Children are innately hardwired to attach to caretakers. This hardwiring is critical for adult functioning and for the development of the individual’s ability to form interpersonal relationships. Whether real or perceived, childhood abandonment interfere with forming secure attachments, which negatively impacts future relationships. Usually, perceived abandonment occurs before children are old enough to understand that they are not responsible for others’ actions. In that case, children often falsely believe that they are flawed and hence unlovable. In cases where the abandonment is caused by one of the parents, the remaining parent may be able to provide emotional support and help the child develop a healthy sense of self-esteem. However, many times young children will still believe they are at fault.

Childhood trauma can be more covert and appear in the form of emotional neglect. In these cases, the child grows up with the belief that all of its needs were met, when, in fact, their emotional needs were not met in a satisfactory manner. Meeting a child’s physical needs is crucial for their survival, but it is not enough. In cases where the caregivers were not emotionally present, the child is left feeling like he or she has nothing good to offer, or that they need to “perform” in order to be recognized and loved. Many times, children of mothers that were depressed or extremely anxious, feel compelled to “enliven” the mother with positive behaviors. Such children grow up to become anxious adults who feel that their only worth is in serving a function for others, while their essence is not enough to deserve the attention and love of others.

Other types of childhood trauma can also lead to abandonment anxiety, such as childhood abuse, neglect, parental substance abuse, depression, or other mental disorders that parents unavailable can lead to long-term abandonment trauma.Children who do not form secure attachments to their caregivers face challenges socializing with peers, which then impacts their social development and their ability to form connections with others. Some adults who experienced childhood abandonment struggle to form satisfying relationships throughout their lifetime. A lack of a social support network deprives them of resiliency factors that provide protection from stress and a coping mechanism for handling the hardships in life.

A person who suffered such an emotional abandonment at an early age, may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of long-term attachment issues, ongoing fear of abandonment, and lack of a supportive social network. The confusion and difficulty separating physical from emotional needs, leaves such people in the dark, and prevents them from knowing they suffered such trauma, and more importantly, that these feelings can be changed. 

Symptoms and Signs of PTSD of Abandonment

The symptoms of PTSD related to early abandonment can significantly impact a person’s daily life, activities, and stress levels. Symptoms of abandonment trauma may include:

Mood Symptoms:

  • Intrusive, debilitating anxiety
  • Chronic feelings of insecurity
  • Chronic depression
  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Self-depreciation
  • Isolation
  • Obsessive thinking and intrusive thoughts about the abandonment
Behavioral Symptoms:
  • Attraction to those who are unavailable to re-enact of the original abandonment
  • Heightened emotional responses related to abandonment triggers, such as feeling slighted, criticized, or excluded
  • Vulnerability in social situations
  • Hyper-vigilance related to perceived threat similar to original trauma
  • Panic attacks related to unconscious triggers

How can I help you with your fear of abandonment?

As a psychoanalyst, I invite my patients to engage with me in their old patterns of relating, which is also called a transference relationship. Our psychoanalytic relationship holds the potential of transcending these old patterns by creating a new, intimate emotional experience between the patient and another (the therapist). Beyond empathy and understanding, the therapeutic frame provides containment, in the form of space, time, confidentiality, as well as other therapeutic boundaries. In order to understand the old relational patterns, I use my own internal experience and let myself be affected by these patterns, and involved in them, both consciously and unconsciously. In this way, I inevitably participate in reenacting old patterns of relating and struggles with intimacy in the therapy room. Concurrently to this process, together we create the potential for transcending these old patterns through understanding (insight), and by building a new relationship that is built on safety, reliability, and trust. Research shows that new neural pathways can develop in the brain as a result of new, meaningful experiences with a therapist. 

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