Has someone you considered a close friend or partner disappeared overnight without explanation?
Has someone leaving suddenly caused you to believe everyone you are around may do the same thing to you?
If so, you may be suffering from abandonment trauma.
Abandonment can feel like an all-encompassing force that leaves us feeling lost and helpless. It might be something we experienced as a child or as an adult. But regardless of when it happened, the effects can linger for years afterward.
It’s normal to feel like an outsider when those we love abandon us. But abandonment trauma doesn’t have to stop you from having strong, trusted relationships. By understanding how abandonment trauma affects you, how you cope with negative emotions, and understanding your worth, you can conquer this issue and move forward into a more positive future.
In this post, we outline what abandonment trauma is and our step-by-step guide to conquering it.
What Is Abandonment Trauma?
Abandonment trauma occurs when someone close to us – often a caregiver, significant other, or other essential figure – leaves us without warning, ignores us, or emotionally breaks off contact. This void can lead to a feeling of being abandoned and cause intense emotional pain.
Many emotions can arise when experiencing abandonment, including:Fear
All these emotions are typical ways the mind and body respond to this type of trauma. When you experience repeat or ongoing exposure to the trauma, you can develop unhealthy emotional patterns.
Examples of unhealthy emotional coping patterns include:
- Feeling isolated and alone
- Loss of trust in others
- Fear of being alone
- Difficulty forming healthy relationships
- Self-esteem issues
- Feeling sad and hopeless
Experiencing these emotions for an extended period can lead to issues in several areas of your life, such as friendships, future romantic relationships, family dynamics, work life, motivation, etc.
Once you start to develop unhealthy emotional patterns, the feelings associated with being abandoned start to change how you make decisions and hinder your potential. Next, we will go through the steps of conquering your abandonment trauma so you can find strength, know your value, and begin to live fully once again.
The Abandonment Trauma Step-By-Step Guide
If feelings of abandonment have been present for a significant amount of time, it can be challenging to know how to process your experience and emotions from it. Often, overcoming trauma can feel impossible because of how much it affects your daily life. With all difficult things, starting is the most difficult part.
Processing your experiences takes time and isn’t linear. You may have to visit certain steps more than once to get to root thoughts and find breakthrough. Progress may take time, but you will feel bits of relief throughout the entire process.
Now, let’s jump into the step-by-step guide.
Step 1: Acknowledge Your Feelings
The first step in conquering abandonment trauma is recognizing your feelings. It can be tempting to push your emotions aside or ignore them. Still, it’s essential to acknowledge the hurt and sadness you feel. When we take the time to honor our feelings, they can begin to lose their power over us.
When you have experienced difficult experiences or ongoing episodes of trauma, it can lead you either to be self-aware and able to describe precisely how you’re feeling, OR it can leave you detached from your emotions to protect yourself.
Becoming aware of your emotions can take time, so be patient. You can use activities to grow the “muscle” of self-awareness and expression. Try some of these activities to learn how:
- Journaling Prompts: This is a classic, low-pressure way to get anything and everything out of your head without needing it to be “perfect” or worded in a way others can understand. Journaling is just for you, so you can write until you want to stop. Journaling prompts can be helpful if you aren’t a regular journaler and need help thinking of how to start the practice.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Sitting in stillness and observing what is happening in the present moment can help clarify our emotions. Slowing down, being still, and giving space for your mind to clear allows your brain to be able to focus within. Suppose you are constantly on social media, running from point A to point B, or have a family to raise. In that case, you may not have the energy to notice how you feel daily. Give yourself space to quiet external noise and demands to listen to what your body and mind are telling you.
- Art Therapy: Drawing or painting allows us to express ourselves externally with color and shapes, which can unlock emotions that are hard to verbalize. Art therapy is a pivotal tool for those who find it hard to find words or who are internal processors and don’t like to talk. Art therapy can be just as cathartic as journaling or other forms of expression, so use this method even if you have no issues with verbal expression.
- Exercise: It’s no secret that physical activity has emotional benefits. Taking a walk or doing some movement can help us regulate our emotions and clarify our feelings. Although this seems like the opposite of meditation because exercise requires movement and meditation (typically) involves stillness, exercise burns through stress, anxiety, and worry, which can give space to other thoughts and feelings hiding beneath the bustle of daily life. Often, after a good training session or walk, you can see issues and stressors more clearly, making them easier to identify and process.
Step 2: Talk About It
Once you can identify your feelings about abandonment, the next step is to talk to someone about what you’ve experienced to process it.
