6 Ways Childhood Abandonment Issues Affects You Into Adulthood

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woman with childhood abandonment issues in adulthood

Did you suffer abandonment as a child? Were you neglected?

Perhaps you were a child of divorce, in foster care, or left to figure things out on your own. If so, you may still be suffering the effects of abandonment issues.

It’s never too late for help or healing. But that often takes a kind of trust that’s hard to come by if your childhood was hard. And it also means being able to grieve.

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Yet, sadness can seem immense, like you might drown in it. It’s hard to grieve alone.

If you can’t grieve, it affects your whole life. You’re living with a broken heart and might not even know it. Maybe you keep telling yourself, “get over it.” Or, not to trust again.

There are good reasons to think this way. But you have to admit, you aren’t very happy.

If you haven’t had help, it’s not at all uncommon to still be suffering. You’re doing nothing wrong.

Children need secure love, not broken promises, or betrayal. When you didn’t have secure love, it can have lasting effects. But it’s not impossible to heal.

Here are 6 ways childhood abandonment issues can affect you into adulthood.

1. You have problems with love and trust.

Children need someone to count on, and at least one parent to turn to when something hurts. Being left by a parent, or both of them, for whatever reason, is very traumatic.

Abandonment as a child leaves scars. And it’s even more devastating when no one notices how sad you are.

You feel completely alone. You have no one count on. What do you do with all the hurt?

You have no choice but to go away from your feelings and to shut them down as if they don’t exist. Living with all the hurt and heartbreak is just too much.

Sometimes, you’re scared and lonely, though. But who can you trust? You don’t want to need anything from anyone. It seems like you can only count on yourself.

You have no control over people leaving. So, how can you trust that others won’t? Deep down, you believe they will.

2. There's a negative voice in your head.

A voice inside your head is on you all the time... “Don’t open up. You’ll get hurt. It’s your fault if they leave. You always say the wrong thing. Don’t show any needs. You’re too much.” That voice goes on and on and on.

The only way to “get rid” of that harsh voice is not to believe it. That’s easier said than done. The voice started a long time ago — maybe even before you were abandoned as a child.

There are three major reasons for it being there.

First, that voice declares what you believed was mirrored about you as a child. When you’re abandoned or traumatized early, it’s hard to feel it wasn’t your fault in some way, even though it wasn’t.

So, that voice in your head that is always finding fault with you, comes from never feeling good enough. Maybe even echoing ways you were criticized, yelled at, or treated cruely.

Children believe it. Confidence and good self-esteem can’t grow that way, nor can trust.

Second, sometimes that voice intends to drive you to “make you better,” more "lovable," and “good” in others' eyes. It thinks if you are “perfect,” that’s what will make people stay.

No one is perfect. You can’t feel good about yourself in such a negative space in your mind, any more than you could as a child.

But you don’t know another way. Abandonment as a child hurts and getting help scares you.

So, that negative voice has another purpose: It thinks it’s protecting you.

Sound strange? It’s not, although it’s questionably helpful. But you believe it.

It screams out warnings, rules, restrictions, dangers. “Don’t trust. Remember, better not open up. You know what will happen if you do — it’s happened in the past.”

It can be loud. It’s hard to block out the past — and your feelings. Things remind you of being abandoned as a child.

Sometimes you feel sad and don’t want to. Or, you want love and don’t know how to find it.

Sometimes, this leads to self-destructive behaviors. Those take many forms.

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3. You have self-destructive behaviors.

When you don’t know what to do with your feelings, you’ve got to find some way to channel your emotions. Sometimes, those ways aren’t healthy, or they end up with you turning against yourself.

You might try to blot out your feelings with alcohol or drugs. And sometimes you have to use too much, trying to keep them down.

You develop an addiction. You don’t know any other way to manage.

You have thoughts of ending your life, or you self-mutilate. Harming your body or wanting it all to end is the only way you can imagine stopping your emotional pain. A therapist who knows the trauma of abandonment as a child can help.

You turn to sex, more with strangers or people you don’t get too close to. Sex might also involve drugs or alcohol.

It’s a way to have some form of “love,” which often backfires. You want love, but can’t really risk it. That’s what happens when you were abandoned as a child. Yet, when your attempts at some form of love don’t work, it can also leave you hurt (if you mistook it for love), or with a lot of shame.

4. You choose the wrong friends.

When you’ve been hurt by love, abandoned as a child, or kids have bullied you, it’s hard to know who's a friend and who's not. Trust isn’t easy to come by. You live with hard edges and high walls.

You have to protect yourself, but you don’t really know how. You also live with a lot of anger. That anger makes you tough, banishing the sensitive kid that you were before you were abandoned.

Maybe you befriend people just as tough as you are — the ones that get their power by being bullies. Since you’ve shut out all your needs, you find people in your life who need a whole lot in a way that you can’t give.

Since you can only rely on yourself, you also give too much. You can’t be yourself. You have to give what you think people want, or deny your needs and feelings in one way or another. You don’t think people will like you for the real you.

5. You build self-protective walls.

Maybe you aren’t one for drugs, alcohol, or self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Yet, you’ve had to protect yourself from the fear there isn’t anyone to count on.

You’ve built hard walls around yourself and closed down to love. Or, you don't trust it completely when love does show up.

Maybe you’ve let very few people in. Because usually, having to be tough means not letting yourself be “needy.”

You think there’s something terribly wrong with any kind of dependency. There’s not, but if you’ve been abandoned and hurt, there are reasons for thinking that way.

Walls intact, no one can hurt you again. Yet you know what the biggest problem is? You end up abandoning who you are — the real you — the “you” hidden inside.

6. You're tired of "toughing it out" alone.

You were alone as a child. You didn’t have a choice back then.

Now, you don’t know how — or where — it’s safe to open up. You might find yourself wanting to. Maybe you’ve tried.

Maybe, in your trying, you’ve chosen the wrong people and been hurt again. That only confirms what the negative voice in your head tells you: “Watch out. You can’t trust anyone.”

When you’ve been hurt as a child, the possibility of love can feel lost, even when it isn’t.

There might even be love in your life that you can’t fully let in. Maybe you’re so wary from the past, that actions are misconstrued and become betrayal in your mind.

Then, you feel there’s no other choice but to turn away and stay shut down. Is that true?

Not everyone is like those who abandoned you, even though it might seem like they are. Remember places where there was (and is) love. That can’t be taken away, unless you stop letting it into your heart.

If you’re tired of being alone and you can’t get out of this conundrum on your own, reach out for help. There are therapists who understand what you’re going through.

And, also, how much sadness and fear you live with every day.

Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe.

Child neglect is when a parent or caregiver does not give the care, supervision, affection, and support needed for a child’s health, safety, and well-being. Adults that care for children must provide clothing, food, and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision.

There are several kinds of child neglect, which you can read more about on the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline’s website. There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time.

If you suspect a child you know is being neglected, contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline for more resources at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

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Dr. Sandra Cohen is a Los Angeles-based psychologist and psychoanalyst, who specializes in treating persistent depressive states and childhood trauma. Contact her to learn more.

This article was originally published at Sandra Cohen, Ph.D.. Reprinted with permission from the author.