What Triggers Abandonment Issues? 4 Ways to Heal

What Triggers Abandonment Issues? Anything That Hints of Abandonment.

One day, you’re going through your life just fine. Going to work, seeing your friends, and all of the normal everyday things. Then, without warning, your world turns dark.

Suddenly you feel a need to protect yourself from those you trusted yesterday, and you feel a sense of anger, hurt, and rejection in relationships that made you happy before. Suddenly, you feel lost, alone, and bereft.

Why the change? Did a random mood come over you? Did depression set in? Maybe, but probably not. What probably happened was that you encountered a surprise trigger; one you didn’t expect or see.

Someone or something triggered your abandonment issues. And your feelings about yourself, your life, and someone you love have all been cast in a different light.

Such is the power of abandonment issues.

Abandonment issues come from being wounded by an important person in your life unexpectedly leaving you. For example, in childhood a parent suddenly becomes less available (or leaves or passes away); or, in adulthood, your spouse or partner unexpectedly walks away. A significant abandonment at any time in your life can leave you with an abandonment wound.

Your abandonment wound must be acknowledged and addressed, or it will sit under the surface of your life, waiting to be triggered. Years later, someone important to you may say or do something that feels to you like they no longer care or may leave – maybe they are only going on vacation, or cancel a lunch date –  but that feeling of being walked away from, or left, gets touched off. And suddenly, your world turns dark.

What Makes You Vulnerable to Abandonment Triggers? Being Unaware

Not everyone who is abandoned ends up being vulnerable to abandonment triggers. Some people are more vulnerable than others. And what makes you more vulnerable is this: being unaware of the full importance and impact of your abandonment wound.

If you are someone who pays little attention to your own feelings in general, you are likely to minimize the emotional impact of painful events, such as your original abandonment. And being unaware of an event’s true effect on you (the wound) leaves that effect, and all its power, in its place as you move forward in your life.

Your buried, unacknowledged wound sits under the surface of your life, roiling with unaddressed feelings. Like the lava sitting in an inactive volcano, your wound waits to be touched off by any large or small thing that may happen in your current life to trigger it.

Did Your Childhood Set the Stage? Yes.

As a child, did your parents notice and respond to what you were feeling? Were emotion words used very often? Were you supported when you felt hurt, sad, or angry?

Any answer less than “all of the above” means that you did not receive enough emotional attention and support when you were growing up. You were raised with some amount of Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

By not responding to your feelings enough, your parents, probably without realizing it, sent you a powerful, subliminal message each and every day:

Your feelings don’t matter.

As you grew into adulthood, you were set up to overlook your own emotions. You were set up to under-attend to your emotional wound.

Since our feelings, even very old ones, do not go away until they are at least accepted and acknowledged, still dwell there, under the surface, waiting for a trigger….

4 Steps to Heal Your Abandonment Issues

  1. To go forward, you must first look backward. Identify your first, wounding abandonment. If it seems unimportant, accept that it actually was and that you have simply been ignoring it.
  2. Talk through your original abandonment experience with someone you trust. A friend or a therapist will be a good choice for this. Try to recall how you felt when it happened. Try to understand that original event in a new way, applying the wisdom of your adult brain.
  3. Begin to work on healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect. Pay more attention to your emotions all the time, and start to notice and put words to what you are feeling.
  4. Own your abandonment wound. That pool of pain lies within you, waiting to be accepted, and treated as if it matters. Simply acknowledging and accepting it will make you so much stronger.

When you accept your pain and treat it as if it matters, you are doing an amazing thing. You are healing your abandonment wound, making yourself less vulnerable to what triggers your abandonment issues. But you are also doing much more. You are treating the most deeply personal, biological part of who you are (your emotions), as if they matter, and you are treating yourself as if you matter.

You are taking strides in healing your Childhood Emotional Neglect by making yourself emotionally aware. You are taking your power back and moving forward, gradually leaving your abandonment issues behind you.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, and to learn more about how CEN happens and how to heal,  Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.

