How to Overcome Fear of Abandonment: 7 Don’ts and 10 Do’s

 

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.  It can either interfere in them or reinforce them.

Once we learn how to deal with this primal fear, we access its healing properties.

Feeling attracted to someone triggers this fear.  How many times have I heard:  “I’m too vulnerable…too insecure to be in a relationship.”  So many people complain that abandonment imprisons them behind a wall of their own making.  They get caught up in patterns of constant re-abandonment (abandoholism), or avoid relationships altogether to avoid the pain (abandophobism), 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 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 do it.
  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 your partner, 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 October 19 2012

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25 comments

  1. saadiqa says:

    this really helped me a lot. now that I know I can fix it.

  2. Nasja says:

    Thank you.

  3. Nasja says:

    Thank you. :)

  4. K says:

    This is the most pro-active bit I have seen in a while. Thank you very much for helping me get back on track! Gung ho!

  5. D-Campbell says:

    I’m in full recovery but read this article daily to help me stay on track!! Its so helpful, informative and gives me such a needed boost!
    Thank you :-)

  6. Nikki says:

    Thanks. You mentoned a couple of tips I will start using, today.

  7. T says:

    Thank you for your great article. It is truly a bless to have found someone with experience on this common yet not well known fear.
    On point 7, “The tools help you systematically administer to your emotional needs”. What tools are we exactly referring to?

    Thank you for your great help

  8. Jim O'Shea says:

    I think it is almost impossible to banish a fear of abandonment. it is a core fear. I feel that desensitisation is probably the only way to allay it. it is one of the most painful ways of being, breeding anxiety and jealousy. deep breathing (abdominal breathing) is of some help and talking about it. I wish I had more to offer, but I have tried in vain to shake it off and used every tool at my disposal. at least I have some understanding of how my clients who suffer from this fee. regards, Jim O’Shea

  9. Admin says:

    Thank you for your comment. The idea is not to banish abandonment feelings, but to begin to understand and refine our impulsive reactions to them.

  10. Daphné says:

    Great core points, thank you! Would you suggest any books for additionnal help, with “homework” ?

  11. Admin says:

    I would recommend downloading the workbook from Susan’s website.

  12. Sarah says:

    Thank you – I have been looking for something to help me. Not just tell me how I got here. Postive steps and a focus … I am actually crying

  13. Simon cordeiro says:

    Thank you. I am on the right path but I still have a long way to go its frustrating because I dont want to lose the love of my life over me not being able stop the jealousy stop the fear the constant need to hear I love you it is not helping an already difficult relationship

  14. Christine says:

    Thank you, this is just what I needed to read. I hate feeling needy and reliant on others. I see most others in my life do not have this problem.

    It has been a problem for most of my life. I remember as a child as I would always rely on my sister to make me feel happy and secure. I have now transferred it onto my partner and it is damaging our relationship. I care about my partner deeply and I want our relationship to be strong. I think if I can develop a good understanding of this fear and learn to rely on myself to make myself secure then my relationship will be wonderful.

  15. Chloe says:

    Your words are the most on point, precise and clarifying ones I have ever read regarding this emotional demon. I can’t thank you enough for the clarity you have provided me. You have put me on a new track and it starts with loving myself.

    Honestly thank you. I’m crying because I feel like someone finally understands the pain and struggle that’s been suffocating me for years.

  16. Aaron says:

    I think I have a different kind of fear of abandonment.
    I’m very self-reliant.
    I’m not jealous.
    I’m not insecure.
    I enjoy relinquishing vulnerability.

    You see, I work a job where i have to change locations every 2-3 years. I’m not just talking the next city over. I’m talking global.
    I’m 35 and every signficant relationship I have had has failed under the pressure that the constant stress of moving puts on my partner.

    It’s to the point where I expect them to leave.
    I expect them to realize that moving every 2 years sucks.
    That them not being able to pursue careers or maintain friends … sucks.
    And that despite the fact that they want to be with me, they have to live their own life and pursue their own dreams. Dreams, that no matter how much I want to support and help them achieve, I can’t because of my career choices.

    So…. i think my fear of abandonment is different… and I found that this list didn’t really apply to me.
    I feel like I fear the inevitable. The people I love will always leave …. or i will be forced to leave them.
    I will simply never be good enough or feel like I’m good enough for someone to give up their entire course in life to sit at home and wait for me.

  17. Mia says:

    “The idea is not to banish abandonment feelings, but to begin to understand and refine our impulsive reactions to them.”

    This makes me kind of sad. I have bpd and a history of trauma and abandonment, my fear of abandonment is big. In my last relationship I did my best to take responsibility for it. It went better than it has before but not good enough so my now ex left. I’m sure that I will manage to tame it some day, that’s not my biggest concern. What really scares me is getting it triggered and the effect it has on myself. The bodily sensations and the unability to think straight and so on.

