Fear of abandonment

Loud Cry of An

Abandoned Child


like trash


like a dross

flies are all over me

smell over me

bees do not lick me

I am sweetless

no value

I am thrown

like an empty plastic


I’m of no use

my mother ignores my cries

my father closes his eyes

help !

day and night I lament



cold my daily bread

they have forsaken me

I am worthless

I am thrown away.” – Sky Poet

Can anyone imagine something more painful than the suffering of an abandoned child? He is just a grain of sand, he needs a wall around him to be protected, not to be scattered, dissolved by the first splash of rain or the first gust of wind that appears in his life.

As people, we have the need to connect with others during all our life. We are made to be social beings. Healthy relationships can provide safety, protection, emotional regulation, tranquillity, physical contact, company, communication, support and feeling of belonging. John Bowlby has noticed “human beings of all ages prove to be the happiest and can carry out their talents at best when they are confident that there are one or more people who will help them if difficulties appear.” (Bowlby, 1977)

However, our most intense emotions are evoked in relationships, either for good or bad. This makes relationships difficult to manage and maintain in a relatively stable manner. We cannot live isolated, we would disappear physically if we were completely alone, but at the same time, the relationships with the others cause us the greatest sufferings. This is the conflict that Schopenhauer talked about in Hedgehog’s Dilemma: “On a cold winter’s day a community of porcupines huddled very close together to protect themselves from freezing through their mutual warmth. However, they soon felt one another’s quills, which then forced them apart. Now when the need for warmth brought them closer together again, that second drawback repeated itself so that they were tossed back and forth between both kinds of suffering until they discovered a moderate distance from one another, at which they could best endure the situation. – This is how the need for society, arising from the emptiness and monotony of our own inner selves, drives people together; but their numerous repulsive qualities and unbearable flaws push them apart once again. The middle distance they finally discover and at which a coexistence is possible is courtesy and good manners. ” (Schopenhauer, 1851). By avoiding pain, we suffer from pain. Human relations involve a degree of pain. The most intense human emotions are born during appearance, maintenance, interruption and renewal of affective bonds.

The fear of abandonment does not appear when an individual is facing a possible separation from any person, but a person to whom is attached and usually a more mature person, with a greater authority or on whom the individual feel dependent somehow. For the individual with fear of abandonment, to be abandoned by a person on whom he depends means that he will not make it alone, he will not survive, in the same way as, when a child, he would have not survived if he had been abandoned by his parents. The fear of abandonment causes in the affected individual a regression to a very young age when the absence of the caregivers, even for a short time, meant a vital threat, meant that you could suffer from cold, hunger, thirst. An adult with fear of abandonment can feel the separation, even for a few hours, by someone significant as a possible exposure to a major risk. Practically, he can feed, heat, defend himself, but the association between the lack of a significant one and the emotions, bodily sensations, biological reactions felt in those moments is so strong that he becomes again the helpless child who believes that he is not able to do anything by himself. In addition, a person with fear of abandonment feels the pain that the significant one may betray him and would not bother with how much suffering he would leave behind. “Abandonment is another form of death, if not a crime.” (Les Enténébrés, 2019, by Sarah Chiche)

The fear of abandonment usually appears as a result of early life experiences, in which the child has been left or perceived that he had been abandoned by people important to him.

The childhood situations that can lead to the fear of abandonment in adults can be: placement in the orphanage, the death of a parent/caretaker, a prolonged disease of a parent which makes them unavailable to the child, the sudden disappearance of a parent (divorce, abandonment of the family, service in another country, incarceration), the physical distancing of a parent (moving to another country, city or even another dwelling as in the case of divorce), emotional, physical, psychological neglect (alcoholic parent or drug addict, with psychiatric problems, depression, or workaholic), sexual, physical or psychological abuse by a parent.

If most of the situations mentioned above do not need additional explanations, in the case of psychological abuse, things are more nuanced. Psychological abuse can take the form of manipulation, excessive criticism, accusation, blame, harassment, betrayal, conditional affection, depreciation, invalidation, excessive direction. In any of these situations, the message that the child received was that he was not accepted as he was and could have been abandoned if he did not comply with parents’ expectations. This explains why an adult who has suffered in childhood of psychological abuse can overreact to a relatively minor incident, such as a disagreement, suggestion of improvement, revealing a minor secret or not receiving expected affection.


