What Is Abandonment?
Many people struggling with intense feelings of unmet needs are experiencing emotional abandonment, which is something that stems from a dysfunctional childhood. While most people consider “abandonment” to be the physical act of leaving someone or something behind, emotional abandonment is a more nebulous feeling of things being not-quite-right.
It should be noted that emotional abandonment has very little to do with proximity to another person – someone sitting next to you can very easily abandon you emotionally when you’re not connecting and getting your needs met.
Those who struggle with abandonment are afraid of being alone and may believe they are destined to be alone. Their unfulfilled relationships are often filled with insecurity and fear. Further, fear of abandonment often leads to actual abandonment through a self-fulfilling prophesy. Insecurity and self-doubt are often just symptoms of deeper-seated issues.
When children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need and certainly deserve, it is most natural for them to internalize incredible fear. Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection equals abandonment. And, living with repeated abandonment experiences creates toxic shame. Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: “You are not important. You are not of value.” This is the pain from which people need to heal.
For some children abandonment is primarily physical.
Physical abandonment occurs when the physical conditions necessary for thriving have been replaced by:
- lack of appropriate supervision
- inadequate provision of nutrition and meals
- inadequate clothing, housing, heat, or shelter
- physical and/or sexual abuse
Children are totally dependent on caretakers to provide safety in their environment. When they do not, they grow up believing that the world is an unsafe place, that people are not to be trusted, and that they do not deserve positive attention and adequate care.
What Are The Types of Abandonment?
Emotional abandonment occurs when parents do not provide the emotional conditions and the emotional environment necessary for healthy development. Emotional abandonment is defined as “occurring when a child has to hide a part of who he or she is in order to be accepted, or to not be rejected.”
It is easier to talk about family relationships now than it used to be. However, when you’ve had to cope with an absent parent who abandoned the family home for whatever reason, you also have to contend with a definition of something which is indescribable.
Often, when someone is asked about their parent they can only hesitate, lower their gaze and respond vaguely with excuses. This clearly demonstrates the difficulty in defining the emotional vacuum and dealing with the scars left in us by abandonment.
In this regard we should highlight that there are many types of abandonment. In fact, we could speak of as many types as there are cases in the world. These are some of the most common ones:
1)) The emotionally absent but physically present parent. If we pay attention to the socio-emotional reality of our environment, we will understand that this type of upbringing has been very common over the years.
2) The parent that abandoned us before, during and after childhood. The pain of being physically and emotionally abandoned by choice by our reference figures sows significant seeds in our process of growing up. It is difficult to handle the reality you have to live with in this case. Because… how do you assimilate the fact that someone who should accompany you for many years of your life chooses to distance him/herself from you in some way?
3) The parent who abandoned us physically or emotionally during our youth or adulthood. This type of abandonment will most probably be branded as betrayal. It therefore needs to be processed verbally with a lot of awareness.
4) The almost total absence of a parental figure. In this case there are several possibilities:
- The parent who died early and didn’t have the opportunity to play their role in our life.
- The parent who died but who we knew first. In this scenario, longing and idealization will create a characteristic hole.
What Is The Difference Between Physical And Emotional Abandonment?
Children are completely dependent upon their caretakers to provide a save environment, and if their caretakers fail to provide such an environment, they grow up believing the following:
- The world is an unsafe place
- Nobody should be trusted
- They do not deserve love or care.
Some children grow in a primarily physically abandoned state; which happens when the physical needs for growth and survival are replaced by the following:
- Lack of appropriate supervision
- Physical and/sexual child abuse
- Improper food, clothing, house, heat or shelter.
- Improper providing of food, nutrition and meals.
Emotional Abandonment, on the other hand, occurs when caretakers don’t provide the emotional support and environment needed for a child to grow and thrive. This is often described as being raised in an environment in which a child has to hide part of him or herself to be accepted; to not be rejected. This means that the child learns:
- Making mistakes is NOT okay.
- It’s NOT okay to show their feelings.
- Being told that their feelings aren’t true.
- Not everyone is allowed needs.
- Everyone else’s needs are more important.
- Accomplishments and successes are discounted.
Other types of abandonment happen when children:
- Can’t live up to parental expectations; which are both unrealistic and age inappropriate.
- Are held responsible for the behavior of others; especially the actions and feelings of their parents.
- Are disapproved for their entire being, rather than a specific type of behavior.
What Causes Fear Of Abandonment?
According to psychotherapist Sue Anderson, “The origin of abandonment issues often begins very early in life.”
When children are raised with chronic loss, or without the emotional or physical protection that a parent or guardian should be providing, it’s natural that these children turn their fears inward. Infants or children become afraid that they will be left uncared for, which leads to a cumulative fear of abandonment. By not getting the physical or emotional protection of a parent, the child becomes abandoned. Living with repeated abandonment creates a toxic shame in children, as they learn this brutal message: “You don’t matter. You have no value.”
Sometimes, abandonment occurs when parents cannot recognize the boundaries between themselves and their child. This can occur when:
- Parents cannot see their children as separate beings from themselves.
- Parental self-esteem is derived from the child’s behavior.
- Parents are unwilling to take any responsibility for their feelings, behaviors, thoughts. Instead, they expect their children to take responsibility.
Emotional and physical abandonment with distorted boundaries are not actually indications that the child is bad; instead the entire perception is based upon false beliefs and values of the caregiver who repeatedly hurt them.
Still, this pain can persist a lifetime, the wounds unhealed, the feelings of shame overwhelming. The pain of abandonment is exceptionally challenging to heal.
What Are Emotional Needs?
For a child who grows up in a constant state of fear of abandonment, it can be very challenging, as an adult, to understand their own emotional needs, after being told for so many years that their needs “don’t matter,” because the child is “worthless.” Emotional needs can include:
- The need to be nurtured
- The need to be listened to
- The need to be understood
- The need to feel valued
- The need of acceptance
- The need for love
- The need for companionship.
While this list may look a little silly to some, these are extremely foreign concepts to children who grew in a home where abandonment and child neglect was present.
What Are The Scars Of Emotional Abandonment?
The imprint left in a child by the experience of being abandoned by a parent leaves a huge emotional gap. This enormous hole ends up isolating us, depressing us and causing emotional breakdown in our personal reality on all levels.
Thanks to decades of attachment studies, we know that healthy affective bonds guarantee the development of a fulfilling life filled with healthy relationships, healthy self-esteem, and the security and trust of others. On the other hand, insecure attachment sets us on a path towards insecurity, low self-esteem and lack of trust towards those around us.
Negative affective bonds between parents and children create destructive behaviors and great anguish. Going through an exercise of introspection and subsequently distancing ourselves from this experience will help us to understand it and work on it to reach greater emotional freedom and, as a result, to organize our personality better (that is to say, our way of behaving with ourselves and our environment), our insecurity, low self-esteem and lack of trust towards those around us.
Because children who are abandoned have the erroneous belief that they do not matter and that their needs do not matter, they can easily grow into adults who feel the same: feeling worthless, lonely, and sad.
The fear of abandonment becomes a consistent theme in the interpersonal relationships of those who were abandoned as children, which can lead to troubled interpersonal relationships. Fears of abandonment may be triggered by rejection, a lack of validation, and feelings of inadequacy. These feelings are further compounded by feelings of loneliness, rejection, and in some cases, betrayal.
The self-fulfilling prophecy exists when individuals are filled with fear and insecurity, and attract those who may abandon them, thus leading to a validation of their fear.
Further, a healthy romantic relationship may become dysfunctional or fall apart altogether because the individual is not fully available to them for fear that the partner will leave. These relationships revolve around fear.
What Are Common Beliefs of Those With Abandonment Issues?
People who have scars from abandonment during childhood often self-report as suffering from many false beliefs (beliefs they think are real). In order to correct this negative self-talk, we must first be aware of the beliefs of those of us who suffer abandonment issues:
- I have no support
- People and relationships are exhausting
- I am invisible
- I am unlovable
- I can’t trust others
- My needs are not met
- I am insecure
- I need approval from others
- I cannot do anything right
- I am rejected and betrayed by others
What Are Some Common Feelings Associated With Abandonment?
Many people struggle with abandonment issues in their lives, and until they realize that these feelings are both natural, but based in untrue realities, healing from abandonment may be a challenge. These are some of the more common feelings associated with abandonment:
Anxiety – especially surrounding fears of living life alone and the expectation that one will ALWAYS be alone.
“I feel anxious when I like someone because I know they’ll look behind the mask and see that I’m worthless.”
Depression – depression is common among people who have abandonment issues as they’ve grown up feeling as though they do not matter to anyone.
“I don’t matter to anyone. I wish I mattered to someone.”
Loneliness – because children who experience abandonment are taught that they do not matter; they never learn to express their feelings or open up to others, which can lead to intense feelings of
“No one will understand how I feel, so I’m not going to open up about it – they’ll think I’m crazy.”
Fear – people who suffered from abandonment during childhood spend much of their time feeling afraid that they will, once again, be abandoned by friends, partners, and other people in their lives.
“I’m so afraid to date because I don’t want to be left.”
Defeat – because overcoming abandonment is a process, not an event, people who experience abandonment issues often feel defeated by their negative self-talk.
“Why bother if no one is going to care about me anyway?”
What Are The Causes of Emotional Abandonment In Romantic Relationships?
Almost everyone who has had an interpersonal relationship has been abandoned at some point by his or her partner. For adult children who have been raised with the erroneous belief that they deserve to be abandoned, fears of abandonment may be huge.
While these situations (and many more) can lead a person who has deep-rooted fears of abandonment, with proper communication and individual and couple’s therapy, these fears can be addressed and the relationship can be mended, with both partners on the same page. The individual who suffers from abandonment must deal with his or her issues with the help of a therapist.
“Leaving a marriage” doesn’t always occur when one partner moves out of the shared living quarters and files paperwork. Emotional abandonment occurs when one or both parties stops investing in the marriage, leaving their partner feeling unwanted and detached. How does this happen? How do two formerly happy people fall into such a pattern? And furthermore, what causes emotional abandonment between spouses?
