Have you ever gotten close to someone, and then they suddenly broke off contact? Or let go of a relationship when you thought it was going well? When this happens, you may suffer from abandonment trauma. Here’s more about abandonment trauma and how to deal with it.
What Is Abandonment Trauma?
Abandonment trauma is a psychological reaction to the experience of being left alone or rejected by a caregiver. The person who was abandoned may have experienced physical or emotional neglect, separation from family, or rejection by friends or romantic partners.
Types of Abandonment Trauma
There are many types of abandonment, including:
- Physical abandonment: The parent/caregiver leaves the child without returning for some period of time (e.g., divorce).
- Emotional abandonment: The parent/caregiver does not provide the necessary emotional support for the child (e.g., neglect).
- Psychological abandonment: The parent/caregiver does not communicate affectionately with their child (e.g., neglect).
What Are the Symptoms of Abandonment Trauma?
Abandonment trauma can manifest in a number of ways. Some people may experience intense sadness, while others may become angry or disinterested in life altogether. People who have been abandoned can also experience the following:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Intense feelings of loneliness and isolation
- Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
- Memory problems, including trouble remembering important events in your life
- Depression and low self-esteem
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Anger and irritability
- Difficulty trusting others
Related Read: How to Cope With Injustice Trauma?
What Triggers Abandonment Trauma?
You might have abandonment trauma if you:
- Have been abandoned or rejected by someone important to you
- Had parents who were absent or neglectful
- Were verbally, physically, or sexually abused as a child
- Experienced physical or emotional neglect as a child (for example, if your parents worked all the time and didn’t spend any time with you)
- Were forced to leave one or both parents at some point during childhood due to divorce, separation, death of a parent, etc.
How Does Abandonment Trauma Affect Relationships?
The trauma of abandonment is a deep wound to the soul. It can cause an intense emotional reaction and affect every area of your life. If you have experienced abandonment, it can be difficult to let people into your life and trust them again.
The emotional wounds that occur from abandonment are similar to those caused by other types of trauma, such as physical abuse or sexual assault. The biggest difference is that abandonment trauma is often invisible because it is not something that others can see on the outside.
The wounds that abandonment creates run deep, impacting every aspect of a person’s life. That said, it is different from grief because grief is about loss, and abandonment is about betrayal. Grief is about accepting the loss and moving on with your life. Abandonment is about coping with feelings of anger, betrayal, and fear of abandonment and can affect relationships in many ways, such as:
- People who have been abandoned may feel they will be abandoned again if they get too close to others. This makes it difficult for them to trust others, especially those who want to get close to them romantically.
- It’s common for people who have been abandoned to feel lonely even when people surround them. They may avoid getting close to anyone for fear of getting hurt again.
- People who have been abandoned may struggle with intimacy issues because they’ve had their hearts broken before and don’t want to experience that pain again — even though being intimate with someone can also bring great joy and satisfaction!
What Are the Causes of Abandonment Trauma?
Abandonment trauma is a condition that many people are affected by. According to the American Psychiatric Association, abandonment trauma is “the experience of intense separation anxiety when an attachment figure is absent or threatened with loss.”
Abandonment trauma can be caused by a number of things, including:
- Being left or rejected by someone you love
- Having your parent die or leave you when you’re young (especially if it happened suddenly)
- Being put into foster care or going through other forms of institutionalization as a child
- Being raised in an abusive home environment where the abuser has threatened to leave if you don’t obey them
Whatever your cause for abandonment trauma may be, it can greatly impact your ability to form healthy relationships throughout life.
How to Cope With Abandonment Trauma?
It’s easy to get caught up in negative thoughts about abandonment. You may think that no one cares about you or that you’re not good enough for anyone else to stay in your life. This leads to more sadness and frustration over the situation, making it more difficult to cope with abandonment trauma.
Whether you’re suffering from the effects of abandonment trauma right now or you’ve experienced it in the past, here are some tips on how to cope with it:
Talk about it.
If you’re feeling any of the symptoms listed above, talk about them with someone who cares about you. You can also write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal. This will give you an outlet for your emotions, which can help lessen their impact on you.
If talking about your feelings isn’t enough, consider seeing a therapist if you can access one through your health insurance or local community resources. A therapist can help you work through the issues that are causing your trauma and give you coping strategies that work well for you.
Connect with other people who’ve experienced similar experiences.
If there are others out there who have gone through something similar to what happened to you, see if they’d be willing to meet with you or go out for coffee sometime so that they can offer support and advice on how they’ve managed their own situations.
Be patient with yourself.
When dealing with this type of trauma, the best thing you can do is be patient with yourself and your progress toward healing. Focus on taking small steps each day that move you closer to feeling better again instead of expecting immediate results.
Don’t blame yourself for the situation.
Abandonment is never your fault, and it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you as a person or your value as a human being. If someone leaves, it’s because they have their own issues that they need to work through, and they cannot do that while in a relationship with someone else.
While it might seem difficult to believe initially, even regular abandonment can be potentially traumatizing. Ultimately, it’s all about how we react to any loss in our lives. The key, then, is realizing that we’re all wired differently and may respond differently, so understanding your own reaction will give you a clearer sense of what to expect if something like this happens again.
Abandonment trauma occurs in varying forms, and not everyone will be affected by it to the same degree. Some will endure short-term symptoms, others will experience long-term effects, and the severity of these symptoms can differ from person to person. While we can never fully prevent abandonment from occurring in our lives, we can work to make ourselves less susceptible to it—and that can only help.
- Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (2017). Adult attachment, stress, and romantic relationships. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 19–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.04.006
- Lahousen, T., Unterrainer, H., & Kapfhammer, H. (2019). Psychobiology of Attachment and Trauma—Some General Remarks From a Clinical Perspective. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00914
- Bryant, R. A. (2016). Social attachments and traumatic stress. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 7(1). https://doi.org/10.3402/ejpt.v7.29065