    I can’t live a life alone forever and I can’t live a life where my anxiety is sky high a great deal of the time.

    Is it not possible to get desensitized at least?

  18. B says:

    Im I the only one that finds this sort of advice completely useless? Id love to “stop beating myself up” but that seems to be extremely difficult. I dont lash out at my partner and I do try to talk about it, but finding a way that doesnt make me look like a loser its extremely difficult. Doesnt anyone have some better advice. seems like all I get is “stop thinking that”, which DUH I would love to, and if that actually worked Id be better a long time ago… What is abandonment recovery? It sounds great, but you give no details (I am already a strong and “self reliant” person, although Im currently rather trapped financially/job wise and location wise.

  19. Argh says:

    So if I have to learn to take care of my emotional needs to have a partner why do I need a partner? This is one of the things that destroyed my last relationship. Now we are “friends” and I’m taking care of my emotional needs however I can, which is trying not to feel anything as much as possible because now the only feelings I can feel belong to the spectrum of depression. There’s nothing to be happy about in my life, so I survive by trying at least not to be sad all the time. And there’s nothing to fix, it won’t get better if I get a better job, have more money or spend more time with friends, all that will just improve the periods I will be able to feel nothing and be “okay”. That’s as far as my own care for myself can go, I can make myself to not feel bad, and in order to be able to do that I have to forget what “good” feels like and accept “nothing” as normal.

  20. Tessa says:

    I have all of that, and have been through so much therapy to try to alleviate the intensity. I was so afraid, and am still so afraid, that I have attempted suicide, believing that I was not worth it, and that is why everyone left me. I am currently in a relationship with someone I love so much. But my fears extend not to the future, or even the present…. But I have so little control over my fear, is that it goes into his past, and I feel that he will leave me for someone else. I lose my control and I get angry, or become so depressed that I find i may not have a choice, but to tell him to just leave. But then I am actually near him, holding his hand, and all of my fears drip away. The moment he is no longer near me, then my fear sets in with a vengeance, and lately, its become so out of control, he has told me he no longer trusts me. He says he feels the need to hide his problems from me. To hide from me, it means I can not be there for him when he needs me most…. He will look to someone else for the support that I should be giving him…. and it just reinforces my fears even further……. I don’t know what to do.

  21. Anonymous says:

    This article has been copied by huffington post. I don’t know if this author is aware, but here is the link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-anderson/how-to-overcome-fear-of-a_b_6988748.html.

    Literally the exact same thing, 3 years after this article was written. Whoever wrote on this website should probably do something because of plagiarism by huffington post.

  22. Admin says:

    Thank you for the concern–both were posted by Susan Anderson and it is her original writing. Very good to be on the lookout for issues like this of course, so thank you.

  23. Vicky Sarringar says:

    I really do not know where to begin. I am stunned & speechless. With reading this article & reading the comments, it’s totally given me a complete understanding of myself. In which I feel ashamed of, although, like the article says, to not beat ourselves up. Which is all such a challenge to do. Yes, small steps are much needed, it’s overwhelming, fear of failing myself again due to the assurance I do seek, it’s just not all the time. I have bpd as well, I feel abandoned by my real mom, because my dad divorced her because of her own emotions of the same illness. Which is so embarrassing, yet a challenge to maintain with her a stable relationship. My father is religious as well & with strict high standards, so it’s so hard to get any kind of support I need as I do want, yet, I find myself stubborn to open up because of past relationships with all friends, family and other help. My fears, loneliness kills me & I end up pushing others away before getting too close because of fear of other traumatic event’s from going to & from battered women shelters, so I don’t know how to fully trust completely because of those I have trusted but now I’m in a better relationship & don’t want to mess it up & feel heartache from loving him so much but can’t always say some things I really will need to get out but can’t seem to trust others easily. It’s even hard to get this all out here. Does anyone have any suggestions or material of some kind to get out of my own emotional hell please? This link helps for the most part. I will read this daily or as often as I can, but would like to keep myself going so I don’t keep falling apart anymore. Sigh

  24. Natalie says:

    This is such an interesting read. Iv been struggling with thinking people are goin to leave me or they dnt like me for a long while now and iv never understood why. Iv decided to take responsibility of how I feel and why I feel this way as it’s coming very difficult to live with, well infact its becoming unbearable and I physically get upset. Its shameful and embarrassing. I want to become an adult who is strong by myself despite of any external things/people. I have pushed people I love away in the past and fear im doin it now with friends and it scares me. I feel I’m becoming needy and it’s suffocating to others and draining on myself. I hope this is a start of a journey for me an i can one day not think twice of being left on my own. Cuz even when im alone i have me!! An thats all I really need, knowing this is one thing but genuinely believing it is a different thing.

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