The Fear of Abandonment
“Don’t panic. I’m with you.
There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.
I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.
I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.” Isaiah 41:10
It’s certainly real, ya’ll.
Maybe you’ve knowingly experienced this or maybe it’s haunted you under the surface for a long time.
Chances are someone has abandoned you along the way. You parent. Ex. Friend. Sibling.
- Maybe you’ve been abandoned recently and you’re freaking out.
- Maybe your partner has detached emotionally, checked out, and you’re over it.
- Maybe you’re miserable in your relationship, but you are petrified to leave.
I’d heard about abandonment issues in my college psych courses, but I never really understood it at a deep level until came upon me like a tsunami in my mid-thirties.
One of the reasons I never really experienced this fear intensely is because shortly after high school I secured myself in a relationship. I got married, had three children and for the most part, I felt safe and secure. I did not feel the fear of abandonment – at least consciously.
Fast forward 15 years when I decided that I wanted a divorce and jump into a different relationship. A relationship that wasn’t so safe. I’d also been chipping away at my soul for years, losing parts of “me” all along the way. Leaked my power out all over the place. Yes, I had quite a bit of emotionally baggage I’d never dealt with.
It was in that relationship that the fear of abandonment and I became well acquainted.
See, codependency and the fear of abandonment go hand in hand. While not everyone struggling with codependency has a fear of abandonment, it is likely that those who have a fear of abandonment are hand in hand with codependency on some level.
If you fear being abandoned, you are probably doing a more than wonderful job caretaking and people-pleasing those around you in an attempt to keep them happy – so they won’t leave you.
It’s a paradox. You get a good feeling from having others depend on you, but really it is you depending on them for security, because you are so afraid that they will abandon you. You need to be needed, and this can lead to all sorts of negative emotions and situations.
If you struggle with abandonment issues, chances are that you’ll have some psychological challenges that pop up throughout your life – oftentimes recurring.
For example, if a child was emotionally neglected by a parent, his life may be marked with anger or mood swings throughout his life. He may suffer from low self-esteem and not be able to engage in healthy relationships with others. Or he may be distrusting of others and not let himself be vulnerable in a relationship.
Such abandonment issues can cause one to feel unworthy, which can cause other things to arise like depression, anxiety, codependency, and more.
For example, when I was in that toxic relationship, I spent a lot of time helping and people pleasing (or partner pleasing). Sometimes my “help” would not go as planned and I would freak out inside. I distinctly remember one time I offered to get an extra key made for my partner’s house and the new key wouldn’t work. She was locked out and called me, quite upset. I instantly went into “freak out” mode, feeling inadequate, thinking it was my fault the key didn’t work. I went and got a second key made and that one didn’t work either, so we had some tension there.
I wanted to “perform the task” so badly out of fear of being inadequate (which would lead to her being mad, which would lead to her wanting to be with someone else, which means she would ultimately abandon me).
See, it was that thought process (inadequacy, anxiety, fear, ultimately abandoned) that kept repeating itself in that relationship and it was this instance that I really got it.
I really saw the toxic pattern. It was my “aha” moment, so-to-speak, where I clearly saw my unhealthy thought patterns, which caused me so much anxiety and fear.
Finally, after I realized this, I told her to take care of the key situation herself. I took a tiny leap toward self-care, setting a boundary, and standing up for myself. I started becoming better at recognizing this fear when it would pop up, and rather than letting it trigger me, I would be more apt to stay present. Tap into reality. And, think and act less cray-cray.
If you fear being abandoned, it will likely show up in your relationship at some point. But once you begin to recognize this, you can start digging down to get to the root of the issue. Keep in mind that you may need some professional help in order to really get down and dirty with the raw truth and begin the healing process.
I learned that I had some deep-rooted issues from childhood that needed to be worked through. I was petrified of being abandoned. This fear got its root all the way back in childhood where I was abandoned on all sorts of levels.
When my ex and I would break up for one or two days, I was terrified inside. One night, I remember curling up in my bathtub full of hot water in the fetal position agonizing in pain. I was physically going through withdrawal and fear consumed my being.
It wasn’t even rational. I mean, what was I so terrified of?
That was years ago and since then, I have done some inner healing work surrounding the fear of abandonment. I have faced it head on and it was a process to work through it – and still can be at times.
