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5 Unexpected Ways Abandonment Fears Affect Relationships

Helping to recognize and heal from core abandonment trauma.

Key points

  • An inability to be without a romantic relationship is associated with a fear of abandonment.
  • "Attaching” to a person too quickly in a relationship is also associated with a fear of abandonment.
  • Fears of abandonment are common in mental health conditions such as borderline personality disorder.
Source: LRychvalsky/Unsplash
Source: LRychvalsky/Unsplash

While many of us have experienced profound loss or trauma in some way such as through divorce, a narcissistic “discard,” or the loss of a friendship, not everyone who experiences these losses will develop a fear of abandonment. However, many do, which increases their risk of desperately trying to re-establish a bond with the person or trying to prevent further losses in their life.

Abandonment takes two main forms: emotional and physical. For example, a primary caregiver may physically abandon a child due to divorce, or death. Or, emotional abandonment may occur as a result of abuse where a person may repeatedly feel unseen, unheard, or unwanted.

While abandonment fears are not a stand-alone psychological diagnosis, deep-seated fears of abandonment are commonly associated with attachment insecurities and significant emotional trauma. Similarly, fears of abandonment are specific to some mental health disorders including borderline personality disorder (BPD), which helps to discriminate it from other Cluster B personality disorders.

Common signs of a fear of abandonment include:

  • An inability to be alone.
  • High sensitivity to criticism.
  • Fears associated with things going well within a relationship (waiting for the other shoe to drop).
  • High levels of anxiety.
  • Emotional disconnection or emotional unavailability.
  • A deep sense of self-blame for having experienced abandonment.
  • High levels of anger and jealousy.
  • An inability to be without a romantic relationship.
  • Seeking others as a means of validation (to be seen as good enough).
  • Commitment issues within romantic partnerships.

While fear of abandonment is most often discussed in the context of a romantic relationship, there are other ways these fears may surface. Here are five unexpected ways that abandonment wounds may affect a person’s relationships.

Getting Attached to New People Too Quickly. This is commonly seen in new friendships and new romantic relationships, which often start out with high intensity, and move very fast by quickly “attaching” to the other person as a means of securing the relationship. This often goes hand-in-hand with oversharing of intimate details with the other person as a way of fast-tracking a “connection.” This is seen in spending endless hours talking with a new person (and the feeling of having known them your whole life), or in trying to distract yourself from feeling lonely and thus confusing a desperation to connect with someone, with that person actually being a healthy choice.

Many who get attached too quickly in a relationship have histories of going from one relationship to another, with little or no downtime in between. They may appear “clingy” and often try to secure a new relationship as soon as possible to push away their fears of being rejected (i.e., abandonment).

Hypervigilance About a Person’s Safety. A person who lives with unresolved abandonment wounds may become hypervigilant with regard to people’s safety. For example, they may ruminate on making sure their friend calls them to ensure they got home safely, or they may obsess over fears of losing a person in their life due to disaster, or an unexpected event.

This, in turn, may make those in their life feel “trapped” and lacking in autonomy, or to feel controlled by the other person’s demands in checking in with them, which can breed contempt. Ultimately, a constant need to "check in" with people operates to help alleviate intense fears of abandonment for the person, but simultaneously creates tension and instability in their relationships.

Overly Sensitive to Feedback. If a person is hypersensitive to feedback, they may appear confrontational or defensive around any feedback offered to them, as it may be triggering to their fears of abandonment. This may be especially true for anyone who struggles with perfectionism and places unrealistic expectations upon themselves.

For example, a person receiving feedback from their supervisor at work may internalize the feedback received as there being something “wrong” with them if it is less than “perfect." As a result, they may struggle with their work performance. Or, in intimate relationships where a friend, family member, or partner may offer them feedback, they may become excessively defensive or critical to try and compensate for feeling vulnerable and having had their fears of rejection and abandonment triggered.

Constant Suspicion. Many who fear rejection or abandonment also struggle with trust issues, which are especially common in their romantic relationships. They may live in constant suspicion that their partner is going to abandon them, which leaves them vulnerable to acting "clingy," "needy," or "demanding" toward a partner. However, many times their suspicions are confirmed. Unfortunately, many who struggle with fears of rejection and abandonment also have histories of getting involved with narcissistic partners who used them, or narcissistic "friends" with toxic agendas.

"Testing" the People in Their Lives. This is often seen in those living with borderline personality disorder who may act impulsively toward those in their lives in order to test that person’s fidelity to the relationship, or whether they will be reliable in their time of “need.” This is especially common if the person they are testing is seen as their “favorite person.” For example, if their fear of abandonment has been triggered, they may push away their closest friend to see if that person will still come through for them if needed. If the person does, this operates as validation they are not going to be left behind or abandoned by that person.

Others may test a new partner by telling the person that if they ever left them, they would never be back, which may be used as a gauge of that person’s fidelity and emotional investment to them. However, they may also overstep or violate relationship boundaries (i.e., being unfaithful in a committed relationship) to see if that person will “abandon” them if they were to cheat.

Healing the Wounds

If fears of rejection or abandonment are causing issues in your relationships or your relationship patterns, it is important to tend to your self-care, including recognizing in what situations your fears are “triggered." Equally important is having solid emotional and psychological boundaries, including having quality people in your life whom you can trust. Many times, healing from abandonment wounds also includes taking stock of the quality of your relationships and walking away from those that are toxic and unhealthy to your sense of peace.

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


Fossati A., et al. (2016). Borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder diagnoses from the perspective of the DSM-5 personality traits: A study on Italian clinical participants. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 204, 939 – 949.

Matthies, S., et al. (2018). Please don’t leave me: Separation anxiety and related traits in borderline personality disorder. Current Psychiatry Reports, 20, 83 – 94.

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