How To Overcome Abandonment Issues From Childhood

abandoned child

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
Danny - May 3, 2024 Reply

i answered yes to 21 of those questions posed on your questionnaire. i guess i qualify for CEN lol. my mom left me before i reached 1 year old. my dad dropped me off at his mom’s house after finding that mom was gone. thankfully, my grandmother was a wonderful person who ‘took me to raise when i was a baby’. i am forever grateful for my grandmother, but at the same time i suffered through some very difficult emotions from not being like the other kids who had a mom and dad as well as the promises broken by them throughout my childhood. anyway, as
life went on, i took measures into my own hands to deal with the emotions. mainly anger, because no one was gonna ‘get to me’ (emotionally) again. my
mom and dad were in and out (mostly out) of my life. growing up i got so sick and tired of being down about my ‘parents’ making promises that they rarely, if ever, kept. to this day, at 58 flipping years old, i have trust issues with people (i mostly just shrug them off now), low self esteem, and feelings of insecurity. maybe it’s time to deal with this stuff, even though i thought that i already
had done so by throwing up a wall in my mid teens so that no one could ‘get to me’ again. thanks for listening.

Dave - July 29, 2023 Reply

My mom in 1976 met a man ,I was age 12 , then one day I came home from 6th grade and the police were taking my father away,he never came back to the house

About a week later my mom moved the man she met (bar)into the house. All summer he sat in back yard drinking gin . He was 42(with 2 kids) my mom 36. At the end of summer 1976 ,my mom sold the house I was living in and then moved 3000 miles away to California with the proceeds and her new man (he left his 2 kids)

I then moved in with my father,who was never home , my older sister age 18 moved away also. After about 43 years Mom age 81 came back from california about 3 years ago with her husband (the man she met 1976) because he had dementia now (he is in his 80s).
My older sister refuses to visit mom ,I do weekly and help her with some money but every time I visit mom ,she says :i don’t know why I moved back to this lame town. I always respond with well leaving me at 12 was not very nice,
I became very shy over the years because of that I think . Mom then states I don’t want to hear that ,poor little you ( I’m age 60 now)What is appropriate way to respond to those statements?

    Jonice - July 30, 2023 Reply

    Dear Dave, I hope you will protect yourself emotionally from this toxic situation. I encourage you to seek a therapist’s guidance to help you take care of yourself first and foremost.

sarah - April 21, 2023 Reply

My father never claimed me as his child. I was abandoned by my father as a baby and although I don’t know him, I still have many pent-up emotions that are rooted in his leaving me and my mother. I had resolved never to talk to him or his side of the family ever because I connected with him when I was 18 and asked for answers as to why I was not wanted by him and he never gave me an answer, I was filled with rage and that rage led me to never want any part of him in my life. I kept that rage for 5 years and then not too long ago I found out I have a little brother from his side of the family and he’s only 3 years younger I felt jealous of the fact that how come he was wanted but not me and that anger mixed with jealousy and now I don’t know what to do. I’m trying to seek some type of help to help me move through these ugly emotions, I don’t want to hurt anymore.

Leave a Comment: