What is Emotional Abandonment?

What is Emotional Abandonment?

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Many people don’t realize that they’re feeling emotionally abandoned or that they did as a child. They may be unhappy, but can’t put their finger on what it is. People tend to think of abandonment as something physical, like neglect. They also may not realize that loss of physical closeness due to death, divorce, and illness often is felt as an emotional abandonment.

However, emotional abandonment has nothing to do with proximity. It can happen when the other person is lying right beside you — when you can’t connect and your emotional needs aren’t being met in the relationship.

Emotional Needs

Often people aren’t aware of their emotional needs and just feel that something’s missing. But people have many emotional needs in intimate relationships. They include the following needs:

  • To be listened to and understood
  • To be nurtured
  • To be appreciated
  • To be valued
  • To be accepted
  • For affection
  • For love
  • For companionship

Consequently, if there is high conflict, abuse, or infidelity, these emotional needs go unmet. Sometimes, infidelity is a symptom of emotional abandonment in the relationship by one or both partners. Additionally, if one partner is addicted, the other may feel neglected, because the addiction comes first and consumes the addict’s attention, preventing him or her from being present.

Causes of Emotional Abandonment

Yet even in a healthy relationship, there are periods, days, and even moments of emotional abandonment that may be intentional or unconscious. They can be caused by:

  • Intentionally withholding communication or affection
  • External stressors, including the demands of parenting
  • Illness
  • Conflicting work schedules
  • Lack of mutual interests and time spent together
  • Preoccupation and self-centeredness
  • Lack of healthy communication
  • Unresolved resentment
  • Fear of intimacy

When couples don’t share common interests or work and sleep schedules, one or both may feel abandoned. You have to make an extra effort to spend time talking about your experiences and intimate feelings with each other to keep the relationship fresh and alive.

More harmful are unhealthy communication patterns that may have developed, where one or both partners doesn’t share openly, listen with respect, and respond with interest to the other. If you feel ignored or that your partner doesn’t understand or care about what you’re communicating, then there’s a chance that eventually you may stop talking to him or her. Walls begin to build and you find yourself living separate lives emotionally. One sign may be that you talk more to your friends than to your partner or are disinterested in sex or spending time together.

Resentments easily develop in relationships when your feelings, especially hurt or anger, aren’t expressed. When they go underground, you may either pull away emotionally or push your partner away with criticism or undermining comments. If you have expectations that you don’t communicate, but instead believe your partner should be able to guess or intuit them, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and resentment.

When you or your partner fears intimacy, you may pull away, put up walls, or push one another away. Usually, this fear isn’t conscious. In counseling, couples are able to talk about their ambivalence, which allows them to get closer. Often abandoning behavior occurs after a period of closeness or sex. One person may physically withdraw or create distance by not talking or even by talking too much. Either way, it may leave the other person feeling alone and abandoned. Fears of intimacy usually stem from emotional abandonment in childhood.

In Childhood

Emotional abandonment in childhood can happen if the primary caretaker, usually the mother, is unable to be present emotionally for her baby. It’s often because she’s replicating her childhood experience, but it may also be due to stress. It’s important for a baby’s emotional development that the mother attune to her child’s feelings and needs and reflect them back. She may be preoccupied, cold, or unable to empathize with her child’s success or upsetting emotions. He or she then ends up feeling alone, rejected, or deflated. The reverse is also true – where a parent gives a child a lot of attention, but isn’t attuned to what the child actually needs. The child’s needs hence go unmet, which is a form of abandonment.

Abandonment happens later, too, when children are criticized, controlled, unfairly treated, or otherwise given a message that they or their experience is unimportant or wrong. Children are vulnerable, and it doesn’t take much for a child to feel hurt and “abandoned.” Abandonment can occur when a parent confides in his or her child or expects a child to take on age-inappropriate responsibilities. At those times, the child must suppress his or her feelings and needs in order to meet the needs of the adult.

A few incidents of emotional abandonment don’t harm a child’s healthy development, but when they’re common occurrences, they reflect deficits in the parent, which affect the child’s sense of self and security that often lead to intimacy issues and codependency in adult relationships. Couples counseling can bring couples together to enjoy more closeness, heal from abandonment, and change their behavior.

What is Emotional Abandonment, Concept, Meaning

Human beings are faced with feelings of frustration, such as guilt, anxiety, rejection, abandonment, etc. All of them create an inner discomfort and in some cases the help of a professional is needed. What is Emotional Abandonment?

If a child is at home alone while their parents work, or when a woman realizes that her husband is no longer emotionally involved in the relationship, it is quite possible that this child and the woman will experience an inner feeling of emotional abandonment. From this state , feelings of sadness, disappointment, disappointment, helplessness, anguish, personal discomfort, etc. arise.

It should be noted that someone’s physical presence is compatible with a feeling of emotional absence. For example, a couple lives in the same home and one of them feels that the other has abandoned them.

This feeling occurs when there is an internal disconnect with the other person (a child with no relationship to the parent or a friend with respect to another). When we expect a certain affection from another person and this does not manifest itself, the consequence is an inner emptiness and a feeling of abandonment. What is Emotional Abandonment?

Psychology experts claim that emotional withdrawal produces a series of marks on the human soul.

Factors that trigger emotional feeling

Experts on human behavior consider that some people have this feeling as a consequence of their genetic heritage or their own family history.

In romantic relationships, the emotional bond of a couple can be broken for many reasons: by the routine of daily life because there is a different evolution between the two or else because a third person appears.

