Fear of AbandoNment Counseling


Sound Familiar?

Allie’s dad was really tough on her growing up and never seemed to approve of any of her decisions. Her mother, while supportive, was almost always drunk and spent most of her time watching television while letting the kids fend for themselves. Her older sister did most of the cooking and cleaning, but as soon as she turned 18, she moved out and pretty much disconnected herself from the family all together, leaving Allie to cope with the family alone. As Allie grew up herself, she started to cope with alcohol and what she referred to as “meaningless sex.” She feared getting close to anyone out of the risk that they’d just take off one day. So, instead, she just has countless one night stands and “drinks away the pain” even though what she really wants is to get married and fall in love.  

Nick grew up in a single-parent home with just his Dad. His mother had left them both when Nick was only 2 years old and he hasn’t seen or heard from her since. Now, at age 27, Nick is starting to wonder if he has “abandonment issues.” His Dad did his best to be there for him, but worked long hours and spent a lot of his free time with a revolving door of girlfriends.  Nick has always considered himself to be very independent, except for when it comes to relationships, where he’s repeated the same co-dependent cycle over and over again with every girl he’s dated. Things start out well, Nick feels safe and excited, but then at the slightest hint of distance, such as when a girlfriend doesn’t respond to texts or needs space, he pulls out every trick he knows to keep her around. Once he even offered to help a woman pay her credit cards off after only 3 dates. Nick knows that his behaviors are extreme, but his fear of being alone has made her go to almost any lengths to keep somebody around.  

Amber was twelve when her mother died and went into foster care. Her father had never been a part of her life and she knew of no other family. Her foster family took amazing care of her and did their best to treat her like one of their own, but Amber always felt a bit like an outsider. As Amber grew up and started dating she found that she always held people at arm’s length. She struggled with feeling lonely and got depressed easily, too. One night after breaking up with another boyfriend he confronted her directly: “You know you’ve got intimacy issues, right?” Amber’s heart sank as she realized that she would probably never have real connection if she didn’t learn to let people in.

Fear of Abandonment Defined.

Fear of abandonment is a phenomenon in which individuals are frightened that others will leave relationally, psychologically, physically, or otherwise.  Often, the fear involves that the leaving will happen abruptly and without warning — everything is trucking along fine and then one day, poof, a person up and leaves.  However, others may experience a longerterm, more chronic type of fear of abandonment that is experienced of a sense of foreboding an doom over relationships, or a somewhat continual sense of dread that inevitably they will be left.  Those who struggle with fear of abandonment often do so to the degree that it impacts their romantic, friendship, or other relationships in significant ways.

How does fear of abandonment start?

As children we learn about the world from our primary caregivers. We learn whether or not our basic needs will be provided, whether or not we will be shown unconditional love and support, and whether or not people will be there for us. As children we don’t understand that our caregivers are humans and therefore have their own flaws, weakness, and insecurities. So, whatever behaviors they exhibit or whatever norms are taught to us, as children we globalize those to be the rules, norms, and expectations for everyone.

Those patterns or expectations we are taught early on often stay with us through adulthood and if we are not shown other examples or if we do not do the necessary development to overcome negative patterns we may perpetuate them even when they are not needed. Hence, how we develop a fear of abandonment or act out in ways that we think are going to protect us but often just push people away (e.g. putting up walls, experiencing rejection as a statement about our worthiness, etc.). 

Here are a few examples of experiences that may lead to fear of abandonment:

  • The loss of a caregiver
  • Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • A caregiver that is abusing substances
  • Neglect
  • Being adopted/going into foster care
  • Child takes on a “parental role” (e.g. has to care for parent when they are intoxicated)

 The Irony of Fear of Abandonment Behavior

People who struggle with fear of abandonment may have an odd way of showing it, at least from one point of view.  That is to say, many persons who fear abandonment may actually refuse to get close in relationships — instead of clinging, they refuse to connect at all, and in that sense, are choosing to reject others before they themselves are rejected.  This kind of action confirms just how resolutely they believe they will be abandoned — they’re so sure that they’re willing to act before it actually happens.

On the other hand, some people fearing abandonment will naturally display all kinds of behaviors that attempt to keep relationships intact and others around — for example, they may shower their relationship partners with compliments, gifts, and more.  While this is of course implicitly not bad, people fearing abandonment often do so to an extreme, causing their relationship partners to feel “smothered” and as though any attempts to create space will cause problems.  So, it is with great irony that people fearing abandonment discover that things like excessive gift-giving can actually facilitate abandonment rather than prevent it.  To be clear, however, some people who are worried about abandonment may also resort to threats, intimidation, or other forms of abuse to keep relationship partners around.

Signs of Fear of Abandonment in Relationships.

Usually, people only begin to recognize their fear of abandonment in adulthood when it comes to the surface in their intimate relationships. While we all carry some level of fear of rejection, a fear of abandonment can often take this to an extreme. These are a few signs of fear of abandonment in intimate relationships:

  • Anxiety that leads to “being clingy” – If you fear that you will be left, uncared for, or have a belief that people do not show up for you then you may feel the need to become either more demanding in relationships or “clingy.” This could manifest as needing your partner to check-in with you constantly or feeling a need for constant reassurance that things are okay and you are loved.
  • Perfectionism of self or others – If growing up you felt that you needed to be constantly improving or “doing more” in order to feel loved by your parents then that may bleed into intimate relationships as well. There may be a persistent feeling of needing to “improve, improve, improve” in order to be worthy of love. At times this perfectionism may also be projected onto other or to the relationship itself, needing it to look perfectly at all times in order for other people to perceive you as worthy, stable, and happy.
  • “I need space!” – We all need personal time or alone time, but if you find yourself feeling infringed upon regularly this might be a sign of fear of abandonment. Rather than letting other’s abandon you, you may cut and run before anyone can get in to hurt you. This could also happen through building walls and not being vulnerable enough to let people in.

What can I do now?

Thankfully, there is help for those who are experiencing fear of abandonment. 

  1. Take responsibility. While you may have had a difficult childhood, now you are the one responsible for your actions and behaviors. Take responsibility by working through the difficulties of childhood and learning new ways of being in relationship. A professional mental health counselor in Nashville trained to help people work through abandonment issues can assist you with this.
  2. Remember vulnerability is courage. It is scary to open up and let people in or to simply be honest about what is going on for you. Remember though that when you do, you are acting from a place of courage, not fear. Ultimately, it is your courage that will help you open up about your fear of abandonment.
  3. Talk it out. Let your partner know what is coming up for you. Consider talking about it with them with the support of a counselor either in couples counseling or by doing work on your own. You can find ways of being honest with yourself and your partner that build your resiliency and help you live a more full life.


Need some guidance with all of these?  We can help!

At Juxta, California counseling, we are aren’t just expert counselors – we’re people too, which means you can expect us to be genuinely interested in you, your story, and your life.  We want to get to know the real you.  In our work together, honesty with yourself and us comes to characterize the entire healing endeavor. Thus, our relationship itself — that is the work.


There’s nothing else you need to do to prepare.  There’s no reason to wait any longer.

Looking for Counseling for Fear of Abandonment in San Diego?

Reach out today!


Message Us at contact@


Or use the form below — there’s no pressure.

Call Us

(858) 227-7719

close. nearby.




San Diego, CA


(858) 227-7719