To learn much more about how Childhood Emotional Neglect happens, why it’s so invisible, and how to heal it, see the book Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Jonice

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Kelly - August 24, 2019 Reply

Had completely normal childhood loving parents but at age 6 my parents spilt & my dad could not deal with it. He used everything he could to feel control during the divorce for 6yrs. Wasted money, more arguing, me and my sister were pressured separately to choose who to live with. I had a really hard time with going back and forth even when it was 2 weekends a month. My sister and dad didnt acknowledge i needed support and often made me feel as though I was bothering them when I was upset or it was not signifigant. I had bad separation anxiety bad because at home my mom was very caring to my feelings. I didnt trust ppl i did not know or why i was always so alone feeling even with other ppl. 30yrs old and why i went to therapy was when i had feelings for a guy friend he would somethings try and ask me about things but i would always say nothing because i feared if he knew how i felt he would leave. On and off again but never the gf i think he had his own CEN. When he would act weird at times and i was confused by mixed signals everytime he left i had to rebuild my self worth again. People pleasing also with resentment of putting others first thinking i would gain a sense of belonging but it was far from any feeling of belonging. My sister moved back and it was like my childhood was triggered all over again by her blackmail. I felt crazy but everyone just said your fine. Anyway i dont think my close guy friend will be back but here i will sit waiting for him or someone else to show they care. Its the worst thing to realize something out of your control is what held back your true happiness and connection from others. Please keep teaching this because unless you have extreme dysfunction in family this ends up being a very hard topic to find help for.

    Jonice - August 26, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story Kelly!

Jade - August 3, 2019 Reply

Thanks for this,

I have a lot to unload.

When I was a child I was always punished when I became angry, no one really ever asked about my underlining feelings, so consequently I learned to internalize my feelings (almost all negative feelings) to the point where people viewed me as “strong” or “unaffected by traumatic events.” If something truly bothered me I didn’t discuss it with anyone because I didn’t think how I felt mattered.

Into adulthood, I became friends with my ex, and then how I felt grew into something more but I never felt like I could tell him. Our relationship suffered a lot because of it. Being jealous because he has a gf or not telling him how I felt because I didn’t think my feelings mattered. He asked my once why I don’t talk about how I feel and I told him because it never matters. I don’t think he ever understood. He always mentions how “strong” I am and I want to tell him how I’m not.

I also have abandonment issues, mostly due to my father’s inability to show love.

My abandonment issues were severely triggered about 3 years ago when my friend(same from above) just disappeared after we got into an argument. I asked him what he wanted from me and he stated that he didn’t know how to answer, which trigger some deep feelings of abandonment and mistrust.
Seems like every time I try to express how I feel to him it usually came out as anger and during a disagreement and it escalates quickly.

Recently we’ve been communicating and he
admitted to not wanting to meet because “he didn’t want there to be any drama” even though his CEN are equally responsible for a lot of our issues. He said “I like to yell at him,” and yelling is one of his triggers to disappearing.

I told him I don’t like to, in fact it is draining. I tried to explain to him that I didn’t want to meet to fight. I don’t think he cares enough to want to try anymore. He seems distant this time around. I want to explain so much to him, but I don’t think it matters much anymore.

So I’ve just been extremely emotional for the past month trying to sort everything out.

    Jonice - August 3, 2019 Reply

    Dear Jade, keep in mind that your friend cannot read your mind so he doesn’t understand your feelings. Putting feelings into words is a skill, and you can learn it! It does take effort though. You can do it.

Nikki - June 20, 2019 Reply

Thanks for this article Jonice. I’ve recently become conscious of my abandonment wound. My life history of so many toxic people, narcissistic mother, narcissistic brother, and dysfunctional relationships and drained me. Ive been to therapy for many of my symptoms, but never the root, which is abandonment. I’ve come to this discovery because of the relationship I am in with my partner. He has a secure attachment, while mine is more an anxious attachment. So many of my childhood woundings have surfaced since being with him. Yet, he been so loving, so patient, and so comforting to me. I’ve been letting him in on my history before knowing him and the long road ahead. He still wants to be be with me, and be there to assist me any way he can. But I feel the self sabatoge trying to stop a good thing. He let’s me know how much he cares and loves me, but my anxious thoughts, and fear of abandonment are always whispering in my ear. I dont want to lose him. He’s been a good supporting partner but I dont want my issues to drive him away. How can I continue to work on healing of the abandonment wound, and learn to be open & receive my partner’s love and support? I want to believe him, but the programming in me that says everybody leaves eventually, especially when I’m most vulnerable. Trying to find tools to break this programming and learn to rest and trust. Any advice?

Octavia - May 13, 2019 Reply

Thank you for writing this, it helped me identify my abandonment issues.
My father was not ready to be a parent, so he left. He came back to visit me a few times over my first 7 years. I don’t remember them very well, but I do have a photo of him at my mother’s birthday when I was a year old.

I felt empty inside, and looked for replacement with male friends, and masculine tv shows.

It took me several years to realize why I did those things, but now I understand.

I’m 27 now, and I still want to reconnect with him, even if we only talk on the phone or meet once in person.
I’m nervous about reconnecting, but I think it would help heal the wound.

    Jonice - May 13, 2019 Reply

    Dear Octavia, it’s normal to feel as you do. Take one step at a time with your dad, all the while honoring your feelings about it all.

Tanya - May 13, 2019 Reply

Lost
I feel so lost all the time. When I was a child I was always told I was to sensitive. My father was an alcoholic but my mother always told me he was a good man. When I was 7 my mom took my sister and moved 2 hours away from me and she left me living with my dad. I remember always crying when my mom left me behind and I remember getting beat from my father for crying. I often remember feeling so lost watching out my babysitters window waiting for my dad to pick me up and the cops would bring him home drunk so I would have to stay at the sitters all the time. I have been through a divorce and am married again. I have two adult kids now and I have always made a point of telling them how mich I love them and how proud of them I am. I sit here on mother’s day feeling so alone non of them came to see me. I feel like they to want nothing to do with me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel like I belong and that I’d be better off dead. I’ve gone to many therapist but I have moved and there isn’t good mental support around here. I have lost all trust in everyone except my husband. I just do t feel like I belong anywhere. I’m so lost. Please help me.

    Jonice - May 13, 2019 Reply

    Dear Tanya, you do belong! You just can’t allow yourself to feel it. Please see a counselor from the CEN Therapist List. You deserve some help to feel better.

Angie - May 9, 2019 Reply

You’re articles are so very helpful but would like to know if you are familiar with Boarding school Syndrome at all? Besides being neglected as a child it also involves learning with your own devices how to survive in a cold and unfriendly institution. Thanks

David - April 26, 2019 Reply

I am the only child of WWII immigrants. Both my parents worked and I was looked after by my grandmother who came over for that role. I have no extended family here. I always felt different from other children and spent a lot of my childhood on my own. I have had insecurities early on and later developed depression in my teenage years. I never knew what I wanted to do, so schooling ended at high school. I entered the work force at 16 and the depression became worse and felt like I was not like others. I have never been able to make close friends and doubts clouded my romantic life. I wasn’t good enough and that I am ugly and unlovable were common beliefs that I had. At 17 I started to self-medicate , first with alcohol then heroin. I have been battling these issues my whole adult life. I would get so frustrated as to why I couldn’t get on with life like others. I am currently 56 and a full time carer for my father who is 96. I made the discovery a few years back that my father has been suffering from untreated PTSD throughout his life here, my deceased mother also suffered from anxiety. I have always believed I had a happy childhood but I can’t remember most of it. For the first time I have started to get answers when I heard about CEN, previously I have seen psychiatrists and counsellors but always felt like there was another issue not being addressed. I have blocked out my emotions using substances and this has left me broken with no joy, no goals and so alone. It has also cost me no career, no marriage and no children. Hopefully I can salvage some of my remaining life.

