Abandonment Anxiety

Abandonment Anxiety isn’t necessarily a mental health diagnosis but is a form of anxiety that can be treated by therapy.  Abandonment anxiety occurs when someone is fearful of the idea of losing someone that they care about.  While everyone can deal with the end of a relationship, whether it be romantic or platonic, or death, abandonment anxiety is so severe that it affects your life significantly.

Everyone has fear of abandonment but those with abandonment anxiety have an intense fear that can affect their relationships and every day lives.  The fear of loss is overwhelming and they can even push people away to the point of leaving.

Abandonment anxiety is usually gradual
One of the main things to understand about abandonment anxiety is that it takes time to develop normally.  No one wakes up the next morning with abandonment anxiety.  It’s gradual and takes time.  Usually, the initial behaviors that develop into having abandonment anxiety aren’t even done on purpose.

Eventually, over time, it can develop into more severe symptoms.  One of the things to consider is that the attention that a person receives from presenting abandonment anxiety can be self-reinforcing.  The rewarding and self-reinforcement can take normal fears and concerns and over time twist them into a life-altering form of anxiety that can have wide-ranging and extreme effects in many different aspects of your life.

The behaviors that start are meant well but can lead to unhealthy consequences.  It can affect and even ruin your relationships in some circumstances.  It can also lead to the inability to nurture and build relationships and form bonds with others (1).

What are the symptoms of Abandonment Anxiety?
It’s important to understand that not everyone will experience Abandonment Anxiety the same way.  There are many symptoms that normally present but the severity may be different for everyone.  They normally are also subtle and increase in severity over time.

Problems in building and maintaining relationships is a key component of abandonment anxiety.  This can be masked as intimacy issues or a fear of commitment.  It may also mean cycling through relationships and only having shallow relationships with little substance or commitment.  People with abandonment anxiety may push away their partner and find a reason to leave your relationship before they’re left, or abandoned.

This leads to self-sabotaging.  Self-sabotaging may be minor at first and is usually unintentional.  This self-sabotaging can lead to extreme actions including acting irrationally.  These outbursts can lead to pushing your partner away so that you can’t be hurt or won’t feel pain if they do end up leaving.

It could also mean that you cling to unhealthy partners and have poor relationships.  This could mean that you stay in a relationship that shouldn’t because of fear.  Staying in unhealthy relationships can lead to a lot of potential problems.  It’s important to not let your fear of abandonment control your life.

Constant reassurance is another symptom of abandonment anxiety.  This could be seeking approval or seeking out family, friends, or partners and demand guarantees that they’ll never leave.  It’s more than “I’ll be there for you.”  It can be making the other person make broad statements ensuring that they’ll never leave and then confronting them and saying that they’re lying or not being truthful.  Working with a therapist can help to understand these feelings.

What are the risk factors of Abandonment Anxiety?
When abandonment anxiety affects your normal, everyday life it can become invasive.  While there are many different factors that may contribute to your abandonment anxiety, here are some of the main risk factors:

  • People who have been neglected.  This includes those that have been abused or abandoned previously.  This could stem from childhood or from previous relationships.  This also may result in a circular effect and those that were neglected may repeat the behaviors that occurred to them.
  • When people have high levels of stress it can make anxiety worse. This can mean that their symptoms are more severe or can even lead to new symptoms or anxieties.
  • Traumatic events can also increase your abandonment anxiety.  Trauma could be from near death experiences, injuries, due to being a victim of a crime, or an actual death.

What causes abandonment issues?
Abandonment issues can occur when healthy human development is disrupted.  This can cause physical, emotional, and behavioral issues, especially in the realm of anxiety and abandonment.  Especially during childhood we have to rely on our parents for that reassurance and love.  If that doesn’t happen, it can cause issues well into adulthood and can affect personal, professional, and romantic relationships.

The reassurance that we need through our development can be disrupted at any time.  This disruption can cause things to spiral out of control and can cause abandonment anxiety.  Disruptions can occur at any time in human development from childhood on through adulthood.

What are common disruptions that may trigger abandonment anxiety?

