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5 Ways That Fear of Abandonment Threatens Relationships

3. Always looking for a reason to leave.

Key points

  • A fear of abandonment often results from developing an insecure attachment style that influences how a person engages in their relationships.
  • Many with a fragile sense of self take on the mannerisms, beliefs, and behavior of those closest to them to minimize fears of abandonment.
  • It is often instinctively "safer" to pursue someone who cannot provide them the emotional connection and intimacy in which they deserve.
  • Attaching quickly can include sharing too many intimate details about themselves too soon in hopes to fast-track a relationship.

Fears of abandonment tend to originate in childhood. This fear is often learned and conditioned from invalidating, negligent, or abusive environments that wrongly teach a child that they are expendable or that they do not matter.

Many with fears of abandonment also have an insecure attachment style, where they may become anxious, avoidant, or vacillate between both extremes, especially when their fears surface. Situations in childhood where a child cannot consistently rely on their caregivers for emotional or physical support or in getting their basic needs met often result in an insecure attachment style and a subsequent fear of abandonment.

Having a fear of being abandoned can wreak havoc on a person’s romantic relationships, where they can come off as “clingy” or become possessive or manipulative as ways of trying to prevent their inevitable fears from surfacing. Ironically, the closer and more intimate the relationship, the more intense the fears of abandonment become, which can ultimately lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

While there are many ways a fear of abandonment may show up in a person’s romantic relationships, five of the most common ones include:

1. Difficulty letting others in.

Many who have experienced abandonment in their formative years have built up emotional walls to keep others out. They have learned that vulnerability leads to further abandonment. They may constantly look for agendas, have difficulty trusting others, or may have experienced a treacherous “friend” or partner who used their pain against them for their own narcissistic self-interests. As a result, staying detached and distancing themselves from others has become self-protective.

2. Forming quick “attachments.”

Attaching quickly in a relationship can include sharing too many intimate details about themselves too soon, or sharing personal information with the wrong people in hopes that a relationship will be fast-tracked. In this pattern, quickly “attaching” to a person gets confused as connecting with them. The two are not synonymous.

At the core of this pattern of behavior is often a deep wound where a child was invalidated by their primary caregivers in their formative years, which left scars of feeling unseen and unheard. The outcome is often feeling terrified that others will be rejecting or leave them, which has left them with an unmet need in quickly “attaching” to others.

3. History of leaving relationships.

While this may sound counterintuitive, many who have experienced early abandonment may now use relationships as a means to an end. In these situations, they often look for a reason to leave.

They may become dismissive, argumentative, or devaluing of their partner in an attempt to cause a fight and “find” a reason to leave. The unconscious goal is to abandon the relationship first as their own fears of abandonment are “triggered” in order to minimize the emotional pain they may experience.

4. Unavailable partners.

This usually plays out as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Choosing partners who are emotionally unavailable may be seen as a “challenge,” in which the unconscious goal is to win the partner over or to come in as a hero and rescue them.

Focusing on the challenge of winning over an emotionally detached partner operates as a distraction from the person's own deep wounds and fears. For many who find themselves in this pattern, it is often instinctively "safer" to pursue someone who cannot provide them the emotional connection and intimacy they are deserving of, which negatively reinforces this pattern of “chasing” people who are unavailable.

5. Fragile self-identity.

When fears of abandonment are the overarching theme in a person’s relationships, they are prone to mirroring others as a way of feeling accepted, valued, and wanted. This pattern usually begins in childhood and is solidified by adolescence.

Many with a fragile sense of self take on the mannerisms, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, opinions, and behavior of those closest to them in an attempt to minimize fears of abandonment. This results in not knowing who they are outside of a relationship, and “changing” who they are (their likes/dislikes, values, hobbies, interests) from one relationship to the next, depending on what their partner likes.

Overcoming a Fear of Abandonment

“Paradoxically, the ability to be alone is the condition for the ability to love.” —Erich Fromm

What is feared the most is also the antidote for overcoming a fear of abandonment, which is to be comfortable being alone. Many with deep fears of abandonment cannot be alone. Time alone may trigger an inner critic or may spiral a person into self-sabotage, which negatively reinforces their fears of abandonment and a compulsion to not be alone.

In healing from this pattern, it becomes necessary to face your past and recognize where these kinds of wounds started and how they have affected your life. Tips for healing include: rebuilding a sense of self-identity, improving self-esteem, learning healthier coping strategies, establishing and maintaining solid boundaries, learning the effects of codependency on relationships and a sense of self, and speaking with a trauma-informed clinician who specializes in helping others heal from abandonment trauma.

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: DimaBerlin/Shutterstock


Linehan M. (1993). Cognitive behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York:

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Preti, E., et al. Components of Rejection Sensitivity: Independent Contributions to Adolescent Self and

Interpersonal Functioning. Assessment, 27(6), 1230-1241.doi: 10.1177/1073191118817866

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