The Long-Term Effects of Abandonment

One of the most egregious behaviors a parent or other caregiver can do to a child is to abandon them, allowing them to suffer alone. The damages done to the child when grown are significant and should not be ignored.

In this article, we shall examine together what childhood abandonment is, how it affects adults, and ways to mitigate the power it has over our lives.

What is Abandonment?

All children are entirely dependent upon parents or caregivers for their safety in their environment. When these caretakers fail to offer support and meet the child’s needs, emotionally and physically, they are said to have abandoned their child.

When parents abandon their children, their kids grow up feeling unsafe in the world and feeling people cannot be trusted. These unsafe feelings lead to the child experiencing emotions where they feel they do not deserve positive attention or adequate care.  

For many children, abandonment is physical and may include:

  • Lack of supervision
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Narcissistic abuse
  • The inappropriate offering of nutrition
  • Inadequate clothes, heat, shelter, or housing

For other children, abandonment takes the form of emotional neglect and abuse when parents do not give to their children emotional conditions and environments that are necessary for their healthy development.

The child is left feeling inadequate, rejected, and damaged, needing to hide themselves away from others knowing who they are on the inside. Abandoned children are left believing it is not okay to make mistakes, that it is not okay to show their genuine emotions, that they should not have needs, and that it is not okay to be successful.

Fear of Abandonment in Adulthood

Because they were neglected and abused as children, many adults grow up having internalized all the messages they received from their parents when they were young.  Also, because they craved attention from their abusive parents, many adults grow up fearing losing the love of those they have in their lives.

Fear of abandonment is not a mental illness by itself but rather a form of anxiety that can negatively affect those who experience it. Adults experiencing abandonment issues often experience problems in their relationships because they fear the other person will leave them.

It is vital to recognize the signs of abandonment issues so that these issues may be tackled head-on. They include:

  • They fear giving too much in a relationship.
  • They push people away to avoid rejection.
  • They are often people pleasers.
  • They experience codependency.
  • They feel insecure in intimate relationships and friendships.
  • They require repeated reassurances that they are loved.
  • They feel the need to control others.
  • They jump from one relationship to another.
  • They often will sabotage their relationships.

Other symptoms that may challenge a survivor of abandonment’s life include the following:

  • Constant worry
  • Panic or anxiety
  • Fear of being alone
  • Isolation
  • Frequent physical illnesses
  • Low self-esteem
  • Addiction
  • Disordered eating
  • Self-harm

Knowing the signs and symptoms can help you fight abandonment issues.

The Long-Term Effects of Abandonment and Neglect

People who have experienced abandonment might be more likely to have long-term mental health disorders, often based on the fear the abandonment will happen again in their adult relationships. Mood swings and anger issues later in life can often be traced to abandonment in infancy due to the lack of emotional and other support from parents.

Some of the mental health conditions thought to be heavily influenced by abandonment include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Codependency
  • Attachment anxiety
  • Borderline personality disorder

For someone who lacks self-esteem due to childhood abandonment, the fear of being abandoned again becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as their clinginess, and other negative behaviors tend to push away potential life partners and friends.

Other long-term consequences affect future generations of those who experienced abandonment as a child. A recent study, published in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging found that the offspring of the abandoned and neglected inherit brain abnormalities from their mothers show up as functional dysconnectivity between the amygdala and medial prefrontal regions of their children’s brains shortly after birth.

The Treatments for Childhood Abandonment in Adults

The treatment of abandonment issues focuses mainly on establishing healthy emotional boundaries and building a plethora of new responses when old thought patterns of fear begin to emerge or reemerge.

There are two primary treatments for abandonment that work tightly together to treat abandonment and neglect issues, including the following.

Psychotherapy. While psychotherapy is not for everyone, seeking out a mental health professional’s help can help those who were the victims of childhood abandonment and neglect. They can learn to overcome their fears of being abandoned again. Therapists work with their clients to understand where the fear originates and how it affects their relationships.

Self-Care. Self-care includes making sure the survivor healthily meets their emotional needs by forming friendships and relationships and allowing themselves to trust.   

Should you love someone who has abandonment issues, there are ways you can support them while they heal.

Validate their fears. This means that you should acknowledge their feelings of abandonment without judgment. This move is vital to maintaining open communication. Validating a loved one’s fears doesn’t mean agreeing with them, but instead, supporting their feelings to further build on trust and compassion.

You can do this by following the six-level approach mentioned in Psychology Today. 

  1. Be present and actively listen to their concerns.
  2. Reflect and summarize your loved one’s feelings verbally and without judgment.
  3. Become a mind-reader, and by listening to what they say help them identify their emotions.
  4. Understand their history so you can openly state that you understand when circumstances trigger their past history of abandonment.
  5. “Normalize” their fears by acknowledging the fact that others with their history have fears of abandonment and that their feelings are understandable.
  6. Use radical genuineness to deeply validate your loved one and share your loved one’s fears as your own.

The treatment of abandonment anxiety can be very successful, but it requires commitment and self-care. Many people with abandonment issues do not see how destructive their behaviors have been to their relationships until it is pointed out to them and they begin to heal.

However, treatment can teach new ways of thinking and coping end the overarching and debilitating power of abandonment in childhood.

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” ~Elbert Hubbard

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~ Lao Tzu

References

Abandonment & attachment-related trauma treatment & rehab center. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.therefuge-ahealingplace.com/ptsd-treatment/abandonment

Hendrix, C. L., Dilks, D. D., McKenna, B. G., Dunlop, A. L., Corwin, E. J., & Brennan, P. A. (2020). Maternal childhood adversity associates with frontoamygdala connectivity in neonates. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Megase, K. (2016, March 3). How fear of abandonment affects relationships. Retrieved from https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/how-fear-of-abandonment-affects-relationships

Schoenfelder, E. N., Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S., & MacKinnon, D. (2011). Quality of social relationships and the development of depression in parentally-bereaved youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(1), 85-96. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/821697890?accountid=1229

Wade, B. (1995, 04). Fear of abandonment. Essence, 25(79). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/223174140?accountid=1229

20 signs someone has abandonment issues. (2017, September 8). Retrieved from https://www.aconsciousrethink.com/6064/signs-abandonment-issues

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