How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Few things have the power to hold you back in your adult life as much as abandonment. Legions of people are wondering how to overcome abandonment issues from childhood.

Sadly, there are many different ways that parents can fail their children. Thanks to research and awareness, there are many resources available to people who grew up with any form of abuse from their parents. But there are two other types of parental failure that are far less noticed or discussed: parental abandonment and Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

Children are born literally “pre-wired” with some very specific emotional needs. Thanks to loads of scientific research, we now know, without a doubt, that in order to grow and thrive as an adult, children must feel loved and emotionally attached to their parents.

Childrens’ emotional needs are, in fact, so crucial that even well-meaning, physically present parents can inadvertently harm their children by not responding enough to their children’s emotions. This subtle parental failure happens far and wide, and I have given it the name Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. 

Though CEN happens under the radar in most emotionally neglectful homes, it nevertheless leaves lasting effects upon the child: disconnection, lack of fulfillment, and feelings of being empty and alone, among others.

If physically present, well-meaning parents can fail their children in such a subtle way that harms them, you can imagine the powerful impact of parental abandonment.

Parental Abandonment

Parents leave their children in many different ways, and for many different reasons. Whether your parent left you because of divorce, death, or choice, the reason matters far less than the fact that he or she left you.

It is very difficult for a child’s brain to absorb the enormity of abandonment. Children often suffer problems with anger or grief after the loss of a parent. Most children have difficulty believing that it is permanent, even if their parent has passed away. But if your parent walked away by choice, you will also likely struggle with your very natural question of, “Why?”

The 3 Main Issues Of The Abandoned Child

  1. Trusting others: When your parent abandons you, he or she is violating your most basic human need, which is to have parents who value and enjoy you. If the one who is meant to love and care for you the most in this world leaves you, it becomes very difficult to believe that anyone and everyone who becomes important to you will not do the same. You may end up living your life constantly on-guard for the possibility of being abandoned again. It’s hard to trust that your partner, friend or loved one has your best interests in mind. This holds you back from forming rich, deep, trusting relationships.
  2. Guilt and shame: All abandoned children are deeply mystified about why their parents left them. Many struggle with the fact that there is no good explanation because, let’s face it, apart from death there is no good reason for a parent to leave a child. In the absence of a logical explanation, the child naturally tends to blame herself. This sets up a pattern of feeling deeply responsible for her parent’s choice to leave her. The abandoned child often grows up to struggle with guilt and shame.
  3. Self-worth: “How could my own parent leave me?” the abandoned child wonders. Being left by the one who brought you into this world naturally makes you wonder what is wrong with you. The abandoned child is set up to never feel good enough. Deeply, painfully, he feels unworthy of true love and commitment.

Many thousands of children grow up with parents who are physically present, yet emotionally absent — Childhood Emotional Neglect. These children grow up to feel less important than others, and deeply alone.

Many thousands more children experience the deep trauma of a parent physically abandoning them. If you had this experience as a child, you have probably grown up to struggle with trust, shame, and low self-worth.

Even if you are physically abandoned, if you have one parent who remains present and is emotionally attuned to you, this can greatly soften the impact of the other parent’s abandonment.

Emotional attunement from a parent is the balm that soothes all childhood hurts, and the antidote that prevents depression, anxiety, and low self-worth. If you grew up in a family that offered a shortage of this balm, you may be struggling to this day.

How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

Whether you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect, abandonment, or a combination of the two, it’s not too late for you to repair those childhood hurts. Now, as an adult, you can make up for what you didn’t get in childhood.

By beginning to tune in to yourself to pay attention to your feelings, by making a concerted effort to take care of your own needs, and by learning emotion management skills, you can begin the process of accepting your own true value as a human being.

If your parents failed you emotionally or abandoned you, you can become your own present, loving and attuned parent now.

It’s never too late to begin to accept that you matter.

To learn much more about the emotional needs of children, the effects of having emotionally or physically absent parents and how you can heal yourself, see Running On Empty or Running On Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships.

To find out if you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect Take the Emotional Neglect Test. It’s free!


