When Sally was eight, her father suddenly left her mother for another woman. Sally desperately loved her father, but he never showed any interest in being involved in her life. As she grew, she found it difficult to trust others enough to get close to them.
Eventually, she fell in love with Tom, a man with whom she had grown up, and they were married. Throughout their life together, Sally was consumed by a nagging sense of anxiety.
She worked hard to win Tom’s approval and on the rare occasions that Tom pointed out something she could improve on, she got defensive. If anything ever went wrong, or if they argued, she always blamed herself.
If Tom was late coming home from the store, she worried that he had been in an accident. If he had to work late at the office, she grew anxious that he was having an affair and was about to leave her. She tried to suppress these feelings, but the more she tried, the worse they got. Sally was suffering from fear of abandonment.
Fear of abandonment is an overwhelming sense of worry that those close to you will leave you. Sometimes it is driven by specific identifiable reasons, while at other times it seems to have no basis at all. It can strike anyone from children to adults and can lead to a paralyzing fear that can cause emotional barriers, severely damage existing relationships, and prevent a person from developing and maintaining new relationships.
What Does Fear of Abandonment Look Like?
Fear of abandonment can take many forms, but some of the more common are:
- always taking the blame for problems
- avoiding rejection or separation through extreme measures
- cycles of unhealthy relationships
- difficulty forming friendships
- fear of commitment
- hasty attachment to people followed by equally hasty detachment
- hypersensitivity to criticism
- inordinate people pleasing
- trust issues
This list of symptoms is not exhaustive, but merely representative. All of these symptoms, however, represent measures to protect oneself from being hurt. Either they are attempts to preserve relationships out of a misguided (and often mistaken) fear that the relationship will end if they do not, or else they are attempts to either end or prevent the formation of relationships that are (at least in the mind of the person fearing abandonment) doomed from the start.
What Causes Fear of Abandonment?
Fear of abandonment can be caused by a near-endless number of different events or situations. For example:
- Death or desertion of a parent or caregiver when you were a child.
- Extended illness of a loved one.
- Parental neglect.
- Peer pressure or rejection.
- Sudden abandonment or suspicious behavior by a romantic partner.
All of these situations are outside a person’s control and can leave them with deep-seated insecurity, fearful that the loved one in question is about to abandon them. This sort of anxiety, if not dealt with, can last years, decades, or even a person’s entire life.
The Character of God
When you are suffering from fear of abandonment, it is wise to make the character of God your reference point. Because God is who He is, a person suffering from fear of abandonment can have true comfort and peace. Consider the following key attributes of God:
God is Sovereign
First of all, it is important to understand that God is sovereign. Nothing in this universe is outside of His absolute control. From the expansion of the universe to the placement of planets to the movement of subatomic particles, God is fully in control of all things.
It is comforting to know that nothing ever happens outside of God’s plan and infinite knowledge and so nothing that happens to us ever comes as a surprise to God. Did your husband leave you? God knows. Were you abandoned by your parents when you were a child? God knows that, too. Did your fiancé leave you at the altar? God knows even before you tell Him.
Whether you are going through times of sadness and pain or even the fear of such times, God always knows where you are and what you are going through. As Psalm 103:19 tells us, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all.” Nothing that happens in this world happens apart from God.
God is Father
Another aspect of God’s character that can be a comfort to those struggling with fear of abandonment is the fact that He is Father to His children. Those who have had bad experiences with a father figure in their life may have difficulty relating to God as Father. Even if they manage to acknowledge the Fatherhood of God, they may struggle to see this as a good thing.
Our Heavenly Father, however, is better than any earthly father. He is the pattern for all that is good about fatherhood, and even the best earthly fathers are but imperfect reflections of Him. Unlike earthly fathers, everything God does is perfect, and He is never subject to sin.
He loves His children and cares for them better than any earthly father ever could, always doing what is best for them. He and intimately knows His beloved children, is always available to hear their prayers and He never forgets anything they tell Him. God keeps every one of His promises to them.
Furthermore, unlike earthly fathers, our Heavenly Father will never