Many people struggle to assimilate what they hear about relational health with what they experience, especially in their early dating years such as high school or college. But as they get older, establish careers, and learn to relate on an adult level with others, they may find they are experiencing relationship pitfalls that might be signs of abandonment issues.
Those pitfalls may be recurring relational difficulties that blindside them, cause relationships to fade, or worse, contribute to marital strife and even divorce. It’s important, then, to recognize the signs of abandonment issues that could be part of the problem.
Six relational pitfalls that may reveal signs of abandonment issues.
1. Your closest relationships in life would describe you as quiet or possibly even hard to get to know.
If a good friend or a significant other has at one point said you are difficult to read or hard to get to know, it may be because of signs of abandonment issues.
When a child experiences abandonment, he or she is left feeling alone, unsafe, or insecure emotionally or physically. This can be a traumatic experience for a child. If we think about trauma as only what we would describe as traumatic to an adult, we may not be thinking accurately about our childhood experiences.
Because children experience events differently than adults, an event that seems small to us now may have had a significantly traumatizing impact on us as a kid that left us feeling alone, insecure, or unsafe. This could contribute to why a person might be hard to get to know as an adult.
If that person felt unsafe being vulnerable as a child, then being vulnerable in adult relationships or friendships only magnifies that feeling. Uncertainty and lack of trust when sharing with a close friend or partner may be one of the signs of abandonment issues that bear significant weight on your friendships and relationships.
2. Your feelings of inadequacy keep causing issues in your relationship.
These issues may include being jealous of a friend if she makes other friends, second-guessing every email or text you send to see if it measures up to a standard that hasn’t been set, or feeling like it’s your job to fix other people’s problems.
Feeling like you aren’t enough can be a symptom of a core belief that was mistakenly identified as truth in childhood when, in reality, it is false. It may mean that a parent or caregiver wasn’t emotionally available the way that you needed him or her to be when you were young.
Or if you had a significant experience as a kid where you were reprimanded for being who you are, you might still suffer from believing that your worth is only in what you can achieve not in the fact that you were made in the image of a loving God.
3. Your boss or co-worker walks all over you and you’ve done little to stop it.
When you suffered from abandonment as a child, you can believe the abandonment was something to which you contributed. Not dealing with the trauma that caused the abandonment may be what’s holding a person back from healthy workplace relationships.
If your boss or co-worker repeatedly takes credit for your ideas or asks you to work weekends and late nights regularly, you have the right to stand up for yourself. However, doing so requires knowing that you are worth it.
Signs of abandonment issues may be when you say to yourself, “Her needs are more important than mine; she is the boss, after all,” or “I made a mistake, so now I have to make up for it and help him out every time he asks.”
You are allowed to make mistakes. You are worthy of time off, self-care, and work that’s fulfilling.
4. You love the feeling of getting into a romantic relationship such as pursuing and being pursued but once you’re in it, the close feelings wear off.
Very often, men who struggle with abandonment issues enjoy pursuing a woman of interest for a dating relationship. But once the two have committed or begun dating long-term, these men may lose interest because they struggle to open up.
Being vulnerable is a step that’s required at some point in every relationship, whether it is a friendship or a romantic relationship because it allows the other person to see the real you. If you struggle to show them who that person is, then it may be for fear of rejection due to a past hurt.
When a child experiences traumatic rejection, he or she can grow into an adult who is fearful of being let down emotionally. He or she can fear that if an emotional guard is let down, the other person will think badly of him or her or will not want to remain in the relationship.
The response to this fear of rejection might be leaving someone before they can leave you, and that’s one of the signs of abandonment issues.
One core belief you may have held is that you are helping the other person by letting him or her have an easy “out” of the relationship. In reality, you’re protecting yourself by maintaining the inaccurate core belief that you need to be perfect to be accepted.
5. You are afraid of your spouse dying or leaving you when he or she has given no indication of such things.
Fear of losing someone we love is normal to an extent. But when it becomes a distraction to living and enjoying life, it’s time to explore the fear in greater depth.
Maybe your spouse travels for work regularly and in the week leading up to the trip your behavior borders on emotional smothering. You expect him or her to be with you every waking minute, to savor the time together before he or she leaves, and you struggle with any extended hours he or she must spend to prepare for the trip.
While your spouse is away, other struggles may include excessive texts or phone calls, jealousy while he or she is with co-workers, or obsessive thoughts related to his or her health and well-being that keep you from being able to work, care for your children, or make daily decisions.
If you’ve ever felt like your fears are irrational or consuming your life, please know that you are not alone. There are counselors who can help you look beneath the fear to cope with the trauma that may be causing it.
6. You have bounced from relationship to relationship.
Whether it’s two relationships or ten, going from one romantic relationship to the next can be one of the signs of abandonment issues. When you are afraid to be alone for any length of time, it might be an indication that you were left to feel alone at a vulnerable point of need when you were a kid.
Essentially, abandonment means you didn’t get a basic need met at some point. While many experiences of trauma and abandonment take place in childhood, not all do. It is possible to experience extreme loneliness as a teen or an adult and that can contribute to a core belief that being alone is not okay.
Seasons of reflection where we take time to process our past, make sense of previous relationships, and look for patterns of relating are healthy. If you struggle to do these, it may be a signal of abandonment issues.
How to respond.
It can be disarming to notice even one sign of an abandonment issue, but more than one may feel crippling, hopeless, or even despairing.
Remember, how you feel doesn’t necessarily indicate that something is true.
Feeling alone doesn’t mean that you are, and many counselors are trained in trauma-informed therapy. They can ask you a few questions, begin the exploration with you, and help you see that many adults have experienced abandonment at some point in their journey to or through adulthood.
It’s not just you.
Willingness to admit there is an issue is a beneficial first step. Reaching out for help from a professional counselor is an excellent second step. You can overcome faulty core beliefs, and you can have a healthy mindset and pursue fulfilling relationships in the future.
Even from the very beginning, it’s clear that God’s plan for His people was to put them in relationships with others. “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’” (Genesis 2:18, ESV)
In Psalm 23, we read that David understood the importance of recognizing God was with him. In verse 4, he says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4, ESV)
God wants you to experience His presence the way David describes. You can find comfort in God’s power to bring you healing from the past and hope for the future.
“Point Reyes”, Courtesy of Nick Jio, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Never Forgotten”, Courtesy of Brock DuPont, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Shadow on the Wall”, Courtesy of Elijah Sargent, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Homeless”, Courtesy of Fredrick Lee, Unsplash.com, CC0 License