Here are some of the most common causes for emotional abandonment in a marriage or partnership:
1) Being unable to forgive. If our partner has hurt us and we refuse to forgive them, we find ways to protect ourselves from being hurt again. The most simple way to prevent being hurt by your partner is to close off our hearts to them. Not practicing forgiveness leads to isolation, and overcoming unforgiveness requires that we are humble and seek forgiveness from our partner, as well as a willingness to forgive our partner when he or she has hurt us.
2) Being Unkind – when one partner is unkind to the other, it starts a seed of hurt that can build to become a deep resentment of the other. This can be fixed by each partner reminding themselves to treat our partners as we would like to be treated.
3) Not Bothering – putting very little into a marriage can happen very slowly and over time, especially when we feel our partnership is just fine. This, unfortunately can cause us to take our partner for granted and not treat them as though they are important, leading to our partners isolating themselves.
4) Fears Of Discussing Problems – if one of the partners in a marriage is unable to bring up their problems in the partnership because they’re afraid, this can lead to a disconnection between partners.
5) Denial, denial, denial – when our relationship begins to falter, so many of us choose to deny the existence of the problem, rather than confront it head-on. Unfortunately, this only leads to further deterioration and emotional abandonment.
6) Busy Bees – many of us pack our days so full that we do not make time for our partner. Schedule some “us” time with your partner every day, even if it’s just having dinner or watching television together.
How To Work Through Emotional Abandonment In Romantic Relationships:
The first thing you must do when attempting to bridge the gap between you and your partner is to figure out the cause for the emotional detachment. Here are some of the ways to reconnect with your partner after emotional abandonment:
1) Agree to have an honest conversation with your partner about your problems. Sometimes, when they’re brought out into the light of day, the problems in our relationships don’t seem nearly as scary.
2) Before your talk, take some time to yourself and think about the unresolved issues you’ll be discussing with your partner. Figure out your concerns, what areas you want to improve, and what areas you’d like your spouse to improve in.
3) Don’t beat around the bush – but be kind. This discussion is intended to bring the issues in your partnership out without blaming one another for the emotional abandonment. Use “I feel” statements and do not inject guilt into the conversation. Remember, you two are going to have to work together to fix your problems.
4) Start meeting those unmet needs – find out what needs you can be meeting for your spouse and be sure to start meeting those needs. In turn, tell your partner what needs you feel are unmet.
5) Figure yourself out – find out what’s at the root of the problem, what your role in the problem is, and how you can best work together to fix things. In the meantime, try some therapy or writing to get your feelings out and work on your own issues.
6) Make it a point to be there for your spouse so that you can work toward emotional reconnection.
7) Be kind to each other. Be warm, loving, do things that makes your partner happy because you can, not because you have to.
Five Stages To Working Through Abandonment Issues:
It’s vital to know that those of us who have been abandoned as children do not need to live our lives in such fear. We need to learn to love ourselves and that child who was loved by no one. We must heal from our wounds, but never forget the scars – they’re a part of who we are, but they do not have to define us. The following are the five stages of working through abandonment issues:
- Shattering: An intense fear of devastation after a severed relationship.
- Withdrawal: The individual pulls away, but feels yearning, obsession, and longing.
- Internalizing: The ex-partner may be “placed on a pedestal” and the failure becomes a source of self-blame.
- Rage: Anger and thoughts of retaliation at those who did not protect you, or left you.
- Lifting: Life begins to distract you, love becomes a possibility.
Overall, love becomes defined by fear and anxiety, rather than safety and security. These conflicting emotions create negative patterns that are expressed in relationships.
Abandonment is also a form of grief, in that the individual is mourning the loss of a relationship. However, feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and fear lead to a recurring negative pattern. Further, the feelings of disappointment and anger are often turned inward and become a “truth” about ourselves.
How Are Issues of Abandonment Treated?
Abandonment issues are treatable through a variety of methods. Most people who have problems with abandonment attend therapy. Fears surrounding abandonment are common; although the degree of intensity depends upon a number of factors, including childhood experience, peer acceptance, familial support, lack of a support system.
Generally, fear of abandonment stems from a loss sustained during childhood, whether it was a loss due to parentification, death of a parent, divorce, or childhood abuse.
Talking about these fears with a trusted therapist is a great way to begin to heal the wounds from abandonment. The therapist must show a connection to his or her client so as to prove that he or she will not abandon her client. A therapist will have his or her client focus upon treating themselves in a positive, compassionate way to the scars of abandonment.
A therapist will help overcome fears of abandonment by changing the emotional reaction associated with abandonment. This can help the person separate the past from present day and work toward correcting their negative and false beliefs. It also helps the person by teaching him or her to develop more positive and realistic reactions to events in his or her life.
True healing from abandonment occurs when a person who has fears of abandonment leans that the fear is in the past and cannot control the present-day relationships providing he or she maintains healthy perspectives about life.
Because of a lack of validation and security as a child, the abandonment issues grow. However, by addressing these feelings, it is possible to break the cycle.
Additional Abandonment Resources:
Abandonment and Recovery– Resource and information page about abandonment, the impact of it, and ways to resolve the issues within yourself.
Page last audited 6/2018