How To Overcome A Fear Of Abandonment (Athazagoraphobia)

Many of us grow up with abandonment issues, and they can have serious, long-term consequences for our adult relationships. For example, you might constantly feel paranoid that your partner might leave you. Or, you might avoid romance altogether because you're too scared to be hurt. Similar issues can emerge in friendships, and you may find yourself hiding your true self for fear of being rejected. All of these experiences mean that abandonment issues play a role in lowering your self-esteem. Consequently, when your confidence levels are low then you will struggle to live up to your full potential.

So, what can you do if you have a fear of abandonment (athazagoraphobia)? Thankfully, it's not something you simply have to accept; it is possible to heal and to move on. We'll explore what fear of abandonment typically involves, canvass signs of abandonment issues in adults, and look at five powerful strategies for overcoming this common problem.

What Is Fear Of Abandonment?

In a nutshell, fear of abandonment is anxiety that you feel about being left by others, even those who may seem reliable, or who may promise to stick by you.

In many cases, this fear comes from losses experienced in childhood. Anything that created an insecure or negative home environment can prevent you from growing up with a robust sense of self-worth. For example, you may have had to cope with the death of a parent, sibling or other loved one at a young age, or perhaps you struggled with losses caused by divorce.

In other cases, fear of abandonment relates to being neglected or given inconsistent love during childhood. For example, if your parents repressed your emotional self-expression, made fun of you, held you to implausibly high standards or relied on you to “parent” them (instead of allowing you to be a child), you may experience fear of abandonment in relationships when you're an adult.

Signs Of Fear Of Abandonment

Fear of abandonment symptoms vary from person to person, but they may include the following:

  • High levels of generalized anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression/low mood
  • Constantly feeling criticized
  • Flashbacks to previous abandonment experiences
  • Panic attacks
  • Feeling out of control of your own life
  • Putting yourself down
  • Loneliness
  • Self-medication with drugs or alcohol
  • Obsessively imagining scenarios of abandonment
  • Attraction to people who appear to be rejecting
  • Feeling uncomfortable in social contexts

A range of other mental health issues can cause these symptoms, but the more you recognize them, the more likely it is that you would benefit from working on overcoming abandonment issues.

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5 Ways To Overcome Fear Of Abandonment

If you're struggling with abandonment issues, it's smart to consult a doctor. Abandonment therapy techniques can be explored with a counselor, and medication may sometimes be prescribed to help lift your mood while you work on your underlying issues. There may also be co-occurring disorders (e.g. depression) that need to be addressed at the same time.

However, regardless of what your doctor suggests, there are additional strategies you can try at home in order to confront your anxiety about being left by loved ones. Consider the following five approaches. You can start with any of the steps but it will likely benefit you from trying them all.

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1. Identify Your Fear

Healing abandonment issues has a lot to do with clarifying the nature of the things that scare you.

To begin your abandonment recovery, ask yourself what you really think and feel about rejection. What are the worst case scenarios that you tend to imagine?

In addition to fear, what other emotions rise up inside you when you think about being abandoned? And what do you think (about yourself and others) when you start to sense the possibility of abandonment? You may find it helpful to keep a journal as you work through your thoughts and feelings about this topic.

Meanwhile, learning how to overcome abandonment issues from childhood has a lot to do with coming to terms with what happened to you when you were young. If you had to guess, when would you think your abandonment issues started? And how do you think that event (or series of events) has shaped you since then?

2. Stop Generalizing

When it comes to dating, someone with abandonment issues really has their work cut out for them. You may struggle to trust people, push others away when they start to get close or feel like the world is ending when a relationship doesn't work out.

Furthermore, you might unconsciously believe that your previous abandonment will repeat itself and that you're destined to be left no matter what you do. This can lead to avoiding relationships or to accidentally sabotaging them from within.

To stop generalizing, you need to make these underlying beliefs explicit. Write down what your most pessimistic self tends to believe about people, and about relationships. Next, take a critical look at these beliefs and write down arguments against them.

For example “People always lie” becomes “My mother hurt me very badly when she lied to me, but people can be honest and open”. Try turning the positive statement into an affirmation you repeat.

3. Build A Network Of Friends

When you're scared of being abandoned, you may be tempted to obsessively focus on one relationship, especially if it's a romantic one. You can break this habit by pouring more energy into your friendships, and by actively trying to build more. This means that no matter what, you'll never be truly abandoned. You'll always have someone there to talk to, spend time with, and feel good around.

Dealing with abandonment issues in a relationship can become a lot easier when you have consistently supportive, caring people around you. They'll remind you that good relationships exist, and reassure you that you'll be helped and nurtured if you do have to deal with a relationship breakup.

If you find it difficult to make new friends, try attending a new club or learning a new skill at a series of classes. In addition, look back at old friendships that have drifted over time, and see if any are worth revisiting.

4. Evaluate Your Self-Esteem

Those with abandonment issues in relationships often believe (at some level) that they are not “good enough” to be accepted in the long term. If this applies to you, then you probably spend a lot of your time seeking approval and yet find that it can only make you feel good for a short while. This means that your self-esteem is unstable and dependent on external feedback. Your self-esteem requires consistent praise from others, and so if you lose someone from your life then you also lose your self-esteem (because that person takes their positive feedback with them).

If you evaluate your self-esteem and realize it's poor, ask yourself how you can build a healthier, more stable level of confidence. What skills make you feel proud, and could you spend more time on those? Could you volunteer some of your time to a good cause? Make a list of ideas for working on your self-esteem.

5. Enjoy Your Relationships

Finally, with respect to the relationships you currently have in your life, it's vital to learn how to enjoy them.

Try thinking about the end of relationships as endings, transitions, relationships that haven't worked out, or invitations to change and grow as a person. After all, when you frame relationships in terms of potential abandonment, you sacrifice the present on the altar of anxiety you feel about possible futures, and you also downplay the power you have over your life's direction.

In truth, your memories of the past and your worries about your future only exist in your mind, and nothing lasts forever.

Remind yourself to live in the moment, and consider a daily mindfulness practice in order to support this way of thinking. As little as 5-10 minutes spent on breathing exercises or on a body scanning meditation can help to ground you in the present, and also assist you in regulating anxiety.