Some signs that indicate emotional abandonment in a couple

– There is no direct conflict, but there is a situation of apathy and lack of interest

– Listening with little empathy to what the other says

– Not receiving demonstrations of affection.

In the childhood

Children are especially emotionally vulnerable. Your relationship with your parents is crucial to your balance and personal well-being. In fact, adults who were emotionally abandoned in their childhood have scars inside that are difficult to close completely. What is Emotional Abandonment?

“I, not the Lord”

What does Paul mean by the parenthetical remark "I, not the Lord" in this passage? Some argue that this is just Paul giving his opinion—which is helpful—but not authoritative, as when he is speaking apostolically and authoritatively. In other words, they think that Paul's advice and admonitions can be broken into two categories:

1. Non-binding opinion—which is helpful—but not ultimately authoritative.

2. Binding apostolic teaching which is authoritative.

If we hold the first view, we might then dismiss whatever Paul writes here about abandonment as non-binding and non-authoritative it’s just the word of a man and not the word of God.

But, if we maintain that all Scripture is the inspired and authoritative word of God, then such a distinction cannot be held. So then, what is Paul intending with his parenthetical remark? Rather than discounting his authority, Paul is simply distinguishing between two types of teaching:

1. Situations which were spoken to explicitly by Jesus in His earthly ministry ("not I, but the Lord" – 1 Corinthians 7:10).

2. Situations which were not explicitly addressed by Jesus in His earthly ministry ("I, not the Lord" – 1 Corinthians 7:12).

In other words, both contexts are apostolic, both are authoritative, both are inspired but, in one Paul is merely repeating what Jesus had already said (regarding marriage in general) and in the other he is addressing a context that Jesus never explicitly addressed (believers married to unbelievers—especially when those unbelievers abandon the marriage).

When Paul says, "not I, but the Lord," he is basically just repeating what Jesus had taught as recorded in the gospels. But when he writes, "I, not the Lord," he is now dealing with a situation that Jesus did not explicitly address. So, by saying “I, not the Lord,” all Paul is saying is that you can’t flip over to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to see what you should do regarding marriage to a non-believing spouse he is not saying “this is just my opinion.” Therefore, this passage is not only relevant, but also binding upon our lives and consciences.

With that in mind, let's consider the reasons for rejecting the claim that emotional or spiritual abandonment provide biblical grounds for divorce.

What is Emotional Abandonment? (with pictures)

In a marriage or partnership, when one partner physically leaves the other, this may be termed abandonment, but emotional abandonment is slightly different. Partners remain together but one of them withdraws from the other emotionally. One partner is suddenly emotionally unavailable to the other partner, creating confusion and sadness because this person is physically there, but doesn’t show interest or give support to his partner. The partnership falls apart and there is no sense of closeness when emotional abandonment occurs. Such a situation might be remedied with couples counseling, but only if the abandoning partner is interested in restoring closeness and committed to healing the relationship.

Before continuing to discuss emotional abandonment in the marriage or partner relationship, it’s worth noting that there are other forms of emotional abandonment that are even more severe and damaging. For example, parents can be emotionally unavailable to their children on a regular basis, or for the entire length of the child’s life. This creates profound damage to the child, who will usually grow up with very little sense of self or self-esteem. Such abandonment may be partially counteracted if the other parent is involved and interested in the child. Even then, growing up with the knowledge that a mother or father has no interest in the child generally creates significant psychological issues and generates continual emotional pain.

In adult relationships, emotional abandonment can be just as painful. The purpose of forming a partnership is to create an environment where two people are interested in each other, supportive of each other, and generally “there” for each other. When one partner backs out of this environment and seems suddenly uninterested and unsupportive, that person is emotionally abandoning his or her partner. For the person who is being abandoned, this can feel exceptionally painful. When the partnership relationship is dysfunctional and one spouse is no longer important to the other, feelings of sadness, anger, and a general sense of abandon often arise.

The abandoned spouse may feel as though he or she is at fault for the lack of closeness and relationship, and sometimes poor relations between spouses can lead one to abandon the other. In other situations, emotional abandonment has nothing to do with the partner. Psychological issues of one spouse could lead to inability to maintain closeness, or issues like substance abuse can destroy a partnership. Even stress or worry about work or finances can cause a person to withdraw and be unable to be supportive of a partner.

When emotional abandonment occurs, couples should seek counseling. If the abandoning partner refuses to go, the other partner is advised to obtain individual therapy. Evaluating the choices available to the emotionally abandoned partner is still important, and sometimes the partner who is not connecting emotionally changes his or her mind about getting counseling. Not all marriages or partnerships are rescued through therapy, and sometimes the partner who is disconnected refuses to look at ways in which emotional reconnection could occur.

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

What to Know!

