4 Signs Your Childhood Abandonment Issues Are Still Affecting You Today

Don't let fear of abandonment ruin your life.

Last updated on Nov 11, 2023

Woman sitting staring curiously at her phone alone Rifka Hayati | Canva

Abandonment issues lurk under the surface of your life, often raising their ugly heads when you least expect them.

They are caused by a painful experience of being left by someone important, like a parent, spouse, sibling, or very close friend, and a persistent fear of abandonment can result.

Over a much longer time than necessary, you may search for rejections or potential abandonment everywhere, and your brain may continually hold you back from taking healthy emotional risks in your life. This is the very definition of “abandonment issues.” But how can you tell if you need to work through this?


RELATED: Why You Feel Like An Outsider Even As An Adult — And How To Overcome It

Here are 4 signs your childhood abandonment issues are still affecting you today.

​1. You're afraid to initiate plans with people.

This likely applies not only to new friends and acquaintances. You may have the same fear about suggesting plans with those you’re close to.


2. You experience a lot of hurt or anger when someone fails you, even in a small, explainable way.

You might have an extreme reaction to the everyday failures of the people in your life. It’s hard for you to take in the other person’s circumstances as an explanation. Instead, you feel it personally and deeply.

3. You feel safer keeping people at a distance

Depending on others emotionally is scary, so you prefer to keep your relationships feeling safe. You may be great at taking care of others emotionally, but you’re afraid to let others take care of you.

4. You tend to downplay the importance of the people in your life

You may find yourself pretending you care less than you do about certain people and what they do.

“I don’t care if you’re there or not.”


“Either way, it’s good with me.”

“You can do whatever you want, and it won’t matter to,” are things you may hear yourself saying.

The following three key factors can make you more vulnerable to developing abandonment issues:

The abandonment is sudden or unexpected

Your abandonment experience happens in your childhood (Childhood Emotional Neglect)

You have a general tendency to downplay or ignore your feelings

There are two different types of abandonment.

1. Physical abandonment.

Most people think of abandonment as a physical experience. In other words, when a child is abandoned, it means that his parents physically left him.

Many children have this painful event happen when a parent dies or leaves them for another reason. Adults can be physically abandoned by their spouse leaving or when another important person in their lives dies or moves away.


2. Emotional abandonment.

Emotional abandonment is far less obvious, yet equally painful. Emotional abandonment happens when an important person you believe cares about and loves you seems to stop caring and loving you.

RELATED: 5 Ways People Who Were Emotionally Neglected As Kids Can Become Better Parents

3. Abandonment issues are a coping response.

The experience of being abandoned, either physically or emotionally, prompts a very predictable response in your human brain. Your brain automatically goes on high alert, becoming hyper-vigilant for any whiff of anything that could lead you to be hurt by another abandonment.

If you do not acknowledge and work through how you feel about the abandonment experience, your brain’s hypervigilance becomes more intense and continues longer.


RELATED: How People Who Were Emotionally Neglected Can Break The Cycle With Their Kids

4. The role of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) in abandonment issues.

Childhood emotional neglect happens when your parents fail to respond enough to your emotions as they raise you. When you grow up this way, you receive a powerful, unspoken message throughout your childhood that your emotions do not matter.

Being raised to ignore your feelings sets you up to downplay your emotional reactions to all of the things that happen throughout your entire life, and that includes your abandonment experience.

Unfortunately, ignoring and downplaying your feelings about the abandonment prevents you from being able to work through them healthily.


All that old hurt, sadness, anger, and fear stays with you, keeping your brain on high alert and holding you back from new relationships and experiences. All of this may happen outside of your awareness.

What to do if you see these signs of abandonment issues in yourself?

1. Become aware of your abandonment fear.

Accepting your sensitivity to abandonment and the event that caused it is an important key. Once you see your fear and what caused it, you can begin to take control of it.

2. Become aware of the emotional neglect in your childhood

Just as Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) sets you up to be vulnerable to abandonment issues, healing your childhood neglect will help you resolve them.


Learning to pay attention to your feelings and how to value and use them (all part of recovery from CEN) will not only go far toward solving your abandonment issues but will make you stronger in many other areas of your life, too.

RELATED: If These 7 Signs Sound Familiar, You Were Likely Emotionally Neglected As A Child

Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.