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Today we’re going to be talking about something deep and dark: the fear of abandonment.
This is the one fear to rule them all. It’s the secret fear underneath all of your problematic behavior in the social world and you’ve probably never even heard of it.
What is the fear of abandonment?
This is essentially a fear of being lonely and/or alone.
This fear is a spectrum, ranging from a small amount of anxiety in some social interactions (e.g. meeting new people), through to a full-blown phobia of connections and relationships that can even escalate to a Personality Disorder like Borderline.
People with this fear generally struggle with things like confrontations, public speaking, expressing attraction, being vulnerable, creating lots of deep connections, break ups, and being by themselves. Introverts tend to hide from potential rejection, while extroverts tend to perform for approval.
This includes any sense of fear you attach to things like being alone, being rejected, being ostracized, being judged negatively by other people, having a relationship end or having friends leave you – any sense of fear that someone’s love will be taken away. Warning signs include jealousy, guilt, people-pleasing, showing off, seeking validation, ‘chasing’ people, and anxiety – these are all signs that you have this fear.
The symptoms for this fear can go one of two ways: you might be clingy, or you might be avoidant. It all really depends on your personality, your current situation, and the person you’re interacting with. People often switch between both.
Clingy people tend to be the people-pleasers and Nice Guys that are desperate to keep people. They chase, they’re needy, they’re constantly trying to impress people, they measure their self-worth on the love they receive from others, and they become very distraught at the idea of someone leaving them or ending a connection.
Clinginess can even escalate to things like irrational jealousy, abuse, and control issues, with someone becoming so desperate to keep another person that they actually start engaging in really harmful and manipulative behavior (e.g. snooping through your partner’s phone).
Being avoidant is more about keeping people at a distance – being suspicious and mistrustful, using superficiality or humour to keep people at arm’s length – so they never really get to know you. It’s all about using behaviors that prevent anyone from getting too close, so if they are going to leave you it won’t hurt too badly.
You might see avoidant people being quite rebellious or antisocial, just as a way to keep everybody out of their ‘safe zone’. A great example of this is Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) – these are men who have been so badly treated during their interactions with women (at least in their eyes) that they’re actually now trying to get away from women altogether, just to prevent that pain from being repeated.
What causes fear of abandonment?
Why do we develop such a phobia? Well, it’s probably pretty obvious: it’s because something traumatic happened to us when we were younger, and we associate that pain with the idea of someone getting in close only to then abandon us.
This could have happened in a number of ways. Maybe you had neglectful or abusive parents. Maybe you were bullied. Maybe you unexpectedly got ditched by a group of friends. Maybe you even just observed it vicariously, like you saw somebody else being treated in this way and you thought “I never want that to happen to me.”
It can also be generated by belonging to a group who provokes this fear. For example, if you were part of a conservative Christian Church group when you were younger, you would have got the sense that if you’re not part in this group then you’ve got no one because everybody you know is in this group. So you become afraid of being abandoned because you don’t have any sort of back-up plan – you’ve got no safety net if your group doesn’t accept you. Smotheringly close families can create this effect too.
Step one: awareness
So, there you are, probably sabotaging many of your chances at meaningful connections because this fear keeps pulling your strings in the background. What are we to do when this is happening?
First and foremost, you have to identify how it happens for you. What kind of behaviors do you engage in to prevent people from getting too close, or to pull people back in when they’re getting away? What kind of neediness do you see in yourself? What do you do to push people back to an emotionally safe distance?
I’ll share some examples from my own experience with this:
When I was feeling really needy, I’d do things like double text – i.e. if someone hadn’t replied to me I’d keep texting them to force a reply. I’d constantly seek approval from people – showing off to try and get them to notice me. I would try to be funny all the time so that people would associate me with pleasure.
On the other hand, when someone actually got too close, I would reverse and become avoidant. I’d use humor and banter to make people think I was just this funny guy and not let them see who I really was. I’d always hide my emotions around certain people when they’re getting too close, because I didn’t want to be vulnerable with them. I pretended nothing affected me and that I didn’t really care about anything.
I fluctuated between trying to pull someone in desperately and then trying to keep them away if they were getting in too close. And I couldn’t really see this pattern. Inside my head, it looked like I was just trying to make friends and get a girlfriend, but what was really happening was this kind of yo-yo effect of people coming in and being pushed away – pull and push.
When you look at your own symptoms, ask yourself “How are these affecting my social life? What specific behaviors show up during my interactions, my conversations, and my relationships with other people, and what does this do to the potential connection?”
Is it working for you? Probably not. Try to see how it’s not working for you. If you’re really clingy, notice how people kind of get repulsed by you and try to keep their distance. And if you’re really aloof and trying to protect yourself, notice how people get flaky and non-committal with you, becoming easily bored and ignoring you without guilt.
Most importantly, notice how these behaviors prevent you from having a connection, so your fear of abandonment ends up coming true. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – your fear of being hurt is causing you to be lonely.
Noticing it happen
Once you’ve noticed these problematic behaviors and the reaction that people have to them, at least you’re starting with some self-awareness. Now you can notice when things go badly for you in social situations and say to yourself “That’s fear of abandonment! That’s what it looks like when it attacks me. This is how I behave when I’m controlled by my fear.”
