What Is Abandonment Trauma and How Can You Overcome It?

Trauma has many forms and isn’t limited to direct physical harm or disaster. Abandonment can be an incredibly traumatic experience, especially in children who are still developing their worldview, understanding relationships, and formulating their ideas of self-worth and confidence. Abandonment trauma can influence how an individual approaches any of these topics for the rest of their lives, and addressing this kind of trauma is paramount for reframing the way an individual sees the world around them.

Abandonment issues and post-traumatic stress disorder of abandonment (abandonment PTSD) can influence every other aspect of an individual’s life. Understanding the signs and what can be done to make the first step towards overcoming this kind of trauma is crucial to building a healthy outlook on one’s future.

What Is Abandonment Trauma?

Abandonment trauma, or abandonment syndrome, is a mental health disorder that manifests as a kind of anxiety that comes with experiencing feelings of physical or emotional abandonment or neglect. For some, this can mean the absence of a parental figure from a young age, leaving an individual to feel as if they have to fend for themselves before they would otherwise be biologically prepared to do so.

Others may experience abandonment trauma due to emotional abandonment, where a parental figure may be physically present throughout one’s childhood but still does not play an emotionally supportive role, either by ignoring one’s emotional needs or outright denying them.

These feelings can compound into entirely traumatic experiences, where one’s abandonment trauma leaves them feeling isolated, as well as fearful of the world itself or of others. Getting into intimate relationships of any kind can be challenging as one’s fear of being left alone or abandoned again can be prevalent throughout all of one’s interpersonal interactions.

Abandonment trauma can also occur even if there is genuine care from parent to child during their developmental years. Going through a divorce or experiencing the death of a parent can also create PTSD of abandonment, even unintentionally. For a developing child, the feelings of loneliness and uncertainty of how their physical, psychological, and emotional needs will be met daily can all develop into a kind of abandonment trauma.

The Development of Abandonment Trauma

Abandonment trauma isn’t necessarily tied to a single traumatic event. There doesn’t need to be a sudden tragedy involved, such as the loss of a parent, to develop abandonment trauma. For some, abandonment trauma can slowly develop over the years and still have disastrous effects on one’s worldview. New parents may be genuinely excited to care for their newborn child. However, throughout a child’s developmental years, if both parents see a drastic increase in their work hours and the child is left without a caregiver, feelings of abandonment can still manifest.

Even those who consistently try to create meaningful relationships may build these feelings as the relationship deteriorates over time. Feelings of abandonment due to failed romantic relationships or the loss of close friendships can have a similar effect on an individual’s mental state, with each relationship further reinforcing feelings of abandonment and compounding into genuinely traumatic experiences.

Signs of Abandonment PTSD

Several symptoms can indicate the presence of abandonment trauma. Most commonly, abandonment depression and abandonment anxiety can dictate one’s feelings and actions through everyday life. However, there are several other signs to look for that may be a result of abandonment trauma, such as:

  1. Inability to trust others

  2. Feeling obliged to be a “people pleaser”

  3. Expressions of self-detriment

  4. Isolationist tendencies

  5. Self-sabotaging behavior/language

  6. Prevalence of co-dependent relationships

  7. Insecurity in established relationships

  8. Overly controlling demeanor

  9. Unwillingness to leave unhealthy relationships

  10. Inability to confide personal information

  11. Anxiety

  12. Depression

  13. Development of eating disorders

  14. Negative self-image

  15. Low self-esteem

Abandonment PTSD can also lead to more serious mental health disorders, including borderline personality disorder (BPD) in some cases. However, it is common that those suffering from abandonment trauma will find themselves unable or unwilling to leave even abusive relationships out of their greater fear of feeling alone, which can then beget even further trauma.

Signs of Abandonment in Children

Children may express their abandonment trauma in a few additional ways. Children suffering from abandonment PTSD may also feel extreme levels of anxiety or depression when having to attend a school or may showcase extreme “clinginess.” It is also possible that this trauma can affect one’s development as a whole, stunting their emotional and psychological growth. Low self-esteem when it comes to tasks, consistently sick or playing sick in order to stay home, or children who are unable to sleep soundly by themselves can all be indicative of some kind of abandonment anxiety.

Effects of Abandonment PTSD in Adults

Those who have experienced abandonment trauma can still feel its effects well into their adult lives, with many people still suffering from their traumatic experiences. Adults may be prone to lashing out when emotionally challenged, either at others or at themselves, and may have difficulty rationalizing their emotional reactions to other people. Self-esteem and self-image issues are common, with some individuals even engaging in self-harm or developing eating disorders as a result.

Those who have suffered from this trauma may also look to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to emotionally suppress these feelings, which can quickly and dangerously develop into dependence or addiction on these addictive substances. It is paramount that an individual finds ways to objectively manage their substance use if any signs of abandonment trauma are present, either through a support system or by engaging in a professional program.

Abandonment and Attachment Styles

Those who suffer from abandonment trauma will do so in unique ways, and the relationship attachment styles that develop as a result of one’s personal experiences can help better outline the nature of positive or negative relationships.

