for yourself. Your worth is not defined by what other people can give to you. Standing up for yourself and your desires and knowing you are worth a happy and healthy relationship is important to the process of healing.
Learn to be happy alone.
Realize your pattern of jumping from relationship to relationship and take time for yourself to heal. Figure out who you are and learn your identity outside of a relationship.
If you feel you are struggling with abandonment issues I urge you to seek out a mental health professional. You deserve to have healthy and happy relationships with others. Do not let the past dictate your future. Remember, “Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world, but to change ourselves.” (Mahatma Gandhi)
In her article “Understanding the Pain of Abandonment” Claudia Black explains “The causes of emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so they can heal. Until that occurs, the pain will stay with them, becoming a driving force in their adult lives.”
Acknowledging where the fear began and working through the original hurt from the individual’s past is vital to developing emotionally healthy relationships in the future. An adult who has been struggling with abandonment issues should seek out a mental health professional to work through their past hurts, identify healthy emotional boundaries, identify behaviors of protection, and learn new ways of coping with their fear of abandonment.
Your past does not have to define your future. Do not let past events destroy the joy you can have in present and future positive relationships. Shatter the record that keeps playing on repeat, saying you are not important. Begin to play the record telling you that you are worth being loved. Begin the journey of opening up your heart to see that there is good in the world and there are people that can be trusted.
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