Once you’re aware of that, you’ll be able to see it happening as it happens. You’ll notice yourself desperately double-texting someone. You’ll notice yourself showing off or trying to get approval. You’ll notice that somebody’s trying to open up to you and you just laugh it off and banter to keep them at a distance.
You’ll be able to see it for what it is, and that’s a huge part to moving forward with this thing.
In my own experience, I noticed I had become absolutely obsessed with getting love and approval from other people, and with avoiding that abandonment. I realised that until that changed I could never really have a good life.
So I asked myself a question (which was prompted by the movie I am Legend with Will Smith):
“How can I be confident even if nobody loves me?”
I asked this question because I noticed that trying to control their abandonment – trying to prevent it from happening – caused me to become fixated on something outside of my control.
I needed to find a way to be confident that I could control. I needed something that I could always master and which didn’t require reactions from other people.
The movie I am Legend sent me off on this because right at the start it shows Will Smith living a meaningful life – enjoying himself and doing things that are important to him – even though there’s no one else around. He was able to create a life without anybody else and I realized that’s what I needed to learn how to do. And you do, too.
Obviously, I’m going to be biased when I make this recommendation, but I promise you this comes from absolutely genuine from my core:
Get yourself a coach!
Or, if you’re really bad, get yourself a psychologist.
You are really going to struggle to deal with this fear on your own because it’s the BIG one – the one ring that rules them all. The fear of abandonment is right in the center of your brain, controlling almost everything you do, even controlling your attempts to deal with it!
A coach will be able to bring that outside perspective that you simply can’t bring to yourself. Even if that coach is not me, get in touch with me (email@example.com) and I’ll find you someone who can help you with it. There’s no point in you trying to do this all on your own because it will just take too long.
Introducing: valued living
When you are working with your coach (or even if you insist on doing this all by yourself), the focus needs to be: “How can I live in a way where I end up loving myself so much it doesn’t matter if other people abandon me?”
It’s about finding a set of principles, a code of honor, that you can live by. Something that you will admire and respect yourself for, and living by it so consistently with your daily behavior that you end up just loving being you, and spending time with you.
Once you’re able to create that sort of loving and connected sensation from your own behavior, by yourself, then other people abandoning you won’t seem like such a scary thing. Their approval or potential to hurt you won’t seem so important.
More specifically, if you’re the clingy type, this is about letting people not like you. This is about showing them who you really are and then just leaving the ball in their court.
If you text someone, wait until they text you back and never chase them. Instead of asking someone out, suggest that they meet you there and then just show up at that place whether they come or not.
Get used to just letting people see who you are and letting them judge for themselves. Stop manipulating them into a positive feeling about you. Let them hate you if that’s what it takes. You’ll find that you’ll survive it, and you’ll learn to love yourself more if you’re able to engage in the authentic behavior that is going to make some people abandon you.
If you look more of the avoidant type, this is about letting people in. This is about letting them through that vulnerable door where they can see who you really are and have a chance at hurting your feelings. The good news is that you don’t have to give them power over your confidence. You’re just gonna let them in, not let them control you.
The key is to give yourself a Plan B – call it the “betrayal escape plan.” Allow someone to get in close and get to know you (underneath all the jokes and fakery that you use to keep people at a distance), but make sure you’re aware of the risks, like “Hey, they might fuck me over. They could betray me. But I’m gonna give them a chance. I’m gonna put aside my needy suspicions and insecurities, but just in case I’m right and they turn out to be one of those hurtful people, here’s what I’ll do next…” and actually have a plan for that.
For example, I’ve moved to Czech Republic to be with my wife, but in my head I know that if for some reason she was to betray me (I don’t think she will but it’s always possible), I’ll just go back to New Zealand. I’ve got this plan all ready, so I’ve got this relief of “If she leaves me, my life’s not over. I can still keep going.”
I’ve learned to be independent, to take care of myself and my own confidence, and to recover from somebody treating me poorly, but I’m also not MGTOW; I’m not running away from experiences. I go in and accept that sometimes I’ll get my feelings hurt, but that’s okay because I’m not a little boy anymore. I can handle it.
A final word…
You can handle it.
You’ve been repeating this pattern of trying to desperately pull people in or trying to keep them away (usually both) for so long that you haven’t actually given yourself a chance to experience real abandonment – to have someone who doesn’t like you leave, so that somebody who does like you can come in. Once you allow yourself to start having this experience, just one little bit at a time, usually just through being more honest, you’re gonna find that you can handle someone not liking you.
As long as you’re honest and you’re expressing yourself and you’re courageously living by your values, in such a way where even if no one else likes you; you like you – which is all that really matters, you’ll be fine.
I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, either subscribe to my YouTube channel or share this around (or both) – I’d really appreciate your help to grow my audience so that I can reach more people who need this kind of help.
And if you want more on this topic and you want to overcome these issues for yourself, I suggest you get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org and we can have a conversation about it, which may lead to me coaching you or it may just lead to me finding you some resources to help you with your specific issue.
Don’t waste any more time being held back by this fear because life is waiting for you…