How Can I Tell If My Fear Of Abandonment Is Destroying My Relationships?
Have you ever dated a person who seemed tailor-made to destroy your self-esteem? For people with a fear of abandonment, falling in love is like navigating a minefield of self-destruction.
We have a tendency to constantly seek out partners who reinforce our worst opinions of ourselves—and of humankind’s capacity to love, in general. And when we do find an actual keeper? Nothing could be more terrifying! We progress from self-crippling by dating unsuitable partners to self-sabotaging our chances for success in our healthiest of relationships.
That’s because insecurity and a fear of loss are explosive combinations—like flicking a lighted match into a vat of gasoline. In therapy, we usually witness the fear of abandonment expressing itself in 3 different coping styles:
- Clinging: Suffocating your partner with your demands for relationship reassurance… and succumbing to self-loathing in the aftermath
- Distancing: Disconnecting yourself from emotional attachments before you can become too invested in your own happiness; playing emotional tug-of-war with your partner and oscillating between starry-eyed in love to stony-hearted and indifferent
- Manipulation: A core feature of Borderline Personality Disorder; occurs when your terror of being deserted by a partner deceives you into committing calculated acts of deceit, designed to maintain control over your partner
How Do Abandonment Issues Develop?
Abandonment issues can be particularly difficult to overcome because their foundations are usually laid in childhood, when inconsistent or inadequate care and early experiences of loss can have their profoundest impact on interpersonal development.
Environmental factors from childhood that influence our fear of abandonment in adulthood may include:
- Enduring trauma; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; and neglect
- Unstable family dynamics, including:
- Parental abandonment, absence, or inconsistent presence
- Parental alcoholism or drug addiction
- The chronic physical or mental illness of a family member
- Death of a parent or loved one
What Are The Signs & Symptoms of Abandonment Issues?
Your fear of abandonment may present itself in a constellation of self-destructive relationship beliefs and habits, which often include:
- Plaguing sensations of worthlessness, inadequacy, vulnerability, or insecurity that result in rash, self-sabotaging or destructive behaviors. For example:
- You distance yourself from your partners before they can distance themselves from you.
- You compulsively text or call a partner’s phone because you crave relationship reassurance—when smothering your partner only serves to push him or her further away.
- Gloom & Doom: Obsessively catastrophizing about breakups, infidelity, or betrayals
- Relationship Patterns: Past partners have characterized you as clingy, controlling, possessive, or manipulative.
- Possessiveness & Distrust: The green-eyed monster, jealousy, is your best friend and most constant nemesis. You:
- Feel threatened by innocent encounters and acquaintanceships—even interests—that your partner may develop.
- Irrationally accuse your partner of cheating (without a logical justification for suspecting his or her infidelity).
- Ruminating about past episodes of abandonment leads you to form a pessimistic view of people that highlights their perceived flaws instead of their admirable traits.
- Codependency (or Love Addiction): forming instantaneous and intense attachments to romantic partners or friends, even when the relationship is mutually unhealthy to you both.
- Emotional Self-Harm: Low self-esteem urges you to continually seek out emotionally unavailable, abusive, or destructive partners, thus perpetuating the “abandonment” cycle.
- People-pleasing: You try (even if you often fail miserably) to internalize your feelings on any emotionally-charged subject that could possibly endanger your relationship.
- Mood Swings: Because living in a constant state of fear makes us all a little unpredictable sometimes!
- Self–Loathing: You berate yourself after relenting to that nagging voice in your head that persuades to set all of your relationships to detonate—Ka POW!
How Can Counseling & Therapy For Abandonment Issues Improve My Relationships?
Although abandonment issues commonly have deep roots that emanate from childhood—fortunately—an array of therapeutic interventions have demonstrated their effectiveness for managing relationship anxiety. Depending upon your need, your therapist may recommend a combination of:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: replaces unconstructive or pessimistic thought patterns that perpetuate your fear of abandonment with self-affirming beliefs and modified coping mechanisms
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (particularly useful for individuals who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder): incorporates principles of interpersonal skill development, communication, and emotional regulation to minimize destructive thought patterns and impulse-behaviors (including self-harm, explosive anger, black and white thinking, manipulation tactics, and more+)
- Trauma, Abuse, & Neglect Recovery: examines childhood foundations and triggering events in adulthood that provoke your panic of being abandoned (including past instances of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, and trauma)
- May employ exposure therapy or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) to treat co-occurring symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Alternative Therapies: innovative self-relaxation and self-care methods, including psychotherapeutic yoga, mindfulness, meditation, guided relaxation, equine therapy, or expressive arts as therapy