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3 Tools for Coping With Abandonment and the Fear of Abandonment

How to achieve and increase stability and security.

Key points

  • Feelings of abandonment can be painful.
  • Expressing anger when feeling abandoned often drives others further away.
  • Healthy coping with feelings of abandonment can occur without pushing others away.
Prawny / Pixabay
Source: Prawny / Pixabay

Many individuals suffer from feelings of abandonment either during or after intimate relationships. Some people with symptoms of borderline and other personality disorders suffer particularly intensely. In order to experience a stable and secure relationship, you must learn to cope with feelings of abandonment.

Individuals who often feel abandoned sometimes express their pain as anger, such as lashing out, accusations or punishment. These are often impulsive expressions that are presumably designed to bully loved ones into not abandoning them again. Unfortunately, these expressions often have the opposite of the desired effect and push people away. In the following dialogue, Meera expresses her feelings to her friend Brie.

Meera: You weren’t there for me when I needed you.

Brie: When was that?

Meera: Forget it.

Brie: I don’t know what you are talking about.

Meera: That is part of the problem.

Brie: I want to know if I hurt you or could be a better friend.

Meera: You should have thought about that before. I wish I never met you.

In the above example, Meera expresses her anger that her friend Brie was not available to her at some vulnerable moment. Presumably, she is punishing Brie for not being there in the hope that Brie will be more available in the future. Meera is likely to get the opposite of the result she wants. Her expression of anger pushes Brie away and denies her an understanding of why she is being pushed away. Brie’s takeaway is that Meera is unstable and lashes out when she is not happy. Brie will now be less likely to be close to Meera, as she needs to be guarded against Meera’s seemingly random lashing out.

The following three tools are designed to help individuals cope with feelings of abandonment without pushing others away. When used consistently, they can increase the stability and security of the relationship by reducing conflict and increasing constructive communication.

Express Anger as Pain

The expression of anger, which typically takes the form of threatening or lashing-out behavior, always pushes away the target of the expression. People instinctively either back away or attack when confronted with anger, both of which are divisive and destructive to the relationship. Anger is the only emotion that repels others when expressed. Sadness, shame, guilt, fear, etc. all draw others closer and should be expressed when appropriate in intimate relationships.

Anger is always caused by the same underlying emotion: some type of pain. We get angry when someone has hurt us, is hurting us, or we expect will hurt us. In intimate relationships, the underlying pain should be expressed rather than the resultant anger. Presumably in intimate relationships, others care about your pain and will make efforts to stop hurting you. Once the pain is addressed, the anger will dissipate. As this technique depends on others caring about your feelings, it can only be used reliably in intimate relationships, including lovers, family, and friends.

In the above dialogue, Brie asked Meera to express her hurt, but instead she expressed her anger and pushed Brie away in her efforts to avoid abandonment. Had Meera expressed pain instead of anger, Brie would have been able to be more supportive of her. That dialogue might sound like the following.

Brie: I want to know if I hurt you or could be a better friend.

Meera: I was having a hard time being alone last night and I really wanted to hear from you.

Brie: I wish I knew that you were struggling. I care about you and want to be there for you.

Meera: Thank you.


Some people, like Meera, feel like they have been left, or abandoned, when they do not have immediate access to someone they depend on. Someone being temporarily unavailable is not the same as abandonment. When feeling abandoned, Meera can ask herself about the context of her feelings. Recognizing that Brie was available the next day, and might have been more available if she knew that Meera was hurting, can diminish the pain of feeling abandoned.

Once Brie understands that Meera is prone to experience abandonment, she can help her by keeping her aware of her availability. She can let Meera know when there are times when she can and cannot be available. This is likely to be reassuring to Meera and facilitate trust and closeness.

Learn to be happy alone

Long-term relief from experiencing feelings of abandonment can only be obtained by improving your relationship with yourself so that you can induce feelings of security and satisfaction without another person. The most effective way to achieve emotional autonomy is by practicing self-compassion.

  • Replace beating up on yourself with soothing and healthy activities. When feeling lonely or disappointed, seek out pleasurable and healing activities rather than self-degradation or feeling sorry for yourself.
  • Learn to enjoy activities that you are accustomed to doing with others alone. Learn how to derive joy and satisfaction when eating alone or exercising alone, etc. Bring your favorite music, or use the tranquility for meditation or rejuvenation.

Feeling abandoned is a terrible feeling. It can make you feel worthless and helpless. Utilizing the tools described above can empower you to feel secure and satisfied when your friends and loved ones are not available. This can increase the stability of your mood while increasing the stability and security that you experience in your relationships.

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

More from Daniel S. Lobel Ph.D.
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