What is the Fear of Abandonment?
A fear of abandonment is a deep-seated fear of being left by people that you are close to. This fear affects your thoughts and behaviours.
It can be rooted in childhood from physical or emotional neglect or from an event such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce. This trauma results in an individual developing a fear or expectation that it will happen again.
Attachment to Parental Figures
Our attachment style is formed in the first year of life and defines how we relate to others and what we expect from our environment. Please see more about attachment styles here.
Attentive parents create secure children with a secure attachment style, but narcissistic parents will tend to create children who feel insecure (and this results in ambivalent, avoidant or disorganised attachment styles).
Emotionally neglectful and abusive caregivers can cause their children to become fearful of them while, at the same time, they need their protection. This creates a dichotomy. There is a need and desire to attach to a parental figure for love, safety and reassurance and that very person is the one who hurts them.
In later life, this confuses the way they relate to other people. Wanting to be close to others can create fear as it means that they may be hurt and simultaneously, there is a fear of being alone and abandoned.
There is an internal conflict and a push/pull of wanting emotional intimacy and fearing it.
The memories of the pain and fear of the emotional and/or physical abandonment as babies and children is carried as emotional baggage and affects all subsequent relationships.
How Abandonment Fears Are Created
Children being treated as peers or emotional confidants
Parental figures revealing too much intimate information
Too much criticism
Holding a child to too high a standard
Separation and divorce of parents/caregivers
Death of a parent
Stifling a child’s emotional expression
Caregivers relying on children for their own sense of self-worth
The Effect of Unmet Needs
Unmet physical or emotional needs in childhood lead to feelings of being very unsafe and not being able to rely upon and trust others and this has serious consequences on a child’s psyche.
Narcissists and Emotional Abandonment
Narcissists see their children as extensions of themselves, or as objects to be used to meet their needs, which renders them incapable of taking care of the emotional needs of another person. This is severe emotional neglect and means that they stifle their children’s real self and mould them into what they want them to be through the punishing behaviours of rejection, silent treatments and rages. They are highly critical and frequently shame and ridicule their children. Many will never tell their children that they love them or be physically affectionate.
A Fear of Abandonment Results in Being:
Low in confidence
Low in the ability to feel safe in the world
Unable to trust others
Low in self-esteem
Clingy or pushing others away
And Individuals May:
Have an expectation of abandonment
Expect relationships to go wrong
Accept a relationship where they may be treated badly
Feel they don’t deserve to be loved
Wonder why their partner is with them
A fear of abandonment can affect most or all friendships and family and work relationships.
In an effort to keep their partner, people with a fear of abandonment may feel that they have to give more than they ‘take’ from others, they may be chronic people pleasers which can lead to an imbalance of power in relationships. Alternatively, they may try to control their partners through wanting to know where they are, most or all of the time, or they may use threats. They may be envious of other people’s relationships. They may feel anxious and worried a lot of the time and may need frequent reassurance that their partner is being faithful or will not leave them. They may feel very jealous. They may have clinging behaviours and at other times push their partner away.
Adults who are afraid of being abandoned may work hard to keep their partner from leaving and put a lot of effort into the relationship. They may then worry that their partner does not appreciate or reciprocate their efforts.
Therapy to explore the emotions at the root of abandonment fears can help to heal the underlying wounds and the individual can come to feel more resilient, confident, self-assured and less needy.