Abandonment issues that originate in early childhood can lead to clingy behavior in adulthood that actually drives people away, says psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D, author of the Intelligent Divorce book series and Psychology Today contributor. Though these issues may present a substantial challenge, understanding how they develop, how they are expressed, and how you can address them can help you minimize the effects and move forward.
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It comes as no surprise that abandonment issues often stem from early childhood trauma and losses, according to Claudia Black, Ph.D. and author of the Psychology Today article, "Understanding the Pain of Abandonment." Those losses may take the form of an absent, inadequate, or abusive parent. For example, a child who is routinely ignored by parents or who is physically or psychologically injured by them begins to believe that he is powerless and unworthy. These children may internalize a message that they cannot rely on others to be there to protect them. Development of abandonment issues can also occur later in life, but this is less common.
Expressions in Childhood and Adolescence
Older children with fears of parental abandonment may refuse to go to school, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. During adolescence, people with abandonment issues may struggle to form friendships and romantic relationships because peers see their behavior as childish, pushy or overly dramatic. They tend to lack a strong sense of self, and may pour all of their time and energy into a single friendship and feel lost when they aren’t with that friend.
Expressions in Adulthood
PsychCentral.com founder Dr. John Grohol explains that fear of abandonment is a common driver of frantic attempts to avoid being alone. Adults with abandonment issues may appear clingy. They may overreact to situations that would not be particularly frightening or anxiety-provoking to others. For example, if a friend is late for a dinner date, they may panic and immediately fear that the friend wants to end the relationship instead of assuming the friend just got stuck in traffic or had to stay late at work.
Relationship Success Strategies
Focusing on clear communication and establishing healthy boundaries are vital components of any healthy relationship, but they are particularly important if your friend, family member, or significant other fears abandonment. Psychotherapist and author Susan Anderson of Abandonment.net suggests avoiding the temptation to try to "fix" a friend with abandonment issues simply by telling them not to worry. Reassurance is helpful, but coddling is not. Avoid making overt or implied promises or commitments that you may not be able to keep.