  • Emotional abandonment (EA) occurs when a person is rejected or denied by another person or a relationship is ended without their wanting it to end
  • EA can also occur when a loved one or a close person is absent or even dies leaving great feelings of loss and loneliness
  • EA can be very traumatic when the abandoned person depends on the other for emotional, financial, medical, or physical support
  • According to Claudia Black, abandonment of children when they are developing their self-worth is the foundation for the belief in their own inadequacy this is the central cause of feelings of shame which becomes a driving force in their adult lives
  • Feelings of EA can be triggered by perceived intentional or unintentional slights, being defriended, and not having texts or emails returned, as well as actual rejections
  • The fear of EA can create high levels of anxiety and lead people to stay in unhealthy and dependent relationships just so that they are not rejected
  • People with EA worry excessively about being left alone and develop dysfunctional behaviors, such as being too needy, which eventually alienates others even more
  • People with a fear of EA are often attracted to unavailable partners with whom they cannot form a relationship thus playing it safe and avoiding being hurt
  • Fear of abandonment can lead to anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, distrust, dependency, low self-esteem, resentment and avoidance of intimacy
  • Symptoms also include feelings of worthlessness, withdrawal from social activities, clinginess, insecurity, sleep and eating disorders, and overall fatigue
  • EA is associated with an inability to make a commitment, promiscuity, compulsive dating, attention seeking, substance abuse, and other pathological behaviors
  • Fear of EA affects men and women equally and it is very prevalent in children whose parents are physically present but emotionally unavailable
  • People who fear EA stay in relationships longer than they should, constantly worry about their partner leaving them, and end relationships before they can get rejected
  • Psychotherapy can be quite helpful in treating people with EA as a supportive trusting therapist can help change emotions linked to abandonment memories

A Closer Look At Emotional Trauma

The American Psychological Association explains the many impacts which trauma can have on a human being. Denial and shock are common responses, especially as the human psyche struggles to come to terms with what has happened. Emotional trauma can furthermore have mental and even physical impacts. It's not uncommon for traumatized individuals to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), headaches, and trouble connecting with others who haven't been through the same trauma.

When emotional trauma is not dealt with, it can ripple out and have long-lasting, toxic impacts on the lives of afflicted individuals and those around them. This manner of trauma can also lead to mental health issues this is more common than most people would like to imagine. What's important to remember is that no one can heal from trauma if they are not willing to address the events which triggered emotional trauma. It's understandable to want to free oneself from past hurts, but ignoring trauma will not make it go away.

What Causes Emotional Trauma?

To say that we live in a crazy world would be the understatement of the century. Due to the nature of today's world, there are all kinds of circumstances which can cause someone to experience emotional trauma. Not everyone has the same level of threshold for pain or trauma. Remembering and understanding that emotional trauma differs for everyone are very significant.

In spite of how emotional trauma can vary and have diverse impacts, there are still some common causes which inspire emotional trauma. Being aware of these causes is necessary, as taking steps to protect oneself and prevent unwanted exposure is always helpful.


Abandonment can easily engender emotional trauma, particularly if the individual shared an intimate relationship with the person who abandoned them. There are all different reasons which someone may face abandonment. The person who left may have personal issues on their own and lack healthy coping mechanisms. However, in virtually all cases, the reasons behind abandonment do not erase the emotional trauma which tends to follow. This trauma manifests in various forms, explains The Huffington Post, and it's not a very pretty picture.

Constant subjection to negative influences (even after abandonment), general mistrust of others, and self-destructive behavior are only a few signs of someone who is experiencing trauma. In many cases, when someone experiences abandonment, they will begin to question why the person left or what they could have done to prevent the abandonment. This can be a very dark, depressing place to fall into, and it won't make anyone feel better. At the end of the day, each person is responsible for their actions. If someone decides to abandon those who are close to them, that is their fault, not the fault of those who were left behind.

In many regards, depression is a form of emotional trauma. However, the existence of depression can lead to further emotional trauma and worsen the downward spiral which someone is already experiencing or going through. WebMD explains that there are so many factors which can cause depression hereditary traits, exposure to negative environments, and even other mental illnesses are just a few examples. Since depression is a form of emotional trauma in and of itself, dealing with it in the appropriate manners is imperative. No two people experience depression in the same manner, but depression can lead to further emotional trauma if it is allowed to fester.

Abuse can take place in many different forms, and it is one of the most common culprits of emotional trauma and so many other mental health issues. Abuse ultimately boils down to having and exerting power over another human being. Individuals who are abusive inherently exploit the power which they have over their victims. When this happens, the victim is put in a position where they often feel vulnerable, helpless, and unsure of how to fight back.

In the aftermath of abuse, many people tend to wonder if they did something to provoke the abuse or mistreatment. This is a common emotional and psychological mind game which abusers often wield against their victims. As previously noted, each is responsible for their actions. A victim is never responsible for the actions of their abuser. This is important for anyone who is going through emotional trauma to be aware of. When it's all said and done, people make their own decisions an honest, upstanding person will not attempt to blame others for their actions.

Regret is one of those things which is not commonly regarded as a source of trauma. However, spending excessive amounts of time wondering what could have been or what one should have done differently can cause emotional trauma. Sometimes, people carry regrets about past relationships, missed opportunities, and other things from the past, which they would change if they got a chance. A person who is unable to let go of regrets can certainly experience trauma, which has a way of rippling out in other negative ways.

At the end of the day, there are no do-overs in life. The past is behind us and can never be changed, no matter how much we regret it. However, nobody is perfect, and the past can certainly be used as a learning experience. Lessons which were learned after the fact can still come in handy later down the line. One of the best ways to healthily process regret is to take note of the lessons learned and apply it in the future, should the need arise.

Working Through Emotional Trauma

Emotional trauma presents a very significant challenge, but this does not mean that it is impossible to get through or overcome. The process of recovery can take time, and each has their way of working through past experiences, which were upsetting or traumatic. Some of the following methods may work better for some people than others. However, having some proven ways of dealing with emotional trauma can help with the recovery process and ensure that people can successfully move forward with their lives.

