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  • Writer's pictureSanja Rozman

Fear of abandonment. Why is it so hard for me to let go?

Fearing rejection or abandonment is one of the primal fears everybody must come to terms with, sooner or later. Whether it is at the dissolution of a romantic relationship, a friendship, estrangement from family members, or in a situation when one is faced with being ignored or excluded in casual encounters, we react strongly and are prepared to go to great lengths to avoid it.

Rejection evokes in us the unbearable, sometimes physical pain, which has inspired numerous literary and poetic expressions, as in the Celine Dion’s famous song All By Myself, performed in the movie Bridget Jones’s Diary.

All by myself

Don't wanna be

All by myself


The feeling of being abandoned and rejected resonates with something very deep and primal in all of us. What is it?

The origin of the fear of abandonment

People are born with the need to belong; it is one of our most important needs. When we are infants, we do not distinguish between ourselves and the rest of the world. Being in emotional symbiosis with our mother, we feel merged with her and everything there is. Only later, as we mature, we gradually become aware that there are physical and emotional boundaries between us and the rest of the world. When mother is out of reach or is emotionally distant, we experience separation anxiety. The world without her loving touch and attention becomes scary and unsafe. Babies and toddlers often get clingy and cry if their mothers or their other carers leave them, even for a short time. Separation cry, a loud protest of a baby is a sign that it’s becoming aware of how dependent it is on the people who care for it.

Secure and insecure attachments 

Fear of abandonment

Separation anxiety and fear of strangers is common in young children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, but it's a normal part of development and children usually grow out of it, under the condition that their mother (carer) in most of the time available, attuned to the baby and able to attend to its needs. Step by step, the baby learns that there is someone out there who will take care that their dependency needs are met, and they learn to calm down and wait for them to return, sometimes with the help of a so-called transitional object – a teddy bear or a dummy. These babies become securely attached, a quality of attachment style that will stay with them for life.

But growing up does not always go smoothly. It may happen, that a baby’s mother is emotionally or physically distant for some reason, and cannot tend to the baby’s needs. And alternatively, she may be sometimes available and sometimes not. The baby’s development is compromised, it becomes insecurely attached, and because security is of utmost importance, it will try to find alternative ways to feel secure, like clinging to the carer and feeling responsible for mother’s abandonment. As they mature in the other aspects of their life, they will be compromised in forming safe and stable relationships with other people in their lives. (See blog Why can't I escape my past?).

How does fear of abandonment manifest?


If you fear abandonment, you might recognize some of these symptoms and signs:

  • You may be overly sensitive to criticism

  • You can find it difficult trusting in others

  • You may avoid making friends unless you can be sure they like you

  • As for romantic relationships, you may find yourself in a series of unhealthy ones

  • Even though you know that some relationships may be unhealthy for you, you keep making compromises and excuses to stay

  • When things don’t work out, you tend to blame yourself

  • You work too hard to please the other person and take extreme measures to avoid rejection or separation

  • You may be getting attached to people too quickly, then moving on just as quickly

  • (See also Why do I lose myself in relationships?).


It may be illogical to you, why those who tend to cling to relationships and fear abandonment, actually also fear intimacy in relationships (next blog: Fear of intimacy). Unable to control their separation anxiety, they may actually bring about the end of their relationship, as a form of a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Can we avoid separation?


Our lives are essentially the path along the continuum from enmeshment to separation. As we progress towards greater individuation, we have to learn to tolerate different steps of separation. We separate from our parents and go to school, get married, maybe divorce, see our children separate and in the end experience even the separation of our bodies and this world. But with each step of the path, we individuate and become more like what we were meant to be, unique and precious beings.


Sanja Rozman - Nice to meet you!

Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.

that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.

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