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Jim - February 14, 2021 Reply

Parents divorced when I was 9 brother was 4. Both parents were out for themselves. We were with my mom at first and she meet someone new and had a kid. Shortly after my brother and I moved with my dad. Never lived with mom again. Spoke with her from time to time and got gifts at birthdays and holidays. 30 years later I still don’t know why it played out like that. Dad says my mom wanted a new family and left us, mom says that she fought for us and dad refuses to let us go with her. Both are liars in my opinion. I have moved on but I can’t help but think why? My half brother and sister had a great life and my brother and I got lies. We are both doing well financially and we both have been married years (me 23, him 10) and have kids. During slow times or movies that depict this really messes with my head though. Just wish I could get an honest answer, but neither one is honest enough to admit the truth. Both pin it on the other

Holly Cook - January 6, 2021 Reply


My mum is my dad’s 2nd wife. He had 2 other children with his 1st wife. When I was really small, I saw them all the time. They would come and stay every weekend. I loved them so much. When I was about 7 years old, their mother had become friends with a Jehovah’s witness. I didn’t know it at the time but they started seeing us less and then one day I saw them at my cousins birthday party. They seemed like they didn’t want to be there. That was the last time I saw them.

They just disappeared out of my life. This destroyed me. I loved them and they were gone. 19 years later my dad was contacted by his ex wife as she needed the divorce papers for something. My dad said the only way I’ll help you is if you give me my children’s phone numbers.

So we got back in touch. We saw them quite a bit at first. One day I received an email from my older brother saying that he liked the way his life is and doesn’t want me in it.

The first time was bad enough but this one has given me depression and anxiety. I’m normally fine on a day to day basis and then something reminds me of it and I’m a mess. I cry like the 7 year old child who lost them then.

Lee - January 1, 2021 Reply

Hello Dr. Webb.

I’m amazed at your mental prowess and stregnth and thank you for coining CEN. Great job !!!! History will remember you favourably and forever!

I’m 62 and have suffered from physical and parental/family abandonment at age 16 when I was sent to the united states then completely cut off by ny very cruel and narcississtic parents. I was literally abandoned to fend for myself in a foreign country and worked my way up from a gas station attendent to a computer egineer at IBM. I went to college while financing myself and had nobody to depend on emotionally and thought I was over all that until recently when it all FLOODED back into my psyche. I realized that I was emotionally, physically and completely abandoned and by parents who would never admit it. They constantly blamed ME for that abandonment since I decided to be a musician and not study engineering originally. After I graduated with a B.Sc. in computer science at age 30, I decided not to seek communication with them out of anger. They both died and we never ended up with closure. Has anyone else relayed a story like mine to you ? Your research is cultural specific to the united states and I’m very curious to hear about immigrant CEN in your experience.

Happy new year to you and your family and best wishes for a great 2021.

Thanks very much

    Jonice - January 3, 2021 Reply

    Dear Lee, I’m so sorry you experienced so much challenge to your spirit and such significant loss. I encourage you to contact a CEN therapist from my Find A CEN Therapist List. You deserve support and help resolving and getting perspective on all of this.

    Renae - January 27, 2021 Reply

    I have a very similar story. But I am in my 40s, haven’t spoken to my parents in 11 years – but I am glad.
    The narcissistic cycle of cruelty and abuse is best left way out of my life.
    The abandonment from the age of 16 which ended in a push-pull cycle is the last piece of the puzzle I am wrestling with to be free. I believe the only way you find closure is by sitting with yourself.

Erik - December 3, 2020 Reply

Hi Dr.Webb

I’ve recently found your articles on CEN. They are helping to explain why I’m feeling the way I’m am. Plus I’ve almost completed reading your book “Running on empty”.

I was also was abandoned as a child , but was raised by my grand parents. Who cared for me and probably loved me ,but did not show any outgoing love.

I’m 43 , recently diagnosed with major depression and PTS. I’ve had low self esteem all my life. But didn’t show it to friends and family( emotional negelect).

I’ve never had a close or intimate relationship with anyone ( that changed recently, thought I found someone to have relationship but like my some of my friendships I didnt receive the love and compassion that I thought I should have gotten.

Instead it feels like everthing goes one way – me giving and never receiving back.

I’m tired of feeling this way. I’ve tried talk therapy but it dosent seem to have a brak through of some kind. Ive taken my medication.

It all seems not to help.

I’ve been doing the exercises you recommended in your book. I’ve also got my father who’s been in and out of my life , who is very co – dependent on me, that is frustrating and confusing me.

It just isn’t changing.

What do you recommend Dr. Webb. I trust your opinion.

Best regards
E Hansen

Talia - November 30, 2020 Reply

My parents left for another country to start a new life for us when I was 3-5 years old. I was then raised by my siblings and my father’s mistress who also had a child the same age as me. I often felt so alone as a child. My step sister had her mother and I had no one. My « step mother » was very nice to me but I knew she wasn’t my mother so we didn’t have a close bond. But also, my “step sister” was possessive as any child she would be. I didn’t think I had any abondamment issues but I can’t help but feel sorry for my childhood self. I am a super independent person who doesn’t like to rely on anybody. I would like to but I just feel that I have to do things by myself. I also have a hard time getting over it a guy rejects me. It cuts me really deeply. I just have very vivid memories of being alone, crying having to soothe myself as a child. I still do that today. I cry in silence. Then I pick myself back up and try to move forward.

Josephine - November 28, 2020 Reply

My mom abandoned me virtually at birth left me with my grandmother and grandfather (I was happy) then when I was 7 or 8 she took me away from the only mother I knew only to leave me in boarding school for at least 5 of 12 years of schooling… and in 12 years of school I ended up going to over 25 different schools (my step father’s job took us to many places)
1. I never bonded with my mother – even less with my stepfather, when he left I hardly noticed.
2. My bond with my grandmother was broken
This resulted in me not loving either very much at the end of the day – they were just there and non consequential to me
To this day (my mother is over 70 now) I could not care less really if we don’t speak at all (she tries to force herself on me and I can’t wait for the call to end – I am polite, thanks to my grandmother – but that’s as far as it goes!)

Susan Dent - November 25, 2020 Reply

I am mentally disabled and was forced to have children by my husband. I tried my best to be a good parent, but I was constantly exhausted, and depressed. I was not able to talk and play the way my daughter needed, not always, but a bunch of the time. I was not consistent.

She’s now 13 and suicidal.

I do blame myself, but I also feel helpless. I did try. But I failed.

I almost want to join her. Obviously, I don’t express those thoughts to her. I’m trying to support her. But I’m one step from it myself.

    Jonice - November 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Susan, please give yourself credit for trying! Parenting is difficult. In the meantime, your daughter and you need help. It is vital that you reach out for some support. Suicide is NEVER the answer. It’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Please do go to and/or call this number for help. 800-273-8255

cw - November 16, 2020 Reply

It is much more then you know.

Maverick - November 11, 2020 Reply

When I was ONE year old my real parents sent me 1000 kilometer away to live with unmarried relatives , where I was tossed around between them.
My parents and my siblings hates me to this day, their happiness lies in my tears.
They have saddened my eyes and my face forever. I don’t know how to smile.

My wife hid herself in the bathroom on my wedding night , as she changed her mind to marry me on my wedding day. Though she hid her feelings but revealed to me few years ago.

She has relationships outside marriage, and she has broken all relations with me since 6 years, though she is still living in my house. I did not sent her away because of my daughter.

I guide people towards Gods path, but for that I’m hated so much that my children and my friends hate me and almost abandoned me.

I never asked anyone even for a glass of water, always helped others, yet they love to hate me.

I never took any revenge from anyone, never expressed my grief to anyone, even knowingly kept my cheating wife in my house for the sake of my children.

The story is too long ,, so to cut it short , I always thought my life was a tragedy but in fact it was a comedy!!

I’m 55 years old,, counting every single day to leave this unkind planet.

Thanks for taking time to read this short note!

    Jonice - November 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Maverick, I’m glad you reached out and shared your story. Sadly, you are victimizing yourself and that invites others to victimize you as well. You have many years left to turn this around. I encourage you to contact a therapist near you and start to work on learning who you are, what you want, and learning to express that and protect yourself from harmful people.

Lia - November 1, 2020 Reply

I am a 16 year old child, my biological mom divorced my dad and left suddenly when i was 6 years old, she never came back, even the 6 years with her she was cold and uncaring, the tip of my finger got off cause she accidentally closed the door on it when i was 5 , she never loved me. Dad has never addressed the issue and never talks about the past, even her name was not what she told me , and i found out when i was 14 her real name through school paper, i spent 4 years with a single dad, before he remarried. She says that mom left because she did not want me and wanted to live a carefree life (my mom was 34 to 39 at that time) ,i feel so worthless and strive care and love, my dad is stricter than ever and my stepmom spoils my half brother and half sister and does not care about me, i wonder sometimes if i ever deserve to live, and i always get asked why does my parents not look like me (my mom was russian and my dad is arabian, and i look like her ) I wish i had a loving mom who could be my friend and help me. I always feel like there is something wrong with me, and fear that dad will too abandon me.

