Abandonment issues: What you should know and how to help

What you should know

People abandoned by their parents and/ or significant others are often so wounded that they don’t realise they have been in survival mode for too long.

A common sign is bearing the burdens in their relationships in a bid to prevent people from leaving them.

Subconsciously, a wounded person will send messages more, make more phone calls, plan more outings, forgive more mistakes and generally tolerate more bad behaviour to maintain the status quo.

Under normal circumstances, these tendencies point to genuine love and selflessness, but to the person who has been abandoned at least once, the expectation that the other shoe will eventually drop leads to many questions.

Is all the effort I am putting worth it? Do these people care for me as much as I care for them? How come this person is not as expressive and as aggressive as I am in the bid to make this relationship work? Am I imagining things or being sufficiently cautious?

When in survival mode, it is difficult to tell when to give up any kind of relationship because of the fear that there will not be another one like it.

In most cases, therefore, it takes ‘rock bottom’ to grasp the sad state of affairs, why one should not strive this much for a relationship and that it is time to let go and move on.

Scenario 1: When you cannot forgive an absent parent who believes he or she did nothing wrong and that there is no need for a heart to heart.

Some men and women were not raised by both their parents, for reasons including divorce, but ended up meeting them later in life and wanting proper relationships.

Ideally, these parties should open up to each other, the parent explaining why he or she could not be at home and the child detailing difficulties suffered through the years as a result.

For some, candid conversations are followed by reconciliation, but for others, one or both parties is disinterested so there is a dead end.

The lesson is understanding, despite lack of an explanation, that the parties involved had reasons for taking the actions they did.

A key way forward is acceptance and replacing the hope for an explanation with a fresh start, for a fresh story, for the benefit of everybody involved.

Scenario 2: When the parties in several desired relationships are the wrong ones, signalling a negative pattern.

Stories are often told of men and women who ended up having affairs with unavailable people, such as those who are married, to fill voids left by their parents.

A woman whose father left when she was just a baby, and was never interested in her, has a long story of leading men on, having plenty of casual sex and chasing after married men despite knowing that it is wrong.  

The script is different in some cases but in this one, the woman realises that her history is filled with near-encounters or encounters with married men.

As reality dawns, she accepts that something is wrong and looks for solutions. In some cases, mistakes have not been made but in others, it is too late and a trail of disaster follows.

The lesson is to make an about-turn and never repeat the mistakes.

Scenario 3: When the other party in the desired relationship makes it clear that he or she does not want you, but that only motivates you.

Abandonment issues affect all kinds of relationships. In the case of a romance, a man or woman who was abandoned may like a person but be uncertain about whether this person feels the same way.

More often than not, and driven by the ideas that a relationship only works with hard work and that love is earned, the affected party will do everything possible to get the other party interested.

In this hot pursuit, red flags and clear statements against the relationship will be ignored. Affected people also reject advice against the romantic relationships they desperately desire.

In the worst case scenario, the targeted party will oblige but the relationship will be one-sided. The person with abandonment issues will eventually get tired but it may be too late and more damage may have been done.

One lesson is to understand that relationships are two-way and that we all face rejection at some point. Another is to embrace balanced relationships and reject those that require you to bend over backwards to get even the basics.

Scenario 4: When the anger that arose from abandonment issues manifests in dangerous ways

Generally, when people work very hard for something but do not get it, they get frustrated and angry. It is often hard to accept this fact and move forward, but it is possible. The problem is that sometimes, people with abandonment issues are never willing to let go unless there is a very good reason.

The compelling reasons, however, hardly present themselves under controlled circumstances. Something usually goes terribly wrong and prompts a reaction that was never anticipated, such as turning violent and breaking dishes and electronics during an argument or hurling objects across rooms, often to let out anger that you never knew existed.

This unexpected release of frustration and anger through violence is usually the outcome of bottling up negative emotions and never dealing with the root causes of undesirable circumstances.

Those who have had such releases will admit that it was a wake-up call for a drastic change in approaches to life and all of its aspects, despite the premise of repeat abandonment by people they loved and cared deeply for.

How to help

These are just four of many tough scenarios that people with abandonment issues face, scenarios which come with confusion, seclusion and severe aches for love and acceptance. These feelings last years, if not lifetimes, but the good news is that pain can be beautiful, and that there are ways to help people with abandonment issues.

Such people ache for longevity in all relationships because of the constant uncertainty about whether a person or group of people will be there the next minute, the next hour, the next day or night, week, month or year.

Many of them fight every day to ensure this is the case, often to the point of forgetting to enjoy these relationships. It is a heavy burden that they often feel they cannot talk about because of the fear that they will not be understood. Whether or not the person in your life has shared their battle with you, here are a few things you can do to ease their mind so their minds can stop racing and they can relax enough to enjoy their relationships.

Affirm and reaffirm

A person with abandonment issues will always check the status of the relationship, romantic or otherwise, just to be sure everything is alright. Such a person will often ask harmless little questions such as ‘Are we ok?’ or ‘You still love me, don’t you’ in order to be affirmed. It can be hard to remind this person over and over that everything is okay or that you are not going to leave, but they appreciate it when you do it anyway and it helps strengthen their trust in you. Don’t worry – it will not be a one-way street because they will reassure you too, especially since they know how important this is in any kind of relationship.

Speak up whenever there is a problem

Many, often paralysing, thoughts race through the mind of a person with abandonment issues, especially when there is a problem. They think, ‘Why did I say or do that, I could have said that better, Will they ever speak to me again, Are we going to solve the problem, Is there even a problem?’ etc. These paralysing thoughts are why it would really help if you said clearly what was wrong and why. This would give both of you the opportunity to express your feelings honestly and understand the problem and whether or not it can be solved. 

Vocalise your course of action

Whenever there is a problem, it is important not to disappear because a person with abandonment issues will panic, believing another round of abandonment was yet again around the corner. It is never easy to vocalise your course of action, especially when it is not in favour of your significant other, but it is generally better to know exactly what is happening because of the aspect of obsessing. Human beings always want to solve problems, so when there is no solution and when there is therefore turmoil, many obsess until they can find the answers they need. To prevent this, it is always best to state the direction you are taking and set the other person free. 

Either keep the promises you make or simply do not make any

This applies to everyone, but more to people with abandonment issues because they have been disappointed and deeply scarred by their loved ones, and often under very difficult circumstances. The fact that they have had terrible experiences causes them to be fiercely protective of themselves and those they love. This means that it takes a lot for them to open up to other people and their vision hardly ever includes an end to relationships no matter what happens. As such, everything is taken very seriously and there is simply no room for games. Therefore, when dealing with people with abandonment issues, either set the games aside or simply stay away. 

Give your significant other the opportunity to meet you halfway

Abandonment issues are not a death sentence when it comes to relationships of any kind, so you are not doomed to walking on eggshells around people carrying this burden.

Give a crutch when it is needed but also stand some distance away so the person can walk part of the path towards you. This is essential for any relationship to thrive, with both or more parties  participating fully.