But how do you process trauma?
You hear the phrase “process your trauma” often, but what does that mean? There are many different techniques to process trauma, but a common one is to reframe your experience.
Thought reframing is a valuable skill that individuals can learn through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This technique replaces negative thoughts, which can exacerbate anxiety, depression, and pain, with more constructive and beneficial thoughts.
For example, if you had an overwhelming fear of abandonment, reframing your experience to understand that people come in and out of your life at different times can help you look at the experience differently, stripping it of its negative power over you. It’s not about rejecting or denying your feelings but recognizing them while acknowledging that they are not permanent.
Find others to talk through your experience with.
A trusted person or group of people to share what you’re going through is an essential part of the healing process. This person could be a friend, family member, teacher, or therapist – anyone you feel comfortable discussing your experience with.
Also, speaking to friends and family about your abandonment issues can help deepen those relationships because of trust built through vulnerability, which can make you feel less alone overall.
Step 3: Find Healthy Ways to Cope
It’s essential to find healthy ways to cope with abandonment trauma. Sometimes, it’s hard to recognize when a coping mechanism we adopt harms more than helping us through our struggle.
Examples of harmful coping strategies include:
- Avoiding responsibilities/relationships and isolating yourself: Avoidance and isolation are normal reactions to feeling abandoned. You may think that by avoiding relationships or situations, you can avoid being hurt again, but this often only leads to further isolation and feelings of abandonment.
- Substance abuse: Using drugs or alcohol to cope with emotional trauma can worsen your symptoms because it changes your brain chemistry and can lead to further depression or anxiety.
- Self-destructive behavior: This could include reckless driving, gambling, or other activities that put you at risk of physical harm. These behaviors are usually a way of punishing yourself for what happened.
- Self-harm: This can include cutting, skin picking, hair pulling or plucking, intentionally neglecting your health, or other forms of self-harm to deflect feelings of emotional pain. Those who self-harm may say that initially, these activities evoke a sense of power and relief from the intense thoughts they think, but the relief and control are short-lived. In addition to the original thoughts and feelings from abandonment, the aftermath of self-harm creates an even more negatively intense experience. If you have self-harmed in the past, contact your doctor or therapist right away so they are aware and can help you through your intense feelings when they arise.
If you currently have thoughts of self-harm, Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor. You can also go to their website, www.crisistextline.org, to chat or link to WhatsApp to text there. In addition to serving the US, they also have text lines for Canada, the UK, and Ireland, which are:
Similar to our list of activities to help understand what you are feeling, these activities can also help you process and copewith your feelings when approaching them with this intent in mind. Just like you can use a strength exercise for multiple body parts if you use different muscles during the movement, the same can be said for the strategies listed. What you get out of them begins with the intent while you use them.
Instead of using the above harmful strategies to deal with negative emotions, focus your energy on healthy coping strategies.
Examples of healthy coping strategies include:
- Connect with people: As mentioned before, talking with others can help you process your abandonment issues. But being social also reminds you of your current relationships that you aren’t abandoned by. Reach out to the people in your life who you trust and feel connected to. Investing time and effort into these relationships can help give you a sense of belonging and connection when feelings of abandonment creep in.
- Journaling: As mentioned before, journaling is an effective way of expressing yourself without fear of judgment. It can also be a way to express emotions that are too difficult to verbalize or put into words.
- Art and creative time: Creating art, whether painting, crafting, or drawing, can help express your feelings in a way words cannot. It’s also a great form of relaxation that is therapeutic and calming.
- Self-care: This could include taking a hot bath, reading a book, changing into clean clothes, watching your favorite show while you rest, or even doing your dishes to clean your space. Practicing self-care is crucial, whatever that may look like for you.
- Meditation: Taking time out of your day to focus on your breath and be mindful in the present moment can bring clarity and insight into your feelings. Starting a meditation practice can seem overwhelming, especially if you have racing or stressful thoughts from your trauma experience. Just like exercise, your meditation practice can look however you want. Take it slow and start with 5 minutes. It takes time to build this practice, but it’s worth the effort because of the incredible life-long benefits of meditation.
- Exercise: Exercise is undoubtedly great for both your physical and mental health. Walking or doing physical activity can help regulate emotions and clarify your feelings. Because trauma can often make you feel helpless and out of control, this is an action-based activity; it can make you feel more powerful and in control of your life.
- Talk to a Therapist: A therapist could be the most beneficial coping strategy for abandonment trauma because it allows you to have an objective person to talk to who won’t judge you for your experience. With a therapist, you have the added benefit of someone who can share multiple techniques and coping strategies that can help you come to terms with your experience. Your therapist can also help you develop healthy, secure relationships without worrying about future abandonment.