Partake In Healthy Coping Mechanisms

One of the best ways to ensure that you are dealing with emotional trauma healthily is to consider your coping mechanisms. These mechanisms should always be constructive and conducive to you, enjoying a better quality of life. These can include working out, taking a recreational class, or engaging in a new artistic hobby. By contrast, you should steer clear of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as the consumption of drugs or alcohol. Consuming unhealthy substances can worsen the trauma and exacerbate the associated symptoms.

Don't Rush Yourself

Many people are led to believe that they need to get over things quick, fast, and in a hurry. In actuality, this is simply not how life works. Everyone needs their own time to work through past hurts and deal with what they are feeling. Wishing to return to normalcy is understandable, and there's nothing wrong with that. By the same token, individuals who are going through emotional trauma also need to give themselves time to heal. There is no rush, and nobody should fall into the trap of comparing themselves to other people. You never know what another person is going through, what their story is, or what they simply aren't sharing. When emotional trauma is involved, focusing on yourself is what matters most.

Don't Be Afraid To Talk With A Professional

In so many situations, many people feel alone and don't feel like they can count on others when they're faced with trauma. Now, while each person's situation is different, talking with a professional therapist is a proven coping method which has helped so many people. It's normal to have certain concerns or reservations. Many people worry about sharing intimate details about themselves with a stranger, and that's fine. However, it's important to remember that therapists are there to help you, not pass judgement.

Therapy With BetterHelp

If you are open to the idea of working with a therapist, then you'll be thrilled to learn that BetterHelp has amazing therapists who would be more than thrilled to get to know you. Everyone faces challenges in life, but knowing that there is someone in your corner to support and guide you is always significant. This doesn't mean that you'll never be faced with obstacles or hardships. However, when you have the right support system, these obstacles and hardships can be a lot less daunting.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

There are a number of things that can cause emotional trauma, and things that may cause emotional trauma for one person may not for another. However, there are a few situations and events that are almost guaranteed to cause some form of trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. These include:

  • Death of close family member, lover, or friend
  • Death of a pet
  • Divorce (particularly a long or drawn-out divorce)
  • Physical pain due to trauma (such as a car accident)
  • Chronic health conditions, illness, or extended hospital stay
  • Being involved in war
  • Being involved in a natural disaster
  • Acts of terrorism
  • Abandonment by a loved one or caregiver
  • Witnessing a death
  • Rape
  • Domestic abuse (both as a childhood trauma or as an adult)
  • Prison or jail time

If you believe that you may have experienced a traumatic event that you are having difficulty coming to terms with, seek medical advice and the professional help of a doctor or therapist.

The three types of trauma are:

  • Acute trauma: the result of a singular event that is stressful or dangerous, such as a car accident
  • Chronic trauma: the result of long, repeated exposure to stressful events such as childhood trauma abuse or domestic violence
  • Complex trauma: the result of multiple events that have caused trauma in different ways

All types of trauma are very serious and can affect a person for a long period of time, especially if they don&rsquot receive treatment for their trauma.

Yes. The most common physical symptoms of trauma are headaches, upset stomach, muscle tension, and fatigue. These can happen as a result of not getting enough sleep if you are experiencing nightmares or flashbacks. Our nervous system is intertwined with a number of our other systems and because of that, when your nervous system overreacts it sends cortisol through our system.

This is in preparation of the fight or flight reflex and when that stored energy isn&rsquot used for either of those reactions, the dispersed energy and cortisol then transfers to other parts of your body which causes the physical symptoms.

After a traumatic experience, it is important to take things slow and to take care of your mental health. Some of the most effective methods of dealing with emotional trauma involve talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, meeting with other trauma survivors in support groups, giving yourself time to cope with and process the trauma, getting into a routine, and asking for help and support from friends and loved ones.

If left untreated, psychological trauma can turn into physical and emotional trauma which can then lead to trauma related anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder. This can lead to mood swings, difficulty concentrating, difficulty sleeping, overly emotional responses and emotional reactions to daily events.

Emotional and psychological trauma are very serious conditions that can cause life-threatening trauma symptoms if not treated properly.

Yes, traumatic events can impact the brains of trauma survivors for years after the traumatic event. Emotional and psychological symptoms of trauma cause significant stress to the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus areas of the brain. This stress can cause them to become damaged and can then affect judgement, can cause difficulty concentrating, mood swings, and can even eventually cause a change in your personality.

There are certain common reactions after traumatic and each will continue for a period of time until a sense of safety is restored. These are the five stages of PTSD:

  • The Emergency Stage: This is the initial stage of PTSD that occurs immediately following traumatic events for a period of time. Initially your fight or flight response will feel like it&rsquos constantly in high gear, and you will have intense reactions to everything.
  • The Numbing Stage: This is also known as the denial stage, and without proper treatment some people may never move past this stage. Your mind tries to deny events that happened to minimize emotional and psychological trauma symptoms, but that only makes it worse.
  • The Intrusive/Repetitive Stage: This is often referred to as the most difficult and potentially damaging phase. This is the phase where you will begin to experience traumatic memories, flashbacks and nightmares. All of the emotional and psychological trauma symptoms that were pushed down during the numbing stage come out in full force.
  • The Transition Stage: This is the stage where healing begins to occur and where you begin to move on to your new life post-trauma. The emotional and psychological trauma symptoms begin to fade and you will begin to enjoy life again. This is when your sense of safety begins to return.
  • The Integration Stage: This is when you successfully work through your psychological trauma symptoms and learn the coping mechanisms that you will carry with you. You will learn how to deal with any setbacks you have and will have the benefit of therapy to move forward with your life.

While there is no definitive cure for PTSD, it doesn&rsquot last forever. A person can recover on their own, but it is a much faster and effective process with help. Effective therapy options include talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and support group therapy.

There is no one single &ldquomost&rdquo traumatic event, as trauma affects everyone differently. That said, some of the most traumatic experiences are child abuse, rape, and abandonment.

See above for does trauma ever go away.

Some symptoms of psychological trauma that is unresolved are:

  • Difficulty with attachment and commitment
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Inability to deal with conflict
  • Feelings of worthlessness

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms of psychological trauma, seek medical advice and treatment.

While it is in theory possible to have repressed memories, especially of childhood trauma, it is very unlikely. It is impossible to know if you have repressed trauma or repressed memories without having something that triggers those forgotten memories in your brain.

There is some belief that children who experience childhood trauma may dissociate or unintentionally repress certain memories until they are much older and better equipped to deal with them. If you believe that you may have suppressed memories, speak to your therapist.

It is important to mention that a therapist should never guide you through repressed memories or you may end up with false memories instead.

Nearly all mental illnesses can be caused by childhood trauma. The most common are anxiety, depression, and OCD.

Some symptoms of emotional trauma are:

  • Shock
  • Denial or disbelief
  • Confusion combined with difficulty concentrating
  • Anger or irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt, shame, or self-blame
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • How long does it take to heal from emotional trauma?

The timeline is different for everybody and for every type of trauma. For example, childhood trauma will take significantly longer to recover from than moving to a new place. Typically, for recent traumatic events you should start to feel better and recover within 3-4 weeks, however, full healing could take months or years.

It is important to not rush yourself in your recovery and to go slowly.

Talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and many other forms of therapy can be very effective at helping you come to terms with your emotions.

The Long-Term Effects of Abandonment

One of the most egregious behaviors a parent or other caregiver can do to a child is to abandon them, allowing them to suffer alone. The damages done to the child when grown are significant and should not be ignored.

In this article, we shall examine together what childhood abandonment is, how it affects adults, and ways to mitigate the power it has over our lives.

What is Abandonment?

All children are entirely dependent upon parents or caregivers for their safety in their environment. When these caretakers fail to offer support and meet the child’s needs, emotionally and physically, they are said to have abandoned their child.

When parents abandon their children, their kids grow up feeling unsafe in the world and feeling people cannot be trusted. These unsafe feelings lead to the child experiencing emotions where they feel they do not deserve positive attention or adequate care.

For many children, abandonment is physical and may include:

  • Lack of supervision
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Narcissistic abuse
  • The inappropriate offering of nutrition
  • Inadequate clothes, heat, shelter, or housing

For other children, abandonment takes the form of emotional neglect and abuse when parents do not give to their children emotional conditions and environments that are necessary for their healthy development.

The child is left feeling inadequate, rejected, and damaged, needing to hide themselves away from others knowing who they are on the inside. Abandoned children are left believing it is not okay to make mistakes, that it is not okay to show their genuine emotions, that they should not have needs, and that it is not okay to be successful.

Fear of Abandonment in Adulthood

Because they were neglected and abused as children, many adults grow up having internalized all the messages they received from their parents when they were young. Also, because they craved attention from their abusive parents, many adults grow up fearing losing the love of those they have in their lives.

Fear of abandonment is not a mental illness by itself but rather a form of anxiety that can negatively affect those who experience it. Adults experiencing abandonment issues often experience problems in their relationships because they fear the other person will leave them.

It is vital to recognize the signs of abandonment issues so that these issues may be tackled head-on. They include:

  • They fear giving too much in a relationship.
  • They push people away to avoid rejection.
  • They are often people pleasers.
  • They experience codependency.
  • They feel insecure in intimate relationships and friendships.
  • They require repeated reassurances that they are loved.
  • They feel the need to control others.
  • They jump from one relationship to another.
  • They often will sabotage their relationships.

Other symptoms that may challenge a survivor of abandonment’s life include the following:

  • Constant worry
  • Panic or anxiety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Isolation
  • Frequent physical illnesses
  • Low self-esteem
  • Addiction
  • Disordered eating
  • Self-harm

Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you fight abandonment issues.

The Long-Term Effects of Abandonment and Neglect

People who have experienced abandonment might be more likely to have long-term mental health disorders, often based on the fear the abandonment will happen again in their adult relationships. Mood swings and anger issues later in life can often be traced to abandonment in infancy due to the lack of emotional and other support from parents.

Some of the mental health conditions thought to be heavily influenced by abandonment include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Codependency
  • Attachment anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder

For someone who lacks self-esteem due to childhood abandonment, the fear of being abandoned again becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as their clinginess, and other negative behaviors tend to push away potential life partners and friends.

Other long-term consequences affect future generations of those who experienced abandonment as a child. A recent study, published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging found that the offspring of the abandoned and neglected inherit brain abnormalities from their mothers show up as functional dysconnectivity between the amygdala and medial prefrontal regions of their children’s brains shortly after birth.

The Treatments for Childhood Abandonment in Adults

The treatment of abandonment issues focuses mainly on establishing healthy emotional boundaries and building a plethora of new responses when old thought patterns of fear begin to emerge or reemerge.

There are two primary treatments for abandonment that work tightly together to treat abandonment and neglect issues, including the following.

