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!

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
James Davis jr - November 29, 2018 Reply

Hi .I am a 24 yr old guy and I live with my buddies.This is my experience .My mom always chose her boyfriend’s over me.My mom was all about tough love,detachment and always used the lines ‘my children don’t control my life ,I want my happiness.Her boyfriends were emotionally abusive to me and when I was 18,she brought on her boyfriend who was 18 onto the house.We eventually had an argument and mom chose him and kicked me out.She said age is just a number and that I should respect her man.She even went on to get pregnant by this guy .When I went to visit my mom later,this guy came out and told my mom is not comfortable meeting me and that I should talk to him .I never saw her again .I barged and I argued with my mom and she said I was a brat and that spouce comes before children according to bible.I told her that the bible also condems pre martial sex thus exposing her hypocrisy,she kicked me out again.It really hurts that my own mom loves another boy more than her own boy .was I so bad that she had to take another son?I now live my life as a player .I have a thing for older woman coz of my mommy issues .I am a good looking guy and get a lot of girls .Sometimes I fall in love but I am scared .Guys my age thin of hooking up and stuff but I just want a mother figure.I have intrusive thoughts and anxiety .I am horribly empty inside.The worst is a lot of people just tell me I should get over it and that my mom should be happy.I lose faith in humanity when I see parents are even encouraged to be selfish .I am hurting very bad and I have lost interest in anything.O font watch movies ,sports or anything,life is now just a long party where I feel mostly disconnected from everything else.You are the only psychologist who spoke of this emotional stuff and I like that ,the world needs to know the truth.Its really difficult to believe that I am worthy of love.
I’ll tell you something funny.My mom has arched eyebrows .The other day my buddy was with his girlfriend who had arched eyebrows.This triggered an anxiety attack in me.Her arched eyebrows reminded me of my mom who didn’t even acknowledge me while making out with her boyfriend .Am I that insignificant?Its painful to live now.

    Jonice - November 29, 2018 Reply

    Dear James, your story breaks my heart. You do deserve love and you are lovable! The way you describe your experience shows how thoughtful and insightful you are as a person. I encourage you to get a female therapist who is licensed and recommended by someone you trust. And keep reading and learning about CEN because it will help you understand. All my best wishes to you.

Abd El Hamiid - November 14, 2018 Reply

I have a 27 months son under my care who was neglected and abandoned by her mother 18 months ago when the baby was just 9 months old. The mother abandoned him when he was sick (Bronchitis due to being neglected by his mother in cold weather nights alone in the house when I had traveled for work) so that she can be able to attend to her night_life_needs (alcohol abuse and sleeping around with other men for money)

I was left to take care of my son alone; got a great maid who is an expert at taking care of babies who has managed to help me raise our son to this end. My son was never breast fed by his mother; in fact he touches his flat titties and calls them “MOMMA” (This act drives me nuts but am trying to keep up with it and now we do it together as a game we play; though he does that mostly when he needs my attention and to be shown love and carried by me).

After 17 months of me hustling to raise him alone; his mother recently came back with police warrants and causing all sorts of chaos claiming she wants back her child. I have gone through court proceedings and been called to police many times; showed them facts about child neglect and abandonment which this woman did to her own child, but it is very difficult to convince the AFRICAN POLICE OFFICERS ON MATTERS CONCERNING CHILD NEGLECT AND ABANDONMENT BY MOTHERS. They feel whatever the mother can become even after carrying out such a serious crime, she can just walk back into her child’s life whom she abandoned for months.

I am trying to figure out how this should end; am so confused; my child saw her mother he was confused too, it is a whole mess now.

Only God can come to my rescue on this matter.

Sara - November 14, 2018 Reply

loydss_m@yahoo.com
I am interested in some of your work or books if u have any. My sister has 2 girls who were abandoned by their mother, unknown fathers. The oldest was 2 when the mother left them. The time she had been with her mother she was left with strangers for weeks at a time on and off and neglected physically. She had issues with potty training and has had issues with withholding bowel movements. She is 5 now and continues to have issues. She has a counselor but I do not believe she is getting adequate counseling. She has been in counseling since she was 3. It hasn’t been consistent counselor gone or doesn’t see her on a scheduled basis. She has started school but does not function on an emotional level of a 5 yr old. More of a 2 yr old. I know a lot of the issues she has are due to the loss of her parents. Her younger sister’s alleged father also recently showed up after 2 yrs and ct has ordered visitation. For the older child this has had an effect. She knows she has a dad but not in her life. My sister is struggling with dealing with her behavior and seems resentful or attributes her behaviors or reactions to ‘being just like her mother’. I have worked with kids and I see the signs I also understand how my sisters reactions to her are actually contributing to her issues but I don’t know how to approach it with my sister. She is very sensitive and over reacts to constructive criticism. She doesn’t understand how this trauma effects everything this child does. It has defined her up to this point. I have told her she needs to find another therapist that will address the issues and also encourage the child to express feelings about her mother, father, her sister and that situation. She also doesn’t help my sister understand the issues or how she can help her. Their solution is to separate her from others when she does anything wrong and I’m not talking like a simple time out. It’s a go to bed and she stays there for hours sometimes all day. I get teaching her certain behaviors are unacceptable but it’s almost like they don’t know how to get through to her or don’t want to deal with her so their solution is to get rid of her so that don’t have to which to me only re enforces her feelings of abandonment. An example: she has been sent home from school several times supposedly sick (teacher says she says she is..) she is very clingy and constantly begs for attention or affirmation or praise. I think this drives the teacher nuts and so she sends her home when she isn’t in mood to deal with it. She has issues with BM she holds herself and then has accidents or something similar. This to me a control thing she has no other control over her life but this. So she uses it. Teacher calls says she has had accidents and can’t quit going. Says this is what child told her.. my sister picks her up and sends her to bed ‘she’s too sick for school needs to go to bed’ I told her to check the underwear sent from school. There is nothing more than a skid mark on one and less on the other. So now my sister is assuming child lied to teacher (possible) so my sister attributes this to her being manipulative and lying to get her way just like her mom did.. so she is going to stay in bed rest of day. I told my sister she may want to find out why teacher is just believing a 5 yr old who she knows isn’t always honest what 5 yr old is) They say she is lazy and just doesn’t want to do school work. I think there is more to it. My sisters home life is not the best either it is up and down. She has a veteran husband who suffers from PTSD and is an alcoholic who gets out of hand at times. I have many times thought of telling my sister I would take her if it is too much, but I fear my sister will take this as a slight. I am looking for resources that she can possibly read and understand some of the behaviors and the reason why she does it. Also give her some direction on how to react and not react. There are other children in the home my sister has 2 natural children boys 16, and 5 and also the younger sibling a girl she is now almost 3. She was 6 weeks when they were abandoned. She too is starting to mimick some of the behaviors like being clingy, constant attention, wanting control etc. Their mother has seen them maybe a total of 10 times in 2 1/2 yrs since she left. I don’t think the youngest quite understands but she senses something. The oldest knows who her mother is and knows she has left her. She craves attention and information about her mom and makes excuses or makes up things (her mom bought her this or that) about her mom. This aggravates my sister and she assumes she should hate her mother. I have told her it doesn’t work like that. She gets it but she doesn’t. The older this child gets the more I fear that things will get worse for her unless someone tries to help them understand. Sorry for the book! I am at my wits end.

Leigh - July 1, 2018 Reply

I’m just now starting to emotionaly connect with my eight year old son and I’m 67. Yes I had my own children late to partially help me understand unconditional love. I now feel it but still don’t “share” it with my children. Unfortunately my ex is trying to keep them away from me which has turned me to try and understand what went wrong. I’m now just realizing the obvious which is often right under our nose but we don’t see it. I call it common sense we don’t have. However as I read your literature on CEN it all starts to make sense. Then I have to keep from beating myself up over it because I “know” I’m smarter than that. But in now amazes me how I missed the signs of CEN myself. It is now so obvious but I missed it. Just thanks for making me see it when I took the test I answered yes on nearly all questions. In fact at times I would have had 100% yes answers. SCAREY. I must say that my work and present awareness I’m sure will be a life saver. Yes I have even contemplated suicide in the past but would never do that to my kids. Now I realize how much I can do for them by making sure they don’t fall into the CEN trap. However they also have a narcissistic mother but she goes the opposite direction by allowing them to completely run their life on emotion. Any thoughts on that Jonice? Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. I am working on my CEN but don’t know how to deal with her impact. As I said before she is trying to keep the kids from me in a very “controlling” manner. However she passes all the blame on to me. In fact she is into the realm of serious child alienation which is even worse in my mind than CEN. I would welcome any advise on dealing with this strange combination of “disorders”. In fact I would love a “one on one” with you, Jonice, if that is possible. Thanks again. Leigh Summer

Suntime11 - May 28, 2018 Reply

Thank you, Dr. Webb!! Reading your blog posts always makes me feel better. Your abandonment post really hit home for me, as I felt abandoned by my mother when my younger sister came along, and I could do no right. As an adult I’ve been terrified of people I love leaving me or becoming bored of me if they find out the “real” me, so I’ve always run away before they had a chance to do so. My mom had other issues, probably a narcissist/sociopath, but that’s another story.

Kate, I wanted to respond to your comment, as I was struck by the familiarity of your confusion of what a healthy relationship looks like. First, I’m sorry that your childhood was so bland and crummy- you deserve better, and the fact that you’re putting effort into being the best parent you can be is the best thing you can do. I wanted to share with you a technique that really worked for me when healing from my “backwardsness”- Emotional Freedom Technique. You can google it- you tap on acupuncture points with your fingers, and bad feelings clear. I also found it helpful to talk to a therapist, and I often found myself asking, what do I do to have a healthy relationship? What does that even look like? So keep up the good work and keep trying, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Do you have fun with your kids? Play with them, take them to fun places? Btw overnight camping with kids you’ve never met before is pretty standard, and usually results in fun times and new friends. Best wishes to you and your family 🙂

    Jonice - May 28, 2018 Reply

    Thanks for your helpful advice for Kate, Suntime11!

