Nobody likes to be left behind. However, abandonment issues are much more than this and involve a deep-seated fear of losing loved ones. There are many reasons this fear may develop, but it can often be traced back to childhood trauma or the sudden loss of a loved one.
The Signs of Abandonment Issues
Those with an intense fear of abandonment can exhibit many behaviours, including:
- Needing constant reassurance – many people afraid of abandonment will repeatedly ask their loved ones for emotional guarantees, such as assurances that they will always be there for them.
- Purposely sabotaging relationships – even though those with a fear of abandonment do not want people to leave them, they may purposefully damage their relationships and push away their loved ones, so they do not feel hurt or surprised when they leave.
- Staying in unhealthy relationships – some people have such an intense fear of being left that they stay in unhealthy, toxic relationships, despite wanting to go.
- Overthinking and suspicion – abandonment issues can make people incredibly anxious, leading to overthinking and suspicion of their partners and friends. For example, if a person does not hear from their partner for a certain amount of time, they may suspect them of having an affair and ruminate on what their silence means.
Other signs of abandonment issues also include:
- Codependency in relationships
- Moving quickly from one relationship to another
- An inability to trust other people
- People-pleasing behaviour
- The need to constantly be in control
Abandonment issues can have long-term effects that affect people throughout their lifetime. They are less likely to be able to regulate their emotions and use healthy coping skills, and are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Causes of Abandonment Issues
A fear of abandonment can stem from many places. Experiencing childhood abuse, neglect, or the loss of a loved one at an early age can impact how children form attachments, affecting their attachment style later.
However, any relationship, even in adulthood, can cause abandonment issues. Losing a loved one suddenly or ending a meaningful relationship can lead to a fear of abandonment developing and affecting future relationships.
Abandonment issues can be caused by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) – stressful and traumatic events that occur at a young age. These experiences can contribute to negative internal beliefs that lead people to believe they are unimportant and undeserving of love, which can affect relationships in adulthood.
Other causes of abandonment issues can include romantic rejection, financial stress, mental health conditions, medical issues, and workplace mistreatment. However, no one defined reason will lead someone to develop abandonment issues – it is a complex combination of many things.
Abandonment and Attachment
Abandonment and attachment are closely related. Attachment theory was developed in the 1950s by psychologists Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby and proposes that early childhood interactions between children and caregivers influence how people become attached to others in later life.
Children whose caregivers are responsive to their needs are more likely to grow up securely attached, which helps them to form healthy relationships in adulthood. However, when caregivers are distant, abusive, or inconsistent with their warmth and affection, children can grow up with one of three insecure attachment styles, which could contribute to the development of a fear of abandonment:
- Avoidant attachment – people with this form of attachment tend to avoid close, intimate relationships and have trouble opening up to others. They commonly fear commitment and may therefore cycle through relationships quickly.
- Anxious attachment – anxiously attached people form intense relationships very quickly. They often need a lot of reassurance in relationships and are very emotionally reactive.
- Disorganised attachment – people with a disorganised attachment style are often inconsistent in their relationships and can exhibit signs of anxious and avoidant attachment. They may be uncomfortable with closeness and demonstrate a lack of empathy for others.
Anxiously attached people can often struggle with abandonment issues as they are constantly terrified that people will leave them. However, all attachment styles, even those who are securely attached, can struggle with a fear of abandonment.
Healing a Fear of Abandonment
Overcoming an intense fear of abandonment can seem impossible; however, there are many steps that people can take to help them manage how they feel, including:
- Learning about attachment styles – when people are aware of their attachment style, it can, in turn, make them more aware of how their fear of abandonment affects their relationships. Once people know what attachment style they are aligned with, they can work towards managing the feelings that arise when they are triggered.
- Noting down triggers – fear of abandonment can be triggered by many things, such as a tone of voice or a short response to a question. When people recognise their triggers, they can plan how to cope with them and communicate to others how these triggers make them think and feel.
- Improving communication – abandonment issues can cause people to lash out at their loved ones. Learning to communicate healthily and discussing feelings rather than reacting impulsively can reassure those with a fear of abandonment and improve their romantic and platonic relationships.
Abandonment issues can be hard to face alone. Reaching out for help can help people to confront their fears head-on with the support of a therapist and address the root causes of the issues affecting them.
A fear of abandonment can stem from many places, but no matter where it comes from, it can be challenging for relationships. This fear can also contribute to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression and can feel inescapable. Abandonment issues can be addressed and healed, and with consistent work and effort, these feelings lessen, and relationships can be improved.
 Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med., 14(4):245-258. doi:10.1016/s0749-3797(98)00017-8
 Schoenfelder EN, Sandler IN, Wolchik S, Mackinnon D. Quality of Social Relationships and the Development of Depression in Parentally-Bereaved Youth. J Youth Adolesc. 2011;40(1):85-96. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9503-z