Note: You can turn any hobby or activity you enjoy into a positive coping strategy. As long as the activity causes you to feel calm, at ease, and in control of yourself, it can be used for this purpose.
Step 4: Rebuild Your Sense of Self-Worth
Abandonment issues can make us feel unworthy or unlovable. That’s why focusing on rebuilding your sense of self-worth is essential. Find activities or things that bring you joy, and spend time surrounded by people who make you feel valued and appreciated.
Ways to build your self-worth:
- Positive Affirmations: Daily positive affirmations can help you regain your self-worth and confidence. Customize the affirmation to make it personable and more meaningful for you.
- Spend Time With Supportive People: Surrounding yourself with supportive people can help you realize that your worth is not determined by how someone else feels or treats you.
- Make Yourself a Priority: Often, focusing on others’ needs before your own can lead to neglecting yourself and feeling less worthy. Remember to make time for things that make you happy and fulfilled, such as hobbies or activities you enjoy. Doing something for yourself can help you to feel more independent and in control.
- Self-Compassion: Show compassion and kindness to yourself as if it were for someone else. This could include positive self-talk, taking breaks when needed, or accepting your emotions without judgment.
- Forgive Yourself: It’s easy to get stuck in the past and be hard on ourselves for things that have happened to us. It’s important to forgive yourself and let go of the guilt or shame that you may be carrying for something entirely out of your control.
- Set boundaries: Learning to say “no” or setting boundaries and expectations for others is essential. It helps you build up your self-esteem and assertiveness, which are critical components of healthy relationships.
Remember that processing difficult experiences takes time, so don’t put stringent timeframes on making peace with your abandonment issues. With positive coping strategies, self-care, and rebuilding your sense of self-worth, you are well on your way to worrying less and feeling more confident about your relationships.
Step 5: Learn to Forgive
The final step in conquering abandonment trauma is learning to forgive. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to forget what happened, but rather that you can make peace with it and move on. Holding onto bitterness and resentment will only keep us stuck in the past, so finding a way to let go and move forward is important.
If forgiving the person or people who abandoned you is difficult, let’s reframe what forgiveness can mean in this process.
Think of your experience as something that happened, that you can’t change, and that simply “is.” Creating a neutral narrative of your experience allows you to think objectively rather than emotionally. Focus on forgiving and letting go of the experience, not the person involved. This act ultimately will loosen the chains and power that the feelings of abandonment have had over you for so long.
Life is full of joy, suffering, and many different experiences. It is inevitable that imperfect people, at all stages of their personal growth, will hurt or disappoint us. It is impossible to entirely prevent others from hurting you. Although you may try to control or predict these situations by isolating yourself and internalizing these experiences, these actions won’t effectively protect you from future pain.
With that being said, the most helpful thing you can do is to forgive human nature, understand that the actions of others are not at all a representation of your value and that not every person is like the one(s) who hurt you.
Forgiveness does not excuse the harmful actions of others in any way.
Instead, forgiveness frees you from being negatively affected by the hurtful actions of others for the rest of your life.
After experiencing abandonment, your worldview can completely change. You may be full of worry and fear that everyone will hurt you and leave you. This belief can make you feel unstable, out of control, and lacking the value that would make people want to stay in your life.
Those thoughts and feelings are attempts to protect yourself by projecting abandonment actions on others so you can predict what will happen next. In some ways, this prediction makes you feel in control, but ultimately, it is why you feel out of control. Why? Because you can’t truly predict how others will act.
Instead of worrying about when someone might abandon you, it is essential to work through abandonment issues so you can feel free from these types of thoughts. By working through the five steps above, you are well on your way to processing and conquering your abandonment issues.
Trauma, sometimes, can become too much for you to work through on your own. As mentioned earlier, this is when a therapist can be a necessary addition to your overall wellness strategy.
Check out our counselor’s page to view the bios of any of our licensed therapists to check for the specialties that can benefit you most. If you need help determining which counselor is right for you, call or schedule your appointment here, and we will match you with a counselor who can help with your specific needs.
Trauma and difficult experiences have the potential to take control and hinder your entire life. These experiences are so powerful they change how we see the world. A therapist skilled in trauma counseling can pull you out of the grip of your past experiences and help you regain a sense of stability and value. Relief is a phone call away.
Have you worked through a traumatic experience? Let us know in the comments what helped you the most!