    Jonice - April 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear David, you can definitely reclaim the parts of yourself that you have pushed away. I hope you will start on the CEN recovery path. You are worth it.

Angela - April 24, 2019 Reply

I feel like I am being understood while I carefully engage the steps. Dad was an alcoholic, mom codependent and I never knew what was going to happen next. Jonice, thank you for the instructions. I have been called too sensitive and shy but, I could never just think for myself or be me for fear of ridicule or rejection.

    Jonice - April 26, 2019 Reply

    Dear Angela, there is no more powerful form of understanding than when we understand ourselves. Keep up the good work you are doing!

April - April 23, 2019 Reply

My father was an alcoholic. He would be drunk for 6 months at a time. I came from a very prominent family. So of course this was a huge embarrassment. He also was quite the philanderer. Throughout my childhood he would just take off drunk for months at a time with one of his girlfriends and we wouldn’t know where he was. Then he come home to dry out or my Mom would drag him to a recovery facility. As a little girl I would have to stay home with him to make sure he didn’t order more liquor or find keys to one of the cars. Obviously he never gave me any emotional support, my Mother was busy with his b.s. They were always going to get a divorce. I heard about that all the time. My room was just down the hall from my parents, so I got to see my drunken father chasing my mother around with his favorite thing…a broken Jack Daniel’s bottle when he was home. We never discussed my emotions, when my father would come off a bender my Mom would buy me a present. I still have not come to terms with it and I am 63 years old. I finally have a nice boyfriend after 4 disastrous marriages. My youngest son died in a drowning accident 8 years ago and I cannot come to terms with that either. I have been to therapy???

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear April, I am so sorry for all that you have endured. You say you have been to therapy, but I suggest you go back again. Therapy isn’t something you get done with necessarily. You have a lot of trauma and grief to cope with, and it’s important to have help with it. Sending you my best wishes.

Ashleigh - April 23, 2019 Reply

I have been wondering what was wrong with me my whole life. This is me to a tee and my heart is breaking. I try to mitigate everything and anything that’s good about me and feel completely disconnected to the point of considering leaving this place. I have kids to amd worry that I have/will do the same. My mother was neglected too. I don’t like to think if her neglecting me. She said as a child I didn’t want to cuddle anyone and I just thought I was born this way. Maybe I was born screwed up or maybe I didn’t like cuddling cause the neglect was there from birth. I’m going to counseling that I myself asked for, for the first time and I’m 40. I still feel too worthless if a person to take up the counsellors time but I’m going anyways

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Ashleigh, you are so NOT WORTHLESS! Emotional neglect is a cycle that’s passed down, and it has nothing at all to do with your worth. I am very happy to hear that you are willing to talk with a therapist. Please do it. You deserve much better, and you can have much better. All my best to you.

Deborah - April 22, 2019 Reply

What if I can’t remember my early abandonment experience? There’s so much of my childhood experiences I can’t remember.

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Deborah, that’s a good question. You can imagine yourself as a child going through it, and strive to feel the feelings of the child. Otherwise, you can also see a therapist to help you with this.

annamarie marotta - April 22, 2019 Reply

i think this has been the missing piece of my life i have always wondered what is wrong, who am i, why do i always feel alone, disconnected, not enough, thank you for your work

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    You’re welcome annamarie!

Howie - April 22, 2019 Reply

I was given up for adoption and my adoptive mom had experienced 5 miscarriages and one live birth (baby died within an hour) before adopting me. My adopted mom was not warm but my adoptive dad was. Then, 10 years into my marriage to my childhood sweetheart, she had an affair. It hurt. I then, shamefully, had a series of affairs for 6-7 years which only came to light 35 years later which led to 7 years of strife and near enddd our 57 years as a couple. Your CEN work has helped me but I know abandonment is a key in my behaviors and misdeeds. At age 71 is it too late to even worry about this? I do see a therapist regularly and attend Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings weekly. Any advice?
Howie A

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Howie, it sounds like you are doing all the right things. I think if your wife feels okay in your marriage, then you should too. It requires a lot of growth to get through what you have gone through together.