Fear of abandonment can take the form of the following symptoms:

– a pattern of unstable and intense relationships: when you are afraid that others will abandon you, either you finish your relationships quickly and move on to the following, or you will cling to a partner even if he is abusive, you give inconsistent messages to those around you who become confused and frustrated and, at one point, they can even stop the relationship.

– fear of emotional privacy, superficial relationships or orientation towards unavailable partners; It is particularly difficult to trust other people if you have been repeatedly abused, abandoned or betrayed in childhood. Lack of trust makes it very difficult to make friends and to distinguish between the good and the bad intentions of other people. A part of you does not trust anyone, while another part can be so vulnerable and desperate that it does not pay attention to the flags that your partner may not be reliable. A part of you wants to be close to people or feels a desperate need to be cared for, while another part is afraid or even pretends it does not like people. One part of you is afraid to be in a relationship, while another is afraid of being rejected or criticized. This creates both an internal conflict and conflict with others.

– the constant need for reassurance that they are loved, wanted, that they will not be abandoned; they have learned many different strategies to get surrounded by people and to avoid being alone. However, this has a cost: they tend to exhaust others, who then withdraw, creating even the scenario these individuals are afraid of, which strengthens their belief that relationships are harmful.

– hypervigilance to any sign of a possible abandonment and when your mind is trained to scan for betrayal signs, you will become better and better to that and no surprise that you will find more and more signs with each day

– increased sensitivity to criticism: when you grow up in an environment in which you have not received support, love, you have not been encouraged, any sign of criticism can be interpreted as a sign that you are not desired and that you deserve to be abandoned.

– Overanalysis: You are so afraid that you could be left for the slightest mistake that you end up analysing every of yours or your partner actions or words again and again.

– intrusive thoughts about abandonment: even when a relationship goes well, you have frequent thoughts that you could be abandoned, that something, at one point, will go wrong, that the relationship will not last

– sabotage of the relationship: when a relationship goes well, you start to sabotage it so you do not get in a vulnerable position; you better abandon the relationship yourself than to be the one abandoned.

– clinging to unhealthy relationships because of the fear of not being alone: even if a relationship is abusive, you still prefer it to the alternative of being alone.

– the need to please others; some individuals with fear of abandonment are mostly submissive, avoid awareness or express their needs and feelings and try to keep people close by doing everything the other wants. But they do not meet their own needs, because there is no real emotional intimacy in this type of relation. This strategy eventually exhausts the person as a whole and inevitably leads to resentment and anger.

– the difficulty of trusting others: After you have been abandoned by a parent it is difficult to ever trust someone.

– self-blaming when things are not going well: when you were a child, you were told that because of you you were abandoned and you internalized this message so much that, in your current relationships, you will consider that bad things always happen because of you.

– low self-esteem: If the caregivers did not give you love, warmth, proper care, you believe that it was because you are worthless, you mean nothing, you do not deserve to receive love nor care.

– emotional dysregulation: to a relatively minor trigger, an exaggerated reaction may occur

– anxiety because you always have the fear of being abandoned, that your relationships will end, you feel that you are always on the verge of a crisis or change.

– depression because you feel helpless, you have no hope for a better future.

– envy of those who have stable relationships

– aggression or jealousy towards the partner because you feel that your relationship is so fragile that you must constantly “fight” to maintain it.

– hypercriticism of others or own person: if you criticize the partner, you make him/ her feel inferior and then you hope he will not abandon you; if a relationship does not work well, you will try to look for reasons and gather proofs “against” you or your partner; hypercriticism to one’s own person can also be due to low self -esteem.

Although it does not appear as a standalone pathology, the fear of abandonment must be addressed in therapy through well-designed techniques and strategies because, otherwise, it will undermine the entire therapeutic process. Most of the strategies and tools regularly used in Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy can be successfully applied for the fear of abandonment.

The ultimate goal of these strategies is the development of a safe attachment and self -acceptance so that the individual trusts himself and the world he lives in. For many of these clients, the relationship with their therapist could be the first opportunity in their lives in which they learn they can be themselves, but without being rejected or abandoned. For some clients, the “therapeutic relationship will be therapy” (Wallin, 2007)