Psychotherapy. While psychotherapy is not for everyone, seeking out a mental health professional’s help can help those who were the victims of childhood abandonment and neglect. They can learn to overcome their fears of being abandoned again. Therapists work with their clients to understand where the fear originates and how it affects their relationships.

Self-Care. Self-care includes making sure the survivor healthily meets their emotional needs by forming friendships and relationships and allowing themselves to trust.

Should you love someone who has abandonment issues, there are ways you can support them while they heal.

Validate their fears. This means that you should acknowledge their feelings of abandonment without judgment. This move is vital to maintaining open communication. Validating a loved one’s fears doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but instead, supporting their feelings to further build on trust and compassion.

  1. Be present and actively listen to their concerns.
  2. Reflect and summarize your loved one’s feelings verbally and without judgment.
  3. Become a mind-reader, and by listening to what they say help them identify their emotions.
  4. Understand their history so you can openly state that you understand when circumstances trigger their past history of abandonment.
  5. “Normalize” their fears by acknowledging the fact that others with their history have fears of abandonment and that their feelings are understandable.
  6. Use radical genuineness to deeply validate your loved one and share your loved one’s fears as your own.

The treatment of abandonment anxiety can be very successful, but it requires commitment and self-care. Many people with abandonment issues do not see how destructive their behaviors have been to their relationships until it is pointed out to them and they begin to heal.

However, treatment can teach new ways of thinking and coping to end the overarching and debilitating power of abandonment in childhood.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”


20 signs someone has abandonment issues. (2017, September 8). Retrieved from

Abandonment & attachment-related trauma treatment & rehab center. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Hendrix, C. L., Dilks, D. D., McKenna, B. G., Dunlop, A. L., Corwin, E. J., & Brennan, P. A. (2020). Maternal childhood adversity associates with frontalamygdala connectivity in neonates. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.


Individuals who experience feelings of emotional abandonment are likely to also experience maladaptive thoughts ("irrational beliefs") and behaviors such as depressive symptoms and relationship avoidance and/or dependence. This may cause abundant difficulty in daily life with interpersonal relationships and social settings. Feelings of emotional abandonment can stem from numerous situations. According to Makino et al (2004) "Whether one considers a romantic rejection, the dissolution of a friendship, ostracism by a group, estrangement from family members, or merely being ignored or excluded in casual encounters, rejections have myriad emotional, psychological, and interpersonal consequences. People not only react strongly when they perceive that others have rejected them, but a great deal of human behavior is influenced by the desire to avoid rejection" [4] Therefore, our perception of rejection or of being rejected can have a lasting effect on how an individual acts [5] [6] [7] One's perception may impair one's ability to establish and maintain close and meaningful relationships with others. [5] [8] While such maladaptive thoughts and behaviors are sometimes present in the context of certain psychological disorders (e.g., borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, depression, anxiety disorders), not all individuals who experience feelings of emotional abandonment will meet criteria for such a psychological disorder. These individuals may function within normal limits in spite of the presence of these emotional difficulties [9] [8]

Feelings of emotional abandonment alone are not enough to merit a diagnosis for a psychological disorder. Such feelings should only be considered by a mental health professional in conjunction with all available information and diagnostic criterion prior to drawing conclusions about the state of someone's mental health. [9] When treatment is deemed appropriate by a mental health professional, there are several treatment plans that are helpful in improving maladaptive thoughts and behaviors commonly manifested in those who feel emotionally abandoned. For example, cognitive processing therapy (CPT) is effective in treating depression, anxiety disorders, and PTSD. [10] Emotion focused therapy (EFT) is effective in treating depression. [10] Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is effective in treating negative emotionality and impulsive behaviors commonly seen in those diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. [11] [12] Another form of therapy that is suited to this population is acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). ACT focuses on an individual's avoidance of painful emotions and memories. ACT techniques are designed to cultivate thought processes that are focused on being present in the moment and accepting uncomfortable or painful thoughts and feelings. Reframing maladaptive perceptions of one's thoughts to adaptive perceptions of thoughts and committing to aligning one's behaviors with one's goals and values is fundamental to ACT treatment. [11] Just like the process of arriving at diagnostic conclusions, all modes of therapy and treatment plans should be based on individual presentation and should be evaluated by a mental health professional before beginning treatment.

Separation anxiety, a substrate of emotional abandonment, is recognized as a primary source of human distress and dysfunction. [13] When we experience a threat or disconnect within a primary attachment, it triggers a fear response referred to as separation stress or separation anxiety. [14] Separation stress has been the subject of extensive research in psychological [15] and neurobiological [16] fields, and has been shown to be a universal response to separation in the animal world. [17] When conducting experiments on rat pups, researchers separate the pups from their mothers for a period of time. They then measure their distress vocalizations and stress hormones to determine varying conditions of the separation response. [14] As the rats mature, their subsequent reactive behaviors and stress hormones are reexamined and are shown to bear a striking resemblance to the depression, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and self defeated posturing displayed by human beings known to have suffered earlier separation traumas. [18]

