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Abandonment Spectrum

What is Abandonment?

Abandonment refers to the act of leaving someone or something behind.

However, like many things in psychology, abandonment occurs on a spectrum. The spectrum of abandonment covers many things such as physical abandonment, emotional abandonment, and complex abandonment.

All types of abandonment can lead to various mental health and relational problems.

General or Blanket Abandonment

General or blanket abandonment refers to someone who feels abandoned by a loved one even when that person is present because the individual does not show them love, nurturing, attention.

This is often observed in children who do not feel like secure with their parents or caregivers because they do not provide them with love or affection or may not be fully (physically) present.

This can also be seen in relationships where one partner is not consistently emotionally and/or physically present.

Emotional Abandonment

Emotional abandonment (or neglect) this refers to someone who feels as though loved ones are not able to hold space for them, validate their emotions, or empathize with them.

Examples of emotional abandonment include:
– Not receiving validation or empathy when sharing their feelings with loved ones
– Feeling unloved loved by their friends or family
– Feeling as though emotions are not a priority to their loved ones
– Feeling unimportant to their loved ones
– Having bids for connection get rejected or missed

Physical Abandonment

Physical abandonment refers to someone physically doing something that triggers feelings of abandonment.
Physical behaviors that can trigger abandonment include:
– Shutting down in an argument
– Not providing attention to someone
– Walking out on a partner during a fight
– Ignoring someone’s texts or calls
– Not being physically present for a loved one
– Putting a child up for adoption
– Pushing someone away when they try to display physical affection

Complex Abandonment

Complex abandonment refers to behaviors and situations that make someone feel abandoned, though the individual may not realize they are feeling abandoned, or they many feel like they can feel abandoned.

Complex abandonment may lead a person to confused or even feel guilty about feeling abandonment

Examples include:
– Feeling abandoned after the death of loved ones.
– Feeling abandoned by a partner or loved one who is very busy with work or priorities.
– Feeling abandoned after experiencing Empty Nest Syndrome.

Self-Abandonment

Self-abandonment occurs when an individual deprioritizes their own personal needs and prioritizes the needs of others. Often times these individuals expect others to reciprocate their behaviors and feel abandoned when their loved ones do not.Many times, self-abandonment occurs in people who fear being abandoned by others.

Examples of self-abandonment include:
– People pleasing
– Having porous boundaries in relationships
– Not being able to say no
– Sacrificing personal needs and prioritizing the happiness of others
– Engaging in behaviors like rumination or perfectionism

How Does Abandonment Impact Me?

It is important to understand that any form of abandonment (whether intentional or not) is a trauma experience.

Experiences of abandonment can lead to:
– Anxious Attachment
– Avoidant Attachment
– Anxious-Avoidant Attachment
– Anxiety (e.g., fear of being abandoned)
– Depression (e.g., feeling unloved or worthless)
– PTSD (e.g., hyper-vigilance)
– Co-dependency
– Relationship Repetition Syndrome

How to Cope With Abandonment

Coping with abandonment can be a difficult journey. This is because abandonment typically occurs in our formative years and are reinforced through our relationships as we experience life. However, there are things you can do to manage abandonment (or support someone who fears abandonment):
– Reassure you partner
– Reflect on personal needs and boundaries
– Challenge unhelpful thoughts
– Understand that you are not fundamentally unlovable
– Reflect on how you might contribute to relationship dynamics (i.e., why might you be finding yourself in similar relationship patterns
– Learn regulating and co-regulating behaviors
– Try individual and/or couples therapy

This page is part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.


While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.