I had to revisit my childhood to contend with some of my fears. I did some inner child healing work. I read up on the topic. I journaled and meditated regularly. I did holotropic breathwork and attending counseling. I was very interested in the healing process and was willing to do whatever it took to get free.
Many adults discover that those negative feelings they did not process way back in childhood come back for attention years later.
The inner child who didn’t know how to process wounds (aka trauma of some sort) will tend to drive your emotional car until you do some inner child healing.
This is why most people revert back to immature coping methods when they encounter stress or conflict.
I was told on numerous occasions that I acted like an immature child when I encountered relationship conflict. I was letting my inner child control my life and she did so until I went through a healing process regarding childhood wounds. I had to take charge as an adult and let my inner child simply relax. I learned to parent my inner child and take responsibility for my emotions – uh hum, grow up emotionally.
It was a process and I’m still learning and growing in this area even today, because that little girl can still pop up when conflict arises in my relationship. She wants to detach and run away as fast as she can. A big difference today is that when she pops up, I am more aware of what’s going on and I don’t let her act for me.
At least most of the time. I’m still a work in progress.
Doing the work in a relationship or single?
I found that for me, I needed to take a season alone to contend with many negative emotions and old wounds. I could not heal and grow in a toxic relationship. I had never taken a season single to heal and grow since I was a teen, so it was necessary! It was challenging at times, but it was exactly what I needed to face my fears and old wounds without having to worry about anyone else in the picture.
You may be able to do the work in a relationship, and if so, wonderful!
Several resources have helped me contend with my fear of abandonment and other negative emotions. Reading books on codependency, inner child healing, and spirituality helped me immensely. I also found a great therapist and began daily meditation and prayer.
Granted, disciplining myself to meditate and connect with God in silence regularly is not easy, but it is worth it, as meditation gives us a chance to gain some control over our thought life, connect deeper with God, and allow emotional healing to occur.
I found several books to help me tremendously with inner child healing.
- Presence Process by Michael Brown: Helped me to commit to daily meditation and come to understand the necessity of integrating old childhood wounds into my body for optimal emotional health.
- Healing the Child Within by Charles Whitfield
- Homecoming by John Bradshaw
Journaling as I journeyed through my past proved helpful too. It wasn’t easy to revisit my past, but it was necessary and helpful, so consider taking a season to do this yourself.
How are you doing when it comes to the fear of abandonment?
- Do you freak out when your partner threatens to leave you or do you feel like they will leave you for another person?
- When they pull away some, do you feel fear rise within you?
- Do you want to leave your toxic relationship, but you’re terrified? Afraid you won’t make it on your own?
If so, it’s a great idea to seek professional help on the matter and begin reading about inner child healing or shadow work.
Psychotherapists are trained to help you revisit your childhood and work through fears that you now experience due to trauma or abuse from way back then. I encourage you to take a season and attend counseling. I wish, wish, wish, I would have camped out in a counselor’s office when I first began dealing with the pain that was triggered when I got divorced. It would have helped me understand what was going on with my crazy emotions and probably saved me a few years’ worth of intense pain!
Along with professional help, continue reading about codependency and if you have a codependency support group nearby, feel free to attend. You can also pull up videos on this topic via YouTube and receive a great deal of helpful information there.
A wonderful book on the topic is:
- Love Me, Don’t Leave Me: Overcoming Fear of Abandonment & Building Lasting, Loving Relationships, by Michelle Skeen, PsyD.
- Watch some YouTube videos by John Bradshaw on this topic. Here is the first session of John on the Oprah show. Watch the series for a good overview of the topic:
- Write a journal entry concerning the topic of the fear of abandonment.
-Do you fear being alone? Being left by your partner?
-Did you experience a great loss as a child?
-Write about something traumatic you experienced as a child or a great loss.
-Do you think you can pinpoint where your fear of abandonment came from?
“God, some days I feel so alone it’s absolutely horrible. I feel like I’m in the desert with no food, water, shelter, people, etc. Nothing. Where are you? Why can’t I feel you? God, please help me trust that You’re always with me, even when I’m struggling to feel you. Help me see and feel with my spiritual senses, rather than trust my natural senses. Help my unbelief!”