Some of the most common types of disruption include:

  • Death is a normal part of life but can be very traumatic.  While losing a loved one can be hard, it can create a large emotional void.  This void can lead to fear, worry, and anxiety.
  • Abuse in all of its forms is devastating and can have life long effects.  Whether it be physical, emotional, sexual, or any other type of abuse, abuse can lead to mental health problems.  Some of the issues that may present include fear of abandonment.
  • Socio-economic status can also play a part in developing abandonment anxiety.  If your basic needs aren’t met it can force you to change your priorities or can force your parents to not have the time available to care for you if they work multiple jobs.  This mindset can create fear that all resources are limited including emotional resources like attention, love, and friendship.
  • Relationship issues and loss can lead to lingering fear and anxiety.  These issues could include infidelity, divorce, and death.  For some people, the end of relationships can be too painful for the person.  This can lead to abandonment anxiety.

How is abandonment anxiety disorder treated?
The main focus of treating abandonment anxiety disorder is about creating and establishing healthy boundaries emotionally.  These tools become part of your arsenal and eventually treatment can lead to more effective relationships and less thoughts of abandonment (2).  Therapy is a useful treatment method for those with abandonment anxiety disorder.

Therapy is the main treatment method for abandonment anxiety disorder
Getting help is the first step to improving your symptoms.  Seeking help from a therapist can help to overcome worry, decrease stress, and reduce the impact of your abandonment anxiety disorder.

Therapists can use a variety of treatment methods to help those experiencing abandonment anxiety disorder.  One of the most effective treatments for any form of anxiety is cognitive behavioral therapy (4).  It’s important to tailor your therapy journey with a therapist to ensure the best chance of success.

How to help someone with Abandonment Anxiety Disorder
When you are in any type of relationship with someone dealing with abandonment anxiety disorder it can be difficult.  The other person may even challenge your loyalty or be intentionally difficult to push you away.  This can be hurtful.

Here are a few techniques to help those you know with Abandonment Anxiety Disorder

●     Support them.  Having excessive fear and worry can be a heavy weight to carry.  Letting them know that you love and support them can help them to build confidence.
●     Validate their fears.  Validation can build trust.  This acknowledgement doesn’t mean that you agree, but it helps to keep the lines of communication open.
●     Pausing the conversation.  When you or your partner are overwhelmed or overly emotional, it can trigger feelings of abandonment anxiety and it could increase the risk of pushing you away.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most effective treatment for treating anxiety disorders
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is helpful in building confidence and self-compassion.  You can learn triggers for your anxiety abandonment disorder and build strategies to help cope.  This includes recognizing your distortions in your thinking.  These distortions can cause problems in many areas of your life (3).

In addition to changing your thinking patterns, behavioral patterns are also changed when working with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist.  This can include building a self care routine, relaxation techniques, learning to face your fears instead of avoiding them and learning to calm your mind.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses more on the future and while a bit of history is needed for context, it’s important to build strategies and learn coping mechanisms for future situations (2,3).

What  are the key principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was developed in the 1960s and became popular in the 1980s.  Its popularity has allowed for ample research and its effectiveness has been proven again and again (2,3,4).

Some of the key principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are:

    • Psychological problems can be caused by learned patterns of unhelpful thinking
    • Psychological problems can be caused by learned patterns of unhelpful behavior
    • Coping strategies used to improve one’s life can be learned, especially by those experiencing psychological problems.

Collaboration with a therapist is an effective way to approach Abandonment Anxiety Disorder
Creating an individualized approach with your therapist can help you to decrease the severity of your symptoms.  The treatment plan may include homework and exercises between sessions.  An individualized approach is important when treating Abandonment Anxiety Disorder.  Consult with an Abandonment Anxiety Disorder Therapist to start your treatment and begin the path to healing.

1   https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-00135-010
2   Long-term effectiveness of CBT for anxiety disorders in an adult outpatient clinic sample: A follow-up study – ScienceDirect
3  Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: current state of the evidence (nih.gov)
4   https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S000632230