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!


Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
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.

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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