This post was updated on Feb 11, 2023
While the terms neglect and abandonment may sound quite similar and are sometimes used interchangeably, there are significant differences between these two types of behavior that may cause physical and emotional harm to the child or person at the receiving and of it.
When it comes to abandonment issues in childhood, adulthood, and relationships, this term is generally used for describing perpetual thoughts or behaviors driven by fear and anxiety that someone you care about will reject or leave you. On the other hand, emotional neglect involves consistent ignoring or lack of response to any emotional expressions, as well as intimacy or interaction-seeking behavior.
Children, in particular, need the presence of a stable adult figure that will provide consistent attention and affection besides otherwise interacting with the child. Not having these basic needs met can lead to various emotional issues in adulthood.
What Is Considered Emotional Abandonment?
Abandonment issues present a type of anxiety disorder that can encompass a range of behaviors rooted in an irrational fear of loss in different relationships. People experiencing these types of challenges usually struggle with an overwhelming fear that the people they’ve grown attached to will leave or reject them. This compelling sense of being rejected, excluded, or left behind can develop due to continued exposure to an unreliable or absent parent or caretaker.
If you find you’re often battling these feelings in your relationships, it’s quite possible that they originate from your childhood. Unresolved child abandonment problems can come bubbling to the surface due to multiple triggers. There are various reasons for having such feelings and fears as an adult, but some of the most common ones are:
- Not receiving adequate affection and love, or being abandoned by a parent (this includes a difficult divorce).
- Experiencing the death of a close family member or a dear friend.
- Being put in situations that require adult behavior and responsibilities during childhood.
The death of a close family member can be particularly traumatic for children as it is usually the first time they become aware of mortality and begin to question their own. Another typical trigger for these fears is experiencing the divorce of one’s parents. Particularly if one of the parents leaves the family and starts a new one. Children can take this quite badly and suffer the consequences of these events and the feelings they cause for the rest of their lives.
What Are The Signs Of Abandonment Issues In Adulthood?
Abandonment issues may surface later in life in the form of fear of losing your romantic partner or fearing the death of someone you love, without a specific, objective reason. The most common signs of abandonment issues in adults usually include:
- Attaching to people too easily and quickly, whether it’s a new friend or a romantic partner.
- Staying in unhealthy relationships that may involve verbal or physical abuse because being alone seems worse than being in an unhealthy relationship.
- Alcohol or substance abuse, or other types of risky behavior.
- Being a “people pleaser” and going out of your way to do what makes other people happy, disregarding your own needs and feelings in the process.
- Being envious of other people’s relationships and wishing to have what you perceive they have, a perfect relationship.
- Being unable to tolerate longer periods of separation, like when your partner needs to go on a business trip or go out with a friend group without you.
- Being too controlling in every aspect of your relationship, setting rigid standards, and making people in your life live by them because it keeps you safe from losing them.
- Unreasonable jealousy and constant thoughts that your partner is being unfaithful to the point of obsession.
- Not being able to trust other people, including even those closest to you, for example your best friends and family.
- Sabotaging your relationship yourself or choosing emotionally unavailable partners. You might do this to “beat them to the punch.” You set up the relationship to fail so you don’t have to suffer the pain of disillusionment after you get your hopes up.
How Is Abandonment Different From Neglect?
As opposed to neglect that stems from carelessness or not knowing any better, abandonment generally does involve the intentional desertion of a person or a child by someone who was responsible for caring for them. Abandonment may place children at serious risk of physical harm if there’s no other parent or caretaker to assume these responsibilities.
However, even if abandonment doesn’t appear to pose any immediate physical risk to the child’s (or adult’s) wellbeing, it can cause severe emotional distress and pain that can grow over time and develop into a wide range of damaging behavior patterns in adulthood. In #HealthyAdult I tell my story of losing my father at a young age and although I had a “new” father a year later, the felt sense of loss remained in my body for many years – especially becasue my mother changed by that trauma too and was not the same. To the outside world it appeared as if everything was fine. Inside the four walls of our home, it was not.
In childhood, those feelings may manifest as intense isolation or other sudden changes in behavior, while in adulthood they can take the form of more severe outcomes that influence one’s ability to form and maintain healthy emotional relationships. Hence, riding the Crazy Train, another analogy that many of our clients can relate to. Whether you avoid attaching or anxiously attach, there is a seat on the train for you if you do not get help.
What Are the Consequences Of Emotional Abandonment?
As a response to those feelings and thoughts that may or may not be based on truth, you may have trouble dealing with the fear of abandonment and act insecure, jealous, controlling, or even emotionally manipulative. This could be a behavioral pattern you learned from adults as a child, or one you developed later in life as a coping mechanism and response to rejection.
Some of the most common consequences of emotional abandonment may manifest as:
- People-pleasing. This can be both mentally and physically exhausting and cause you to invest too much of your time and energy into helping others- therefore, neglect your own needs.
- Feeling resentment towards people in healthy/happy relationships.
- Insecurity and self-doubt. These two feelings are related: insecurity means that you lack self-confidence, and self-doubt makes you have negative thoughts about yourself and think that that’s how others perceive you too.
- The need to be physically near your partner. You easily fall into negative thought patterns and feel like you’re incapable of being without your partner or another person you’ve grown attached to.
- Becoming depressed and acting irrationally. You constantly worry that your partner is cheating on you and keep checking on them. This type of jealousy is irrational and usually provoked by your own feelings of not being good enough.
- Constant suspicion that people in your life are not being truthful can lead you to thoughts and actions to convince yourself that pushing them away is the right decision.
PIVOT Helps Beat Negative Thoughts And The Feeling of Abandonment in Your Relationship
If you’re struggling to cope with abandonment issues in your relationship, it’s quite possible that you’re unwittingly harboring certain unresolved emotional problems. Fortunately, even though achieving a healthy state of mind requires a lot of work, professional help is available to guide you through it, every step of the way. This type of coaching can provide you with the tools you need to form and maintain healthy relationships with people you care for.
You can start your journey with the guidance of caring and experienced PIVOT relationship advocates, who can help you discover why you have these feelings, and work towards changing your negative thought patterns, and subsequently, your behavior. If you recognize abandonment issues as the true cause behind your romantic relationship problems, Glass House relationship coaching retreats for individuals can help you achieve self-authenticity and mental wellness to overcome them.