Fear of Abandonment
There are many of us who struggle with fear of abandonment. This anxious, overwhelming fear that someone you love is going to leave you. It isn’t a diagnosed mental health disorder, but it involves a high level of anxiety. Early childhood attachment wounds or some type of trauma are usually at the core of this fear.
In our early years of marriage, I panicked if my husband was late coming home from, well, anywhere. He was met with anger if he did not arrive when he said he would, or call when he was going to be late. At the time, I was unaware that I had a fear of abandonment. Consequently, he was completely puzzled by my anxiety over any delays returning home.
Help is available for both overwhelming anxiety and trauma wounds. I am living proof.
Normal Abandonment Fear
Healthy human development requires that an infant’s and child’s emotional and physical needs are met. Therefore, some degree of abandonment fear can be normal. Parents are going to fail sometimes. Infants and toddlers are helpless; they need to be constantly assured that their primary caregiver will be available for them. For instance, separation anxiety is a normal part of the developmental process, but it generally ends by age 3.
It becomes a concern if the fear of abandonment is severe or continues beyond age three. Unfortunately, it can impact how future relationships develop.
Unexpected Fear of Abandonment
One December, my family went to at a local downtown coliseum for what we thought was the Festival of Lights. It was an annual event featuring donated and decorated Christmas trees. Instead, we discovered a clogging convention! Disappointingly, the Christmas trees had been scheduled at another location.
In the confusion and crowd, we lost our 6 year old daughter. One minute she was beside us; the next, she was gone.
We felt heart-pounding panic. It took only moments before we found her chatting with security guards, but it felt like a lifetime.
However, decades passed before she recovered from the fear of abandonment.
Abandonment can be real or perceived. Absent, abusive, or inadequate parenting can cause abandonment wounds in children:
- who felt deserted due to divorce, death, foster care or day care;
- who felt forsaken because they were physically, emotionally or sexually abused;
- whose basic needs were neglected by their parents.
Some forms of abandonment are less obvious, but just as significant. For example:
- Parents who were emotionally unavailable due to mental illness or substance abuse
- Siblings who perpetually teased their brother or sister
- Children who felt routinely ignored and were left to solve problems without guidance
- Adolescents who were often criticized and made to feel mistakes were not an option
- Children who felt mounting uncertainty when caregivers would repeatedly leave town or come home late.
When a child’s needs are consistently unmet, she learns the world is not trustworthy.
We seldom hear about emotional abandonment, but it leaves deep scars, as well. Some characteristics are when a parent or parents:
- stifle their children’s emotional expression, (Stop crying! That doesn’t really hurt!)
- ridicule their children
- hold their children to standards that are too high
- rely too heavily on children for their own sense of worth
- treat their children as peers
Abandonment and Relationships
As you can imagine, these early wounds lead to fear and anxiety in future relationships. Of course, adults who have lost a partner to divorce or death can also experience abandonment anxiety. Furthermore, affairs contribute to fear of abandonment. Signs of abandonment issues in adult relationships are:
- always wanting to please others (being a “people pleaser”)
- giving too much in relationships, (always taking the blame or “giving in” during a disagreement)
- an inability to trust others
- pushing others away to avoid rejection
- feeling insecure in romantic partnerships and friendships
- a need for continual reassurance that others love them and will stay with them
- the need to control others
- persisting with unhealthy relationships
- the inability to maintain relationships
- moving quickly from one relationship to another
- sabotaging relationships
- lack of emotional intimacy
Remember, an individual doesn’t necessarily have all of these symptoms, but enough to raise a red flag in your mind when you read them. Sadly, those with childhood abandonment wounds are often drawn to people who mistreat them. Moreover, it becomes a cycle which reinforces their fears and distrust of others.
How It Affects Our View of God
Children who grow up learning that caretakers are untrustworthy and the world is unsafe, naturally view God through a distorted lens. If the very people who gave me life couldn’t be trusted, could God? Trust, if you remember, is a very daunting thing to regain for those suffering from abandonment anxieties.
Sometimes in childhood, Jesus was all the comfort I had. First, in prayer. Then, at around age 10, I began reading the Bible. At 13, a friend invited me to a local church, and my journey with Christ began in earnest.
But, it might be different for you. Perhaps there is a belief that God has already abandoned you, (or was never there at all.) You might believe that the Psalms assuring us of God’s nearness don’t apply to you.
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18, ESV
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
Psalm 145:18, ESV
You don’t believe yourself to be one of the “brokenhearted” to whom the Lord is near. Apparently, neither are you one of the “all” to whom He draws near when you call.
Are these some of your deep beliefs?
Jesus – The Abandonment Expert
It’s easy to think that Jesus doesn’t know how we feel when abandonment anxiety overwhelms us. In reality, Jesus knows exactly how it feels to be abandoned. In those moments, when He was taking the sin of the world upon Himself, God turned away from Him. For the first time in His earthly life, Jesus was completely abandoned by His Father, (Matthew 27:46).
So that we would never have to be, again.
Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, (Luke 22:39-46; Matthew 26:36-46). His turmoil and sorrow was not about the torture and mockery, although he felt and heard it all. No, the agony of Jesus was about the imminent separation from His Father, with whom He had shared loving, divine relationship since before creation.
Jesus was abandoned so that we will never have to be abandoned, again. Throughout Scripture, God promised to never leave or forsake us. (Isaiah 41:10-13 is one of my favorite passages.)
In the upside/down kingdom of God, the Father invites us to run to Him when we most want to hide. He is always available to His children.
Come rest in His arms.