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I realized I had a fear of abandonment about three years ago.
Prior to the moment when those three words popped into my mind and I started googling to see what it was, I don’t think I even knew it was a thing.
But as I lay there in bed reading one day, I recognized so much of myself in the descriptions.
The reactions, the thoughts, the behaviors.
I’d read words that described something about myself—something I thought only I felt.
In a way, it was a relief. Something—so many things—about myself made sense. And yet, then came the vast unknown: what do I do now?
Fear of abandonment is incredibly painful, especially when we’re heavily triggered.
This fear can feel so overwhelming because we want to be free of this thing—if we could, we’d grab it and throw it away. But we can’t do that. It’s there. And having to endure it, and not know how to be rid of it, can be so frustrating.
But…we can move through it. It just takes time, attention, self-awareness, a lot of self-compassion, patience, self-honesty, and a conscious desire to turn inward and be with ourselves.
While I still notice the fear arise in me at times, it’s far less frequently than it once was, and the energy, when it arises, is far less intense, less all-consuming.
While this path isn’t easy, and while I still feel that fear at times, how it feels within me now compared to three years ago or two or even last year has shifted. I can see how far I’ve come.
Here are a few things that have helped me and may help you as you seek to heal this fear:
1. Allow yourself to feel it.
I think so many of us unconsciously do whatever we can to avoid having to feel this fear. I think I’d unconsciously arranged my life in such a way as to always feel safe, secure, and definitely under no threat of “being abandoned.” I mostly catered to others, molded myself to others (without fully, consciously realizing what I was doing), and would be quick to always try to “make the peace,” even if it was superficial or inauthentic.
When I first realized I had this fear, and I felt into its depth, it was incredibly painful. And it felt so big and so overwhelming that I often didn’t know if I’d even be able to handle the physical intensity of it.
But I forced myself to feel it. I’d sit at a table or lie in bed when triggered and allow the fullness of that fear to fill me. I’d cry. I’d let every single thought, feeling, or sensation associated with it flow in me and through me. And I genuinely think it’s one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced.
But I learned so much about myself, and that fear, through sitting there and just feeling it.
Our fears, our pains, are there to teach us a lesson. They have a message. It can be painful to experience, but we’ll never learn from them or learn how to move through them if we avoid them.
Let yourself feel the fear. Acknowledge it. Watch it. Feel it fully. Know that it will be painful—even excruciating—but you can sit there and be with it. You can make it through it. Allow the emotion to arise, so you can begin to see what lies beneath it.
2. Redirect inward—and focus on self-love.
I’d repeat these words (or something like them) to myself whenever I felt triggered, “If I have a fear of abandonment, it means I’m abandoning myself.” And I would try to come back to myself. At first, it felt more like a cognitive understanding, something I theoretically knew was true, but with time, it sunk further into a feeling-knowing place.
If we fear being abandoned by another, a part of us is so afraid, so in pain, that it will cause us to “abandon ourselves,” so as not to be left or abandoned. It’s why we mold ourselves to others, people please, and generally try to be what we think will make others happy with us—even if it is at the expense of ourselves.
Once we learn what we’re doing, once we can see it through the lens of this awareness—we can’t help but want to turn inward, to move toward authenticity, to be true to ourselves. Though it won’t always be easy—because the fear can be so overpowering and our habitual patterns have been so practiced.
We will fail over and over—still react in those people-pleasing, inauthentic ways—so we have to have compassion for ourselves. We have to be devoted toward being our true selves, while understanding that this is a process that will take time—so we have to show ourselves grace and kindness, while holding a relentless tenacity to be honest with ourselves.
One of our biggest lessons is to learn to turn toward ourselves, to trust ourselves, to be true to ourselves.
Remind yourself of self-love, of authenticity, of being true to yourself. When you are feeling the fear, when you feel the fear of being abandoned, remind yourself that—at least a part of you—is abandoning yourself, and hold space for yourself, for that scared part of you.
3. Be self-honest with how the fear shows up.
When we have a fear of abandonment, we will do many things unconsciously to avoid “being abandoned,” to avoid even feeling the fear. We won’t know these tendencies until we see them, until some situation triggers it, and for some reason, we have the awareness of what we are doing. And a lot of these behaviors can be painful to see and admit to—but we have to be willing to see and admit to them.
Even basic people pleasing is manipulative—because through the act of trying to please others for the sake of making them pleased with us, we are trying to get them to feel a certain way about us so that they don’t leave or abandon us. We don’t people please for the other person—we do it for ourselves. And until we understand this, we will not be able to change our behavior.
Be curious, watch, pay attention. Allow for the awareness of this to arise within you. And when you see it—the way you will shift, or you will be inauthentic, or you will say anything to make someone happy or pleased—notice it, feel how that makes you feel, and hold compassion for yourself too, while deciding that you no longer want to behave in these ways.
4. Understand that fear of abandonment shows up in all of our relationships and all parts of our lives.
What I’ve come to see through my own experience is that this fear shows up in all facets of life, in all relationships.
I’ve noticed a deep feeling of discomfort when I’ve upset someone in my family, or if I’ve just worried that I’ve upset them—did I hurt their feelings? I’ve noticed discomfort with being truthful with a friend, worried that I’d hurt or offended them (which could make them stop speaking to me). I’ve also seen a general, underlying energy of wanting to be accepted that infiltrates so many parts of my life.
Notice how this fear shows up in your life; just pay attention. And choose to be true to yourself, even if it causes discomfort. It’s part of the process of learning to move through the fear.
5. Understand that this takes time.
As with so many things in life, we want a quick fix to heal—but there isn’t one. This is a deep lesson for us—and we’ve likely been carrying this fear for most of our lives, so it’s not something that will dissolve instantly.
I think I probably caused myself so much extra suffering by being so frustrated about how slow the process was, by how I had to have this fear in the first place—but then, I also feel that that’s natural. Of course we don’t want this fear; of course we don’t want to feel it. But we do. We have it. And we have to hold space for ourselves as we journey through it.
Remind yourself that change takes time and focus on each individual moment of redirecting inward, of holding space and awareness for what’s happening, and stay with the intention to be true to yourself in every moment.
Sometimes, these days, I will notice a situation that used to trigger me and I’ll pause; I’ll almost brace myself, awaiting the physical reaction. And then…nothing will come. Nothing happens. I feel okay. I realize I feel okay. And I realize how far I’ve come.
And this is how it works, how it happens. We suddenly just realize that we’ve changed, that we’re not triggered in ways that used to trigger us, that we’re okay.
But this change has taken place because of each moment that we turned inward, each moment we became aware, each moment that we chose to hold space for ourselves and be honest with ourselves.
Each moment that we chose to be true to ourselves.
If we have a fear of abandonment, we need to understand that one of our biggest lessons is to learn to be true to ourselves.