    Katie - May 29, 2018 Reply

    Suntime11 , thank you for taking the time and reading my comment and replying. Your comment strike me as well. I have no friends and never made an effort to seek one, for the exact same reason that you mentioned above! I always thought that I am weird and different and it will make people “puke” if they knew the real me. At family gathering I joke a lot and say silly stuff so I can hide the real me. My kids started to see the pattern and ask so many questions about my Behavior in “public”. But I have not told them the truth since my daughter is 14 and she has her own hormonal issues and my son has anxiety and just make things worse. Beside, I am not looking for their “empathy”. This is my problem not theirs. My husband knows 50% of things but since he comes from a nurturing family he thinks I am making this up. Playing with my kids is great, spending time with them is wonderful. But when I see them having fun with their fri nds and socialize (something that I never got to do) is very “rewording” in a sense. I listen not to thbe conversation, but how they interact and have fun. How they make conversation and maintaining it. I can’t describe it, but it does help me emotionally to see them happy. It makes me extremely happy. Because I have broke the cycle. My kids did and still do help me, but I feel guilty because being a parent should be the other way around. I can’t explain, it is almost a guilty feeling. I have tried to seek therapy but not too many therapist know about CEN and how to deal with it. I read a lot and I just started to take care of myself. Every day a small thing. Doing my nails, taking a bath, reading, relaxing, napping. And I started to tell myself every morning that “you matter, your existence is of value”. It is hard to do it in front of a mirror, to look at myself in the mirror and saying these things. So I haven’t tried it again. I hope to get there sometime. Btw, I am 39 and soon to be 40. I haven’t seen my father in 3 years and my relationship with my mom is not great. We see each other, but it feels weird. I don’t feel close to her, I don’t know what to talk about and we just keep it “whatever” and that’s it. We see each other at my siblings home mostly once a month or once every 2 months. I don’t miss my parents. As a matter of fact, without their presence I can breath. I know I am hurt, but for some reason I don’t remember much. Sometimes I do believe my husband that maybe my brain is playing a trick on me. As if this entire life of mine was a movie, once of those movies that you don’t recall much, but th feeling stays. I am going to google and practice. I want to be normal (whatever that means and if it does exist).

kate - May 24, 2018 Reply

Dr. Webb,
I’ve read your book and keep it close.
My background: i was raised with a set of parents that were both narcissist (father severe, mother moderate) i was deprived emotionally from being a child. At a very young age, i’ve learn to survive. I wasn’t allowed to play with other kids, go to my classmate house, etc. i was in 24hr/day “supervised” by either mom or dad and i had to go by their rules. I was belittered, put down and i was told on a daily basis that i am worthless and without my parents i would be nobody. I was trained by my mom to steal my own clothes from stores and drop out of high school. I was sexually abused by my mom’s brother. Physically abused by both parents and severely deprived from being a child.
I tried to commit suicide at the age of 17 (now 39 – clearly survived) . I wanted to die, because i felt like a burden on the family and my parents and wanted them to have a good life. I always thought that i was a problem/burden on everyone. I was never cared for even when i was physically sick. I clearly remember my ear infections where i use to warm up a towel and put it on my ear at night so i could ease the pain (around 5 or 6 years of age). I had severe allergy reaction to a food and suffered from hives for a week and finally an extended family member gave me pills. Long story short, i did not quit school and went to university and did not steal!. Got married to a wonderful husband and i have 2 children. The little child that never got to grow up in me, got a chance to experience life with my kids. I am on medication so i can function. But the waive hit me from time to time. It storms out. My kids are emotionally extremely spoiled. I am doing exact the opposite of what my parents did. It takes time, what i do is try to analyze the situation and think of how my parents would react and do the exact opposite. I do take my kids to a psychologist, not because there is something wrong with them, there is clearly something wrong with me and i don’t know any better. I almost need a coach on how to parent.
here is the tough question:
my 12 year old son is suffering from anxiety. Every child’s emotional need is different and coming from a battered childhood, i can’t read or understand his emotional needs. I am there for him the way i “think” is the right way, but i don’t know. He is sensitive, and understands more than he should be. He worries about money, time, and wants to make sure that he pleases everyone. I keep telling him that is my job that he needs to enjoy his childhood and make memories. He doesn’t hang out with his friends, even if i “force” him. I want him to explore the world around him, just have fun and be a kid. Our therapist wants me to push him (cold turkey) in the world. Sign him up in over night camps and other camps where he doesn’t know anyone. I am afraid that this method will actually hurt him more if the group that he will be in is not a good one. I am desperate to help him. I talk to him, we spend so much time together, but i want him to not worry and enjoy his life. How do i help my son to over come his anxiety? how do i help him? I am afraid that he will have a void in him, that emptiness later on. I can see it happening if he continues the way he is. How do i avoid the running on empty for my child?

Noks - May 22, 2018 Reply

I Love your work. I read running in empty borrowed. I’d like to own it now.

    Jonice - May 22, 2018 Reply

    Dear Noks, I’m glad you liked it. You can find Running On Empty everywhere.

Leave a Comment: