Fear of Abandonment: A Primal Dilemma of Insecurity and 10 Ways to Turn it Around

Fear of abandonment is the source of human relationships, the source of our self sabotage.  It fuels insecurity.  But it isn’t fear of abandonment that sabotages our relationships, it’s how we handle it. 

Fear of abandonment is primal fear – not something we get rid of.   It is essential and universal to all human beings, a driving force in our connections.  Feeling at least slightly insecure is what motivates us to protect and nurture our relationships.  We can allow insecurity to interfere in them or reinforce them.

The key is to how to deal with this primal fear so that we can best access its healing properties.

Feeling attracted to someone triggers this primal fear – the fear of being left behind, of ‘not being enough.’ I frequently hear, “I’m fine until I really start to like someone, then I get too insecure.”  Or “I’m too vulnerable, too anxious, too scared to be in a relationship.”

People frequently complain that the fear of abandonment imprisons them behind a wall of insecurity and isolation.  Many get caught up in patterns of constant re-abandonment (abandoholism), or avoid relationships altogether (abandophobism) to avoid any chance of getting hurt, or are in a relationship but feel chronic heartache.  They’re shrouded in shame for feeling so needy.

There is a way out of these self-isolating patterns.  First, what didn’t work:

  1. Having unrealistic expectations toward your partner, wanting too much too soon.  You overreact and over-need, which makes you feel less about yourself and your partner less about you. 
  2. Trying to squelch the feelings.  You know your insecurity is turning your partner off, but can’t find the magic dial to turn down the fear.
  3. Trying to manipulate your partner into doing things to make you more secure.  This increases pressure on the relationship and reduces its mutuality quotient.
  4. Trying to disguise your emotional suction cups as coyness or anger. Your suction cups are aiming straight at your partner no matter how you play it and they get detected by your partner’s special radar.    
  5. Twisting yourself into a pretzel to hide your panic. In trying to save the relationship, you lose your authenticity.
  6. Making your partner feel emotionally responsible toward you. This creates that awful dynamic where you need them more than they need you. As the gulf widens, your desperation intensifies, creating a vicious cycle. 
  7. Loathing yourself when you experience your insecurity driving your partner away.   But don’t panic! You can turn it around!

What to do:  

  1. Stop beating yourself up.  Fear of abandonment is involuntary.  You didn’t cause it.  It’s not something you signed up for.  It found you. 
  2. Accept this fear as part or being human. Give yourself unconditional self love and compassion rather than judge yourself as “weak.”   
  3. Choose to stop laying your insecurity at your partner’s (or anyone else’s) feet. 
  4. This means taking 100% responsibility when your fear erupts rather than expecting your partner to “fix it” (even if he triggered it).
  5. Vow to use abandonment fear as an opportunity to develop emotional self reliance.
  6. Approach your partner with self-confidence born of your newfound self-responsibility. 
  7. This doesn’t happen by osmosis, but by becoming actively engaged in abandonment recovery. The tools help you systematically administer to your own emotional needs so you don’t have to rely on your partner to meet your needs. 
  8. Exude the reality that it’s no one else’s responsibility but yours to make you feel secure.  The minute you look to your partner for the solution (and she doesn’t comply), you give your power away. 
  9. Take the leap of emotional self reliance but be accepting of yourself in the process.  We don’t accomplish this perfectly or for once and for all. The road to emotional self-reliance is slow, steady, and sporadic. 
  10. When you catch yourself once again looking to your partner for reassurance, just re-direct! Get back on track!  Become 100% responsible for your own wellbeing.

Transforming abandonment fear into emotional self-reliance involves radical acceptance of your separateness as an individual.  First you stop laying your insecurity at the feet of other people, and then take responsibility for your own emotional needs.  The hands-on exercises are there to help you become self assured and in healthy connections. 

© Susan Anderson Feb 23 2014

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  1. Doug says:

    I have been aware of this hole in my life/soul in all of my relationships and I’m 62. This concept rings so true in my heart that I really need and want to follow through on these exercises. You only get better through practice. I am so glad I found this

  2. lillian says:

    Thank you. For the first time, Ive found someone who completely “gets it”.

  3. Rich says:

    Thank you, this is so hard to overcome, I’ve been trying for months now and I suspect it will end up being years. However, to anyone reading this, I just want to say keep trying, it’s always tough but it gets a little easier every time.

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