Do you feel unable to focus on your relationship without being consumed by fear that your partner will leave you? Do you expect that things won’t last, but you feel compelled to test that theory by pushing your partner away or controlling them? Or, do you become clingy and needy because you desperately want to keep this person in your life? If any of these behaviors sound like you, you may be suffering from what psychologists call fear of abandonment, which means that you are afraid of being rejected and alone. You try to cope with your fear in ways that interfere with your relationships—or make potential relationships impossible.
If you have a fear of abandonment, this probably affects your behavior in ways you may not even realize. You don’t have to be stuck in this pattern, though. It is possible to overcome your abandonment issues and have healthy relationships with the people in your life.
What Causes Fear of Abandonment?How does the fear of abandonment start? Often, abandonment issues stem from adverse childhood experiences or trauma—abandonment by a parent or caregiver, the loss of a loved one, or divorce.
Abandonment issues may arise from inconsistent care. A child who has an insecure attachment has never been able to trust that his or her caregiver will provide a consistent response, so they can experience ongoing attachment issues, which can lead to a fear of abandonment as an adult.
Even if the childhood experience did not rise to the level of trauma, feeling emotionally abandoned as a child can trigger fear of abandonment later in life.
Sometimes, though, abandonment issues don’t stem from childhood experiences, but from a painful adult relationship. If you were rejected by a close friend or romantic partner, that may have triggered your abandonment issues, and you now fear the experience will repeat itself. Abandonment issues might be mostly confined to romantic relationships, or they may affect other relationships with friends and family.
Anyone can develop a fear of abandonment, and it can range from mild to crippling. At a mild level, you might be able to keep your fear mostly hidden and still function in your relationships, but at a more severe level, it may prevent you from forming – or maintaining – healthy relationships.
5 Practical Steps to Help You Overcome
How can you move past the fear of abandonment? Is it even possible? There is definitely a positive outlook to this situation, and if you’re acknowledging your fear and exploring possibilities for healing, you already have a head start. Here are some key concepts to remember as you take steps to overcome your fear of abandonment.
1. Embracing God’s promises
As Christians, we have access to God’s inspired word to us in the Scriptures. And Scripture has a lot to say about human rejection and fear of loss.
One of the most frequently repeated promises in the Bible is that God will be present with his people.
- When Jesus talked to his disciples about his approaching death, he told them, “Surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
- When God was telling his people to enter the Promised Land despite their fears, he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
- When David wrote the beautiful words of Psalm 23, he emphasized God’s presence, even through the darkest valley.
Throughout Biblical history, God’s invisible yet comforting presence has been a repeated theme meant for the reassurance of his people.
Cognitively understanding these promises is one thing, but embracing them by faith is another. When you struggle with fears of abandonment, you may also be experiencing post-traumatic stress or other co-occurring issues such as anxiety or depression.
It may be very difficult for you to cling to the truth even in the face of your unstable emotions. Continue to seek God and ask him to help you lean into his promises. He will never leave you or forsake you.
2. Getting Christian counselingChristian counseling for abandonment issues can help you identify your subconscious motives in relationships, learn new ways to think about and approach your relationships and cultivate a strong faith in God. Counseling is one of the best ways to unpack abandonment issues in a safe, compassionate environment. It gives you a chance to work through everything in a context outside of your everyday life.
Through the process of Christian counseling, our prayer is that you will grow to understand yourself better as well as the God who created you and is eternally faithful.
3. Avoiding the pursuit of external validation
One aspect of your abandonment issues may be that you seek outside validation. You want others to reassure you that you are worthwhile or okay, instead of sensing that reassurance within yourself and from God.
When we rely on other people to assure us that we are valuable and bolster our sense of identity, or when we need constant affirmation that we’re okay in a relationship, we can end up a slave to other people’s opinions.
Some people in our lives will come and go, and some will be there for decades, but no matter what, we will always live with ourselves. And no matter what, God’s presence remains. These two truths can help us find freedom from constantly seeking validation from others.
Christian counseling can help you discover who you are in Christ and how to live out of that identity instead of hoping to find meaning in what others think of you.
4. Accepting the risks in all relationships, even healthy onesAbandonment issues are rooted in a kernel of truth: people can leave us, even people we trust, sometimes through no choice of their own. Perhaps the most difficult part of healing from abandonment issues is accepting this reality and learning to live with it and have healthy relationships, even though you know something painful could happen or that person could ultimately reject you.
Accepting the potential of rejection or loss will help you become stronger as a person. You can grow from learning how to handle negative relationship experiences without losing your sense of identity, personal worth, and faith in God.
5. Approaching relationships differently
One of the biggest problems with a fear of abandonment is that it can cause you to self-sabotage. You might test your relationship to see if the person will stay with you even when it’s hard.
You might smother your partner with neediness, causing them to feel overwhelmed and leave the relationship when a healthy ebb and flow of closeness would’ve allowed it to flourish.
To overcome the harmful approach that stems from abandonment issues, you’ll need to reframe your thought processes.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one therapeutic technique sometimes used by counselors to help you identify negative thought patterns and replace them with healthier ones so that your actions will be driven by life-giving thoughts.
As someone who struggles with abandonment issues, you might feel as if the way you act in relationships is a compulsion, and that you’ll never be able to set a new pattern. Do not despair; there are ways to rewire your brain’s approach to potential rejection and to learn new patterns of interaction with others that aren’t based out of fear and desperation.
Whether you developed a fear of abandonment because of childhood loss, trauma, rejection in an adult relationship, or any other reason, you do not have to live in this pattern all your life. There is hope and healing available to you, and the reassurance that God will never leave you and he loves you more than any human ever could.
If you feel that these descriptions of abandonment issues are ringing true for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the Christian counselors in our online counselor directory today.
“Walking at Night”, Courtesy of Paul Garaizar, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Clingy”, Courtesy of Christiana Rivers, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Running Away”, Courtesy of Vitaly Taranov, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Watching the Waves”, Courtesy of Cassia Tofano, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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