Owing to the neocortical component of human functioning, when human beings lose a primary relationship, they are slow to grasp its potential repercussions (i.e. they may feel uncertain about the future or fear being unable to climb out of an abyss). There are additional factors that add to these fears such as "Unusual distress about being separated from a person or a pet, excessive worry that another person will be harmed if they leave them alone, heightened fear of being alone, physical symptoms when they know they will be separated from another person soon, excessive worry surrounding being alone, and needing to know where a spouse or loved one is at all times." [19] All the aforementioned factors add an additional layer of separation stress. [20] To abandon is "to withdraw one's support or help from, especially in spite of duty, allegiance, or responsibility desert: abandon a friend in trouble." [21] When the loss is due to the object's voluntary withdrawal, a common response is to feel unworthy of love. This indicates the tendency for people to blame the rejection on themselves. "Am I unworthy of love, destined to grow old and die all alone, bereft of human connection or caring?" Questioning one's desirability as a mate [22] and fearing eternal isolation are among the additional anxieties incurred in abandonment scenarios. [23] The concurrence of self devaluation and primal fear distinguish abandonment grief from most other types of bereavement. [24]

The depression of abandonment grief creates a sustained type of stress that constitutes an emotional trauma which can be severe enough to leave an emotional imprint on individuals' psychobiological functioning, affecting future choices and responses to rejection, loss, or disconnection. [25] A contributing factor to the trauma-producing event is that 'being left' triggers primal separation fear, also referred to as primal abandonment fear – the fear of being left with no one to take care of one's vital needs. People's first anxiety is a response to separation from mother. [26] This sensation is stored in the amygdala – a structure set deep into the brain's emotional memory system responsible for conditioning the fight/freeze/flight response to fear. [27] Primal fear may have been initiated by birth trauma and even have some prenatal antecedents. [28] The emotional memory system is fairly intact at or before birth and lays down traces of the sensations and feelings of the infant's separation experiences. [29] These primitive feelings are reawakened by later events, especially those reminiscent of unwanted or abrupt separations from a source of sustenance. [30]

In adulthood, being left arouses primal fear along with other primitive sensations which contribute to feelings of terror and outright panic. Infantile needs and urgencies re-emerge and can precipitate a symbiotic regression in which individuals feel, at least momentarily, unable to survive without the lost object. [22] People may also experience the intense stress of helplessness. [31] When they make repeated attempts to compel their loved one to return and are unsuccessful, they feel helpless and inadequate to the task. This helplessness causes people to feel possessed of what Michael Balint calls “a limited capacity to perform the work of conquest – the work necessary to transform an indifferent object into a participating partner.” According to Balint, feeling one's ‘limited capacity’ is traumatic in that it produces a fault line in the psyche which renders the person vulnerable to heightened emotional responses within primary relationships. [32]

Another factor contributing to the traumatic conditions is the stress of losing one's background object. A background object is someone on whom individuals have come to rely in ways they did not realize until the object is no longer present. [33] For instance, the relationship served as a mutual regulatory system. Multiple psychobiological systems helped to maintain individuals’ equilibrium. [34] As members of a couple, they became external regulators for one another. They were attuned on many levels: their pupils dilated in synchrony, they echoed one another's speech patterns, movements, and even cardiac and EEG rhythms. [35] As a couple, they functioned like a mutual bio-feedback system, stimulating and modulating each other's bio rhythms, responding to one another's pheromones, [36] and addicting to the steady trickle of endogenous opiates induced by the relationship. [37] When the relationship ends, the many processes it helped to regulate go into disarray. [34] As the emotional and bio-physiological effects mount, the stressful process is heightened by the knowledge that it was not the person, but their loved one who chose to withdraw from the bond. [22] This knowledge may cause people to interpret their intense emotional responses to the disconnection as evidence of their putative weakness and ‘limited capacity to perform the work of conquest’. [32]

Post-traumatic stress disorder Edit

Some people who experience the traumatic stress of abandonment go on to develop post traumatic symptoms. [38] Post-traumatic symptoms associated with abandonment include a sequela of heightened emotional reactions (ranging from mild to severe) and habituated defense mechanisms (many of which have become maladaptive) to perceived threats or disruptions to one's sense of self or to one's connections. [39] Such symptoms are all very common, regardless of how traumatic the event. They include "recurrent intrusive memories, traumatic nightmares, and flashbacks. Avoiding trauma-related thoughts and feelings and/or objects, people, or places associated with the trauma. Distorted beliefs about oneself or the world, persistent shame or guilt, emotional numbing, feelings of alienation, inability to recall key details of the trauma, etc." These symptoms all stem from devastating events that can have lasting effects on the brain through adulthood. [40]

There are various predisposing psycho-biological and environmental factors that go into determining whether one's earlier emotional trauma might lead to the development of a true clinical picture of post-traumatic stress disorder. [25] One factor has to do with variation in certain brain structures. According to Jerome Kagan, some people are born with a locus coeruleus that tends to produce higher concentrations of norepinephrine, a brain chemical involved in arousal of the body's self-defense response. [41] This would lower their threshold for becoming aroused and make them more likely to become anxious when they encounter stresses in life that are reminiscent of childhood separations and fears, hence making them more prone to becoming post-traumatic.

Borderline personality disorder Edit

The most distinguishing symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) are marked sensitivity to rejection or criticism, and intense fear of possible abandonment. [42] Overall, the features of BPD include unusually intense sensitivity in relationships with others, difficulty regulating emotions, issues with self-image and impulsivity. [42] Fear of abandonment may lead to overlapping dating relationships as a new relationship is developed to protect against abandonment in the existing relationship. Other symptoms may include feeling unsure of one's personal identity, morals, and values having paranoid thoughts when feeling stressed depersonalization and, in moderate to severe cases, stress-induced breaks with reality or psychotic episodes.