  1. Secure: This attachment style is what is to be strived for in a healthy relationship. Those in a secure attachment can find themselves comfortable with intimacy and vulnerability while still being able to rely on their own agency for feelings of self-worth. It is the balance of a trusted emotional outlet that acts as a supportive, but not controlling, partnership.

While secure relationships are the goal, those who have suffered from abandonment PTSD might find it very difficult to establish these kinds of relationships. Rather, it is more common for those overcoming this trauma to experience avoidant, anxious, or disorganized attachment styles.

  1. Avoidant: This attachment style is defined by overwhelming feelings of vulnerability. It can be incredibly hard to develop meaningful intimate relationships out of one’s fear of exposing themselves to emotional vulnerability or opening themselves up to further abandonment or rejection. An individual may still desire a relationship but is unwilling to get close to others out of fear of their own perceived negative self-image.

  2. Anxious: This relationship style is the polar opposite of the avoidant attachment, as it relies far too heavily on one’s partner. This attachment style can leave a person feeling that their entire self-worth is based upon the opinions of others, especially any partners involved in an intimate relationship. This can lead to an individual blaming themselves for anything and everything in a relationship and can become too dependent on the opinions of others, losing a sense of their own identity or agency in their relationships, and often results in codependent relationships.

  3. Disorganized: This attachment style is defined by its lack of attachment whatsoever. These are strongly independent people who may trust in only themselves and find it very difficult to trust, or open up to, anyone else. It is also possible they may mitigate the role that relationships play in life as a whole and instead choose isolation over intimacy, leaving little room for emotional growth or security.

Coping With Abandonment Trauma

Coping with the lingering effects of abandonment PTSD is a complicated task, and each individual will need to find their own best practices to do so. However, it is important to have a goal in mind for each day ahead.

First, in coping with abandonment, PTSD is outlining what one’s emotional responsibilities are, both to themselves and in regards to others in a relationship. While an individual may feel compelled to take emotional responsibility for everything in a relationship, writing down or otherwise outlining things that are objectively not one’s responsibility can begin to help draw barriers between one’s own identity and their relationship expectations.

For example, while you are responsible for engaging in your own self-care, you are not responsible for a partner becoming upset due to something that happened at their workplace. You aren’t expected to take responsibility for this or fix it for them. It is something that is out of your control and thus can’t be blamed on you.

Learning to validate one’s own emotions and sense of self is also crucial. Practicing this can be difficult, but it can start off simply. For example, allowing yourself to express one of your interests or allowing yourself to feel upset at your partner for objective reasons.

There is nothing wrong with having hobbies that are wholly for yourself, and acknowledging them as personal outlets is a powerful practice. Likewise, validating yourself can also mean acknowledging when something is objectively well done — it is okay to tell yourself that you are a good artist, take exceptional care of pets, or are capable of professional strides.

Practicing mindfulness can also help you cope with lingering trauma and how your emotional responses manifest. Mindfulness is the act of being wholly aware of one’s emotional and physical responses and acts to encourage breathing exercises or other practices to process these emotions and better understand why you feel compelled to react in a certain way.

Mindfulness can provide much-needed time to process an event and react accordingly to your higher judgment, rather than what your instinctual responses may be. Identifying one’s physical and emotional responses and where they may stem from can further scaffold one’s continued development of coping mechanisms.

Treatment Options

Overcoming these traumatic experiences is not something that ever has to be done alone, and it is normal to need to help of trained professionals to navigate this intense emotional space. Starting with psychotherapy can provide a great baseline for one’s current emotional space — in intimate, safe, individual sessions or as a part of a group where one can meet other victims of trauma and find a tribe of kinship. Having a safe space to address these sensory experiences is crucial for beginning the development of a relationship. There is no need to rush one’s trust in a professional, but having a safe space to express oneself can help set up a baseline for continued growth.

For some, family therapy may be necessary, especially in the case of the loss of a parent or divorce. Having space and assistance navigating these discussions is crucial for managing one’s emotions and can help mend relationships that may have been tried due to losing a family member.

However, it is common that those suffering from abandonment PTSD will have trouble opening themselves up to a sensitive or vulnerable conversation topic. Engaging in art therapy or music therapy can be a great bridge to finding a way to express these difficult emotions in a way that feels safer. Creating works of art, using journaling or writing therapy, or even discovering or performing music can all be ways of expressing complex emotions in a new medium. Using art therapy and creating a painting doesn’t necessarily mean you have to display it or show it to anyone if you are not ready to. Rather, it acts as a personal medium to begin processing complex emotions and giving you a tangible, physical form to begin understanding.

Overcoming feelings of abandonment and the trauma associated with it is a complicated undertaking, but the caring professionals at Chateau Recovery are prepared to help you take the first step towards overcoming trauma and the unique ways that it has affected your life. We offer an array of therapeutic programs, all of which can be further customized to help you find the best path forward, including individual, group, and family plans, as well as art and music therapy, meditation, yoga, medication-assisted therapy, and much more. Your time on our campus is filled with beautiful scenery to help you best detach from your stresses and focus your energy on your transformation. Overcoming abandonment trauma is a difficult task, but the supportive atmosphere, community, and our professional staff are ready to help you through each step of the process in rediscovering your own identity and relationships. For more information on how we can help you, call us today at (435) 222-5225.

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