Key Takeaways

  • Most people experience worry about losing someone they love. But people with abandonment trauma feel frequent, intense fear of losing a connection with someone they care about.
  • Abandonment trauma often stems from a past experience of unexpected loss or an ongoing traumatic experience like childhood abuse or neglect.
  • With the right support, you can heal from abandonment trauma. A mental health professional who specializes in treating trauma can help you rediscover trust, build healthy connections, and heal from past experiences.

Trauma can appear in many different forms. There are singular, life-changing traumatic events such as living through violence or a natural disaster. And there are chronic, ongoing traumatic experiences like abuse or neglect. 

Traumatic experiences affect different people in different ways. What leaves a lasting imprint on one person might not have the same impact on another person. However, we know that living through an unexpected loss or experiencing abandonment, especially at an early age, can cause lifelong effects for many people. 

Abandonment trauma is a deep fear of losing a loved one or having someone important to you leave or reject you. Colloquially, this is often referred to as “having abandonment issues” or a “fear of abandonment.” 

People living with abandonment trauma experience intense distress that can take a toll on their relationships and daily lives. If you’re struggling to navigate the effects of abandonment trauma, know that you’re not alone. With support from a mental health professional, you can heal from past losses and learn to form healthy, secure bonds in your current relationships.

What is abandonment trauma?

Abandonment trauma often stems from a significant loss of a person or relationship early in life. It may also be the result of experiencing physical or emotional neglect. While there isn’t a single root cause of abandonment trauma, the following examples highlight some situations that might lead to abandonment trauma.

  • Losing contact with a family member due to incarceration
  • Childhood trauma due to emotional or physical neglect, like when caregivers are unable to provide warmth, connection, or basic needs
  • An abrupt end to an important relationship due to a breakup, divorce, or death
  • Betrayal or breach of trust by a loved one, friend, or intimate partner 
  • Parental divorce or separation
  • Growing up in foster care
  • A tragic or unexpected death of a loved one or friend
  • Living through a traumatic event or disaster like a house fire or earthquake

Common signs and symptoms of abandonment trauma

One of the most challenging aspects of trauma is that it manifests in different people in different ways. In other words, just because two people experience the same loss or traumatic event doesn’t mean they will respond to it in the same way. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate the presence of abandonment trauma, including:

  • Feeling chronically insecure
  • Finding it hard to trust people
  • Getting jealous easily
  • Being frequently “clingy” with friends, family, or partners
  • Always striving to make others happy, even at your own expense
  • Giving more than receiving in relationships
  • Feeling like you always have to try hard to get noticed
  • Struggling to feel connected to others
  • Feeling a need to control or be controlled in relationships
  • Staying in unhealthy relationships to avoid being lonely

Left untreated, the emotional and psychological consequences of abandonment trauma can be significant. Fortunately, with support from a mental health professional, you can overcome abandonment trauma and forge a path towards healthier relationships and improved self-confidence.

Five healing strategies for coping with abandonment trauma

1. Cultivate self-awareness

One of the first and most important steps in healing from abandonment trauma is learning to identify the ways it impacts your life. 

You can increase your self-awareness by pausing to notice when you’re feeling scared or insecure in your relationships. Some people find it helpful to write about these feelings in a journal. By keeping a log of your experiences, you can learn to identify your triggers, notice patterns, and gain some perspective that can help you reframe unhelpful thoughts.

2. Build healthy relationships

Living with abandonment trauma can make it difficult to form healthy relationships. This is because it can create barriers to forming trust and creating secure bonds. 

Open and honest communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship. Listen actively to others, express your thoughts and feelings clearly, and avoid making assumptions in order to build healthy relationships.

If you’re living with abandonment trauma and struggling in your relationships, individual or couples counseling may help. With some outside support, you can learn to set healthy boundaries and develop the effective communication skills you need to strengthen your connections. 

3. Practice self-care

Whether you’re working to overcome the effects of abandonment trauma or another type of trauma, self-care is an important aspect of recovery. In prioritizing self-care in your routine, you can strengthen your mental health and nurture your well-being throughout your healing journey. 

Experiment with some of the self-care activities listed below or make some time for whatever activities rejuvenate you and bring you joy.

  • Go outside. Whether it’s a walk or just taking a break outside, make some time to enjoy some fresh air.
  • Get creative. Channel your inner artist and engage in a creative activity you enjoy. This could be sketching, painting, drawing, writing, dancing, or whatever else you like to do.
  • Take some deep breaths. When you’re feeling afraid or insecure take a break to connect with your breath. Slowly inhale, pause, and exhale a few times and notice the effect on your mind and body.
  • Read a book. Find a few minutes a day to tune out distractions, enjoy a soothing cup of coffee or tea, and curl up with a good book. 
  • Get moving. Make some time to engage in whatever type of movement you enjoy. Take a yoga class, go for a hike, or take a bike ride with your family.

4. Build resilience and self-esteem

Increasing your self-esteem can help mitigate the effects of abandonment trauma. 

You can give your self-esteem a boost by engaging in positive self-talk by replacing negative thoughts with positive affirmations. You can also practice self-compassion by treating yourself like you would a friend, especially on tough days. Remember to have patience with yourself throughout this process and know that overcoming the effects of abandonment trauma can take time.

5. Seek professional support

While the activities listed above can help you heal from abandonment trauma and improve your mental well-being, there are times when you might need some professional support. 

For example, you may benefit from cognitive-behavioral therapy (CPT) which can help you identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) which can help you process and heal from traumatic experiences.

Fortunately, many therapists specialize in treating trauma that you can meet with either in-person or online.

Find support for abandonment trauma with help from Rula

Like other forms of trauma, abandonment trauma can have lasting effects on your mental health and your relationships if left untreated. But with the right support, you can rediscover trust, build healthy connections, and heal from past experiences. 

At Rula, we’re here to walk beside you on this journey and help you find the support you need. In as little as 30 seconds, we can match you with a therapist who specializes in trauma and takes your insurance so that you can begin receiving care in as little as two days. 

Trauma and PTSD therapists near you

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