Autophobia Edit

Autophobia is the specific phobia of isolation a morbid fear of being egotistical, or a dread of being alone or isolated. [43] Sufferers need not be physically alone, but just to believe that they are being ignored or unloved.

Fear of Abandonment: The Lasting Effects of Trauma

Katie is having trouble letting her 14-year-old son do things on his own, like riding his bicycle to school with friends, spending the night at a buddy’s house, or walking home from soccer practice. She knows she should start trusting him to be on his own so he can develop into an independent young man, but she just can’t seem to let go. Katie’s mother wasn’t there for her emotionally growing up. And her two older brothers received all of her mother’s attention, getting special treatment and affection while Katie was left to fend for herself, forcing her to grow up quickly and alone. Katie struggled with her fears of abandonment, and it’s evident in the way she overprotects her son.

Abandonment issues can stem from many root causes although they usually follow a traumatic event from childhood. Loss of a parent, divorce, and inadequate physical or emotional care can all create worries about being left. These strong feelings can remain into adulthood, and affect our relationships with those closest to us.

Death and Divorce

The loss of a parent, especially early in life, can make children anxious and fearful about being left alone. They may not understand that the remaining parent is returning after a long work trip or a day at the office, and see that as abandonment. Children are hard-wired to attach to their caretakers, and when those caretakers are gone, confusion and hurt set in. We learn how to develop personal relationships by modeling the adults present in our early years, and if those important influences are gone, the ability to create important relationships can be stunted.

Divorce can create similar feelings. Natalie’s mom and dad were always there for her during the first six years of her life, but now she lives with her mom full time. Her parents divorced and her dad has a new family, one with three little kids. Natalie sees her father one weekend a month, but it’s a far cry from what she’s used to. When Natalie is with her father, his attention is divided and Natalie feels lonely. She doesn’t understand why her dad isn’t around as much and she worries that she might have done something to cause her parents split.

Even if a child has both parents present growing up, having a roof overhead and food on the table is not enough. If parents do not give the child’s emotional needs a high priority it can be just as devastating as losing a parent. Being neglected physically can be harmful as well. Parents have a responsibility to care for the physical and emotional needs of their children, and if those needs are not met the children may feel as if they aren’t worth being cared for.

In adults, an unwanted separation or divorce can cause feelings of abandonment. The spouse who is left behind often feels unworthy of love, not completely comprehending why the marriage is over. Even the death of a loved one can feel like abandonment to the person left behind.

Psychological Effects of Abandonment

Low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness, striving for perfection, and avoiding conflict can all be the result of abandonment issues. Children who grew up in less than ideal households may feel unlovable and sabotage meaningful adult relationships by pushing people away. Others may fear conflict so intensely that they will avoid confrontation at all times, sidestepping important conversations to feel more comfortable or agreeing to do things they may not want to. Fear of abandonment may also cause adults to strive for perfection in relationships, something that is certainly achievable and causes feelings of inadequacy and failure.

For those with children, their parenting may be affected by their abandonment fears. They may have problems letting go or trusting their children to do things on their own. They may try to prevent children from experiencing pain by trying to control every minute detail of their lives.

How to Help

Abandonment issues, while extremely common, can be dealt with. Be aware of your feelings and remind yourself that your childhood should not control how you live, love, or raise your children.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Give your self-esteem a boost by writing down positive things about yourself.
  • Make time to grieve. It is the first step to moving on.
  • Recognize your negative or toxic emotions, such as guilt and anger, and confront them by looking for the more vulnerable emotions underneath the surface, such as sadness and worry.
  • Ask friends and family to help you come up with more appropriate coping skills and be there to support you on the rough days.

The long-term emotional affects of abandonment are strong and the hurt is deep. If your past is haunting your present, and you feel that professional advice would help, please feel free to contact me.

Breaking the Cycle

Reversing this trend is possible. It requires either the good fortune to be in a loving relationship, or more often, therapy is required to heal the wounds of childhood. Much of this is done through the relationship with a trusted, empathic therapist over time. It also entails an examination of the past and both feeling and understanding the impact of the parenting we received. Goals include not only accepting the past, which doesn’t necessarily mean approving it, but more importantly separating out our self-concept from the actions of our parents. See Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You.

Feeling worthy of love is essential to attracting and maintaining it. In the same way that we might shun a compliment we don’t feel we deserve, we will not be interested and able to sustain a relationship with someone who is generous in loving us. Feeling unworthy originated in our early relationship with our parents. Many people have no negative feelings toward their parents and may in fact have a close and loving adult relationship with them. However, it’s not enough that we forgive our parents. Healing includes rehabilitating the beliefs and inner voices of our parents that live in our minds and run our lives. 10 Steps to Self-Esteem and Conquering Shame provide steps to do this.

Finally, breaking the cycle means being a good parent to ourselves – loving ourselves in all ways. See my blogs about self-love and my Youtube self-love exercise. If this last step isn’t included, we will still be looking outside ourselves to someone else to make us happy. Although a good relationship can improve our sense of well-being, there are always times when partners need space or are needy and unavailable. Being able to care for ourselves allows us to hold the space for our partner and to take care of ourselves. Whether or not in a relationship, that’s the ultimate remedy against spiraling into an abandonment depression.

Watch the video: Συναισθήματα Διαχείριση Συναισθημάτων Ψυχολογία Ψυχική ενδυνάμωση Θεραπεία Αυτοβελτιωση Αυτογνωσια (August 2022).