Nelly - April 22, 2019 Reply

I don’t remember the occasion, but my father has recently told my brother that my mother, recently deceased, almost ran off with a lover when I was about three, and I was a witness to the drama, crying and pleading ‘mummy don’t go’.

Now, when my partner is (rarely) late home when he is out with friends, I suffer severe anxiety. I have realised this may have been the trigger event to my fears and I know my reaction is out of proportion – he says ‘you know where I am’ but it makes me feel angry, insecure and worthless even now in my 60s.

I have recognised that CEN was a big factor in what was, from the outside, a seemingly idyllic childhood.

I want to thank you for making me identify this mindset and enable me reconnect strongly with my two younger brothers, also suffering greatly. We were all played off against each other, and have refused to let my 84 year old father continue to do so.

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Nelly, it sounds like you understand what’s going on and that is a very good start to getting out from under it. Good job.

Jan - April 22, 2019 Reply

Hi. Can abandonment issues be caused in childhood by an isolated case of sexual abuse by a loved and trusted close relative, and/or again in adulthood by an unfaithful spouse? I am in my 70’s and have done a lot of work over the years towards healing, but now find I am being hit hard by feelings of bitterness and resentment, which I don’t want as part of my life. Thanks

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Jan, I do think those things can cause a version of abandonment that is more based on trust. These people violated your trust, and that makes it hard to ever trust another person again. Please do talk with a therapist about your bitterness. I’m glad you do not want to settle into that feeling. It can destroy your life. All my best to you.

Patrick - April 21, 2019 Reply

The “How to” as my whole life I have been so overwhelmed with fear and trauma as I have childhood PTSD, complex if possible. It’s all the being rejected, abandonment and as if being loved by my mother wasn’t enough. Which leads to my reactive attachment disorder ? I have zero friendships born with a heart defect. Tried EMDR which didn’t quite work and the therapist told me I am like a raw nerve. On top of being HSP ! What can you tell me. Just telling someone is such a challenge. Any words of encouragement ?

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Patrick, your second to last sentence says the most. “Just telling someone is such a challenge.” I think you need to tell your story more. If you are not in therapy now, please seek a therapist and talk this all over some more. Then try EMDR again, as maybe you were not ready for it. Sending you all my best wishes.

Mike - April 21, 2019 Reply

I was diagnosed with Mind Body Syndrome. Main pains all over. In my journey to heal i discovered your book. And while I had a good childhood, I think I was exposed to CEN. My mother said I was so good as a badly they always left me by myself. My father had a temper & could yell at me for spilled milk. I was very nervous/afraid/embarrassed in school. They had no idea & I have carried that into adulthood & hid it from everyone. Creates a story who I was (not smart ect). I am curious if u find a connection to CEN & MBS? Mike

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    Dear Mike, I’m not familiar with MBS. But it sounds like you were trained to never make a mistake as a child. Maybe you can start taking chances now, letting yourself possibly make errors so you can find out that no one will likely yell at you now. You can retrain your brain.

Evan - April 21, 2019 Reply

Thank you for caring about me. I’m doing better.

    Jonice - April 23, 2019 Reply

    That’s great to hear Evan.

Laurie - April 18, 2019 Reply

How does one comes to terms with being abandoned … literally on a doorstep? My first mother did this to me as an infant. Left me alone with strangers. Almost everyone says I was lucky to be adopted…yes I was but that doesn’t take away from the fact that my mother left me. It wasn’t till I was about 50, that I figured out the root of my fear of abandonment. I still don’t know how to fully deal with it and how it affects my life

    Jonice - April 21, 2019 Reply

    Dear Laurie, facing the feelings around your birth mom’s abandonment is key to getting in control of your fears. I hope you will try to identify, name and feel those feelings, and talk with someone, preferably a trained therapist, about it all. You can heal.

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