    Jonice - November 1, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lia, it is so very important for you to know that none of this is your fault or says anything at all about you. Sadly, your mom was motivated by her own pain and her own needs. I have no doubt that you are very loveable and deserve all the love in the world. It definitely hurts so deeply when your parents are not able to show you the love you deserve. I encourage you to talk with an adult about all of this. Could be a counselor at school or ask your parents if you can see a therapist. There is help and support for you.

Noone - November 1, 2020 Reply

when i was 5,my biological mom left me and never came back, she divorced my dad and simply left. i am a mixed child but unfortunately i look like her, my dad is arabian and she is russian,so a lot of people ask why i do not look like him, after two years dad remarried my step mother who obviously looks nothing like me, Dad has NEVER stated this issue directly to me and never talks to me about , he is very strict, and i do not go out except with him. I feel so worthless specially because my step mom favors my half brother and sister

Ben - October 11, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,
I am currently enrolled in the Fuel up for life program but have yet to spend any time with it since it started a few weeks ago.
Always making excuses.
When I was 3 I was hospitalised for perthes disease. I spent the next 16 months in a ward, with a weight tied to my left leg so I couldn’t leave the bed. My mum visited most days I think. My dad after work on Fridays.
I don’t really remember much at all.
My sister told me years later that I screamed for 3 months, was silent for months and then I was normal! Coming back out to very unemotional Parents didn’t help. The thing is, if anyone does try and help, I’m now doing the avoiding.
I’m 62 years old and worn out trying to run away from any emotion.
When I get a hint of the pain, it feels so overwhelming, it’s like I could destroy anything around me or be destroyed if anyone tries to love me.
I know your course will help. I’m just so aware that I don’t keep going when I should, and so can berate myself over and over. It’s poisonous!
What are some tangible things I can do to stop thus endless cycle.
Thank you.

    Jonice - October 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Ben, you are in the right place in the Fuel Up For Life program. I suggest you stop being so hard on yourself. Do it in bits if you want. Many people do and it’s fine. Take it at your own pace. Try to structure yourself, like set a timer and work on it 15 minutes per day or something like that. And call into a Q&A call if you can so we can talk. You can do this, and you deserve to feel better than you do.

Tarc - October 8, 2020 Reply

My granddaughter is almost 4 and really misses her mother. I have been there for her since she was born. Within her first 6 months, I assumed the role as primary caregiver. Her mother cannot accept her role. She was often leaving her to late in the day for proper care and started disappearing. Sometimes she would reappear for short times.
Now that she is almost four, her infrequency has been having an impact in my granddaughters feelings. She asks several times a day if mommy’s coming. I tell her I don’t know. I tell her grandma and grandpa are here. I tell her that other family members, whom she sees on weekends, are there for her, as they work full time. I tell her, we all love her. Often, when she does see mommy, mommy is critical of her. I can’t see forcing her mother to be more active because I simply don’t want her to be toxic. So far, she blows in like a whirlwind. Sometimes it’s a nice time for her, but mostly it’s an overtaxed time. Her mother is very un-filted when she speaks and is more concerned with her own well being and cannot connect as she should.
I am not one to talk about these things openly to others as there are no outlets available for myself.
My goal is to learn more on how to help my granddaughter get through this and not feel so abandoned.

Steph K - September 16, 2020 Reply

When children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need

Monica - September 11, 2020 Reply

My brother and I were given to the state when I was 13he was 9. My mother regularly abused drugs and cared more for her children then me. I attended 15 schools. She emotionally physically abused me and abandoned us and everyone else in the family too like we were trash yet my older brother was saved. As a adult. I graduated college. Early child go is education. I’ve lived alone for 4 years. After I aged out of care my three closest family members passed. I’m a single mother now to two beautiful daughters. Sometimes I’m irrational and defensive when I feel I shouldn’t be and it’s getting some judgements lately on my parenting. I’ve been in therapy for a year almost what else can I do to work on this issue and does it stem from my abandonment do you think? I love my kids more than life itself super intuned and huggy. They’re my sunshine’s.

