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
- Frequent physical illnesses
- Low self-esteem
- Disordered eating
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:
- 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.
You can do this by following the six-level approach mentioned in Psychology Today.
- Be present and actively listen to their concerns.
- Reflect and summarize your loved one’s feelings verbally and without judgment.
- Become a mind-reader, and by listening to what they say help them identify their emotions.
- Understand their history so you can openly state that you understand when circumstances trigger their past history of abandonment.
- “Normalize” their fears by acknowledging the fact that others with their history have fears of abandonment and that their feelings are understandable.
- 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.” ~Elbert Hubbard
“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~ Lao Tzu
20 signs someone has abandonment issues. (2017, September 8). Retrieved from https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/6064/signs-abandonment-issues
Abandonment & attachment-related trauma treatment & rehab center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.therefuge-ahealingplace.com/ptsd-treatment/abandonment
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.
Megase, K. (2016, March 3). How fear of abandonment affects relationships. Retrieved from https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/how-fear-of-abandonment-affects-relationships
Schoenfelder, E. N., Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S., & MacKinnon, D. (2011). Quality of social relationships and the development of depression in parentally-bereaved youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(1), 85-96. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/821697890?accountid=1229
Wade, B. (1995, 04). Fear of abandonment. Essence, 25(79). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/223174140?accountid=1229
My name is Shirley Davis and I am a freelance writer with over 40-years- experience writing short stories and poetry. Living as I do among the corn and bean fields of Illinois (USA), working from home using the Internet has become the best way to communicate with the world. My interests are wide and varied. I love any kind of science and read several research papers per week to satisfy my curiosity. I have earned an Associate Degree in Psychology and enjoy writing books on the subjects that most interest me.
Excellent article, Shirley Davis, and very interesting. Tugs at my heartstrings, and I can identify with some of that. I think about alot of kids myself; still, after all these years, and it continues to be ongoing.
Thank you Shirley. As someone that is currently working through this in therapy I appreciate reading this, it makes me feel less alone. What a fight it is to work through this type of trauma. Thank you for sharing as you do!
Thank you for taking the time to write on this topic. The information is very descriptive of the realities of many persons. Please continue the work of ‘enlightening’ the world about the truths of the Psychology of Humanity.
Thank you for your kind comment. Shirley
I’ve known this was my main issue in my life, so I looked it up online. I’m glad I did. The symptoms showing up in real life match perfectly.
Thank you for writing this. Looking internally, I couldn’t see clearly. Your writing helped.
(just realized I was trying to people-please in my writing. The shoe fits)
Thank you for your comment, I’m glad I could help. Shirley
I was abandoned, and now abandoned others without a thought. I don’t know how to love or find happiness, but hope your writings will help me.
Just realized I have this issue. Sucks… And its come at a point where I have already lost everything. So no money, means no therapy. I have isolated myself so much. when I look back over the years, I was the problem. Now i just hate being. Every minute I spend at my friends place is torture. So I am waiting for a little money to leave and hit the streets where I cannot hurt anyone anymore. Im 44 now. If you can go get help while you can. I am hoping to die as quickly as possible without doing it to myself. I see 2 possibilities. starvation or freezing in the UK when this coming winter. I was abandoned several times, abused as a child. And now people expect me to just shrug it off. Careful who you tell. I tried to open up to my best friend of 34 years. He told me so what. Suck it up and move on. I wish I could. I wish so much.
Most of my life I have not felt love. My belief is that people do not even like me. Why do they put up with me. The friend I am staying with tries to help. He told me to see a therapist and then the next day will say suck it up. This just confuses my mind more. Which is it? And how? I have no job and no money. The little I have buys me some food. When your friends talk to you like this, its of no help and further confirms my uselessness in this world. Wish you all the best. Hopefully with 3 weeks, i get to walk out and never have to love or look for it. And yes my parents have died. And my younger brother ripped me off and my elder brother wont even return $400 to me even if he can afford holidays, lavish parties. I’m eating instant noodles 3 times a day and he has the nerve to call me his brother. why was I born?
I have a friend struggling psychologically because of abandonment, and I know how hard it is to overcome, so I always give a talk to all my friends when they are emotional. A simple word and showing them that you care for them are simple, yet essential to them. Thanks for sharing this excellent article. Great post!
This is so sad, heartbreaking. Some parents are so selfish. They only think about their needs