How to Know If You Have a Fear of Abandonment (and What to Do About It)

It’s normal to feel a little awkward or insecure about a new romantic interest or a new friend. But if you find yourself too worried about being abandoned and left behind by others, you may have a fear of being abandoned.

“Fear of abandonment is an all-consuming fear that people close to you may leave you,” says Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios , a certified psychiatrist. “You are in a state of constant anxiety that the people around you are leaving, or you will be left alone, or you will be isolated in the social structure.”

For example, Gonzalez-Berrios says, you may feel like someone you love very much will leave you and never come back. You may feel isolated and unable to emotionally connect with others because you are constantly overwhelmed by the fear of being alone, or you may feel emotionally neglected and unheard by the people who matter most in your life.

According to Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios, the fear of being abandoned also symbolizes insecurity, poor self-esteem, and feelings of worthlessness. While the condition is not classified as an official phobia, she notes that “anxiety gets worse over time” if left untreated.

So where does the fear of abandonment come from, what are the signs and what to do about it?

Where does the fear of being abandoned come from?

The fear of abandonment is often rooted in some kind of attachment trauma that makes it difficult for you to trust others.

“[The fear of abandonment comes from] when someone you’re attached to, usually a parent in early childhood but not always, somehow abandons you,” says Brianna Sanders , a licensed professional counselor. “Whether they physically leave you, emotionally neglect you, are present but harm you in some way that betrays your safety, or even if they die unexpectedly—these can all be forms of attachment trauma. Because of this traumatic event, your nervous system is rewired so that you can minimize the harm of possible future rejection.”

These traumatic events may develop from the loss of a parent or partner through death or divorce, or from some sort of betrayal by someone you trusted, leading to a fear of abandonment.

How does the fear of being abandoned manifest itself?

Fear of abandonment can take many forms and is usually associated with your attachment style in a relationship. Sanders says this fear usually manifests itself in one of three ways: anxious attachment, avoidant attachment, and fearful attachment.

Anxious attachments are “busy with getting their attachment needs met,” Sanders explains. “It’s like constantly checking to make sure someone still likes you, easily noticing if someone’s communication patterns are changing or getting worse, and feeling like you have a responsibility to make sure others don’t leave at all costs. By not doing these things, you experience a lot of anxiety. The goal of anxious attachments is to maintain closeness, because closeness [equals] security.”

Those with avoidant attachment “avoid getting attached to others for fear of being abandoned,” Sanders says. “It’s like distancing yourself from people when you start to feel closer to them, avoid vulnerability and keep things on the surface, and need a lot of space, especially in romantic relationships. The goal of avoidant attachments is to maintain independence, because independence equals security.

People with fearful attachment “want to experience intimacy and maintain their independence, but are afraid of both,” says Sanders. “Usually the guardians of fearful attachés were very unpredictable, so it is difficult for them to feel safe in close relationships, but they also experience anxiety without close relationships. Their actions can seem very confusing from the outside, because they do not know how to alleviate their inner fear of being abandoned.

According to Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios, other signs of fear of abandonment include:

  • trying to quickly connect with strangers
  • propensity to attract attention
  • no long-term healthy relationships
  • picky, accusatory tendencies
  • never takes responsibility for misbehavior
  • feels resentful and distressed if left alone
  • gets jealous if someone else talks to their loved ones
  • lack of trust in others
  • looking for hidden meaning in the behavior of their loved ones
  • lack of emotional control
  • constantly questioning the status of the relationship
  • constant anxiety over the possible loss of a partner, parent, friend, or child

How to deal with the fear of being abandoned

Because fear of abandonment usually stems from deep-seated insecurities and childhood trauma, Dr. Gonzalez-Berrios says it’s important to try to understand the roots of your trauma, preferably with the help of a therapist or counselor. Think, “Why… do you feel frustrated, or what would happen if people left you?” she said. “When you can identify the worst-case scenarios, you can face your fears with courage.”

Sanders says it’s also important to realize that what you once did was protecting you. “Give thanks to your defense mechanisms and give them permission to leave you as you begin to create inner security.”

Another exercise for reflection: connect with the part of you that is afraid. “Pay attention to how you are talking to yourself right now,” Sanders says. “Notice how this is rooted in your current patterns and fear of abandonment. Notice where that came from and at what age you learned to be afraid of people leaving or emotionally neglecting you.”

And finally, it is extremely important to create internal security. “Create the inner voice of the person you needed as a child so that they don’t leave you,” says Sanders. “Speak to yourself like this person whenever you feel the fear of being abandoned. Once you can securely attach to yourself, [you can] heal the fear of being abandoned with permanence over time.”

The best way to do all of this, according to Sanders, is to meditate regularly . “Just start with five minutes a day and work your way up to 15 minutes a day. If you are new to meditation, there is no shame in using guided meditation. In fact, I recommend it.”

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