Becky - September 6, 2020 Reply

My daughter’s step mother and father quit seeing her when she was in Junior High and had been emotionally abusive to her on the weekends they did see her. I was glad they quit seeing her because I worried about her every time she went there. However, she felt abandoned by them and dismissed as anyone of consequence by them. I didn’t understand that she viewed this abandonment as her fault. She attempted to have them come to her graduation and her first wedding, but instead they sent an ugly letter to her on her HS graduation day blaming their not coming on her. I saw a lack of confidence in her, but it was not severe. She made good grades and had friends over to our house all the time and seemed happy. In high school, she started showing anger to me, but when I questioned her, I couldn’t get a straight answer as to why. This anger has increased as she has grown older. It’s so strange in that she has such animosity toward me, but then for a scholarship question, she said I was the person she most admired. I have tried to be the one to make up for her father’s lack, but I obviously have failed in that effort. She is now very successful and makes a lot of money. She is driven to excel at work. She has a wonderful relationship with her daughter, age nine, but has divorced two times. She had a good relationship with her step father who I divorced when she was a sophomore in college. Although she understands why I couldn’t live with him any more, she was angry that I left. When she needs me to help her, I have always done that and more. When I think our relationship has finally improved, she will turn on me for no apparent reason. I don’t know if this is displaced anger, or what to do about it. It gets worse and worse.
I would appreciate any advice you could give me. Thank you.

    Roc - October 25, 2020 Reply

    Hello Becky, I am a spaniard 19 years old. My relationship with my mother really ressembles the relationship you have with your daughter. Especially the anger “for no reason” and, for instance, the fact you are the person she most admires (I deeply admire my mom, even though we have a lot of problems) Please contact me at if you are interested, this is the first situation in which I can really mirror myself.

Jennifer - August 25, 2020 Reply

Sorry, this I want to add to my submission August 25, 2020:
I remember getting separated from mum at the Royal Show in Melbourne Australia when I was around 6 or 7 years old. I was SO devastated, frightened, alone, and unconsolable! I ended up in lost and found. Recently starting this Fuel Up for Life, which has been the best thing, however I have gone off the boil and back into abandoning myself and my growth/journey through this process of healing, I am now making an effort to bring myself back and continue…….. And today you come out with the question ‘Visualize your Wall’, which is asked in Module 2. I feel like I have a way to go still in module 1. How can I feel for your Module 2 question before I’ve done enough of module 1? Jennifer

    Jonice - August 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jennifer, I’m so glad you are in the fuel Up For Life program now. Take your time going through the modules, as you will have access to the program for as long as I continue to run it. No need to move to the next module until you feel completely ready.

Jennifer - August 25, 2020 Reply

Mum and dad left us children time after time to go and sing in their Opera’s, leaving us with a man who sexually abused me for a lengthy period of time. Sometimes, as we got older, we were taken along to the opera and told to stay quiet backstage. I never felt there was any understanding of what was happening, and there was already no emotional connection. I guess this is a kind of abandonment cause I felt passed from grandma to Lionel (abuser) or shifted elsewhere just for their convenience – their career took top priority. While there was never any understanding there was also never any soothing or physical touch when we felt lost and insecure, which I felt regularly. I have struggled with feelings of abandonment if my partner wanted to go and do something for themselves, I can feel excluded or threatened, insecure and not trusting. My self worth is very low and I feel loads of shame (but I don’t have an understanding why). Jennifer

    Jonice - August 26, 2020 Reply

    Dear Jennifer, please contact a therapist on the Find A CEN Therapist List. It’s very important that you talk with someone about the trauma and abuse you have experienced. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

Michael - August 21, 2020 Reply

My mum left me and and remarried when I was 8. Dad never remarried until I went to uni. He was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He mostly ignored me, and when we were together, didn’t talk anyway. My life turned out very difficuit, but I was able to fix a lot myself by about the age of 44 or 45. I’m 52 now. I still have a lot of work left. I wrote a short book during the coronavirus lockdown. I can talk forever and ever about life. I had to make a profound study of it for about a quarter century, in order to parent myself and learn to live.
Take care.

    Jonice - August 23, 2020 Reply

    Good for you for doing the work, Michael! Thanks for sharing.

brandy - August 15, 2020 Reply

Ok. So my son has never meet his father due to father’s lifestyle choices recently he was killed should I tell my son he’s 6? Should he meet his dad for the first and last time at the funeral??? Please help.

    Jonice - August 16, 2020 Reply

    Dear Brandy, please consult a professional therapist on this important question. It should be answered by someone who can hear the full story and help you make a decision that’s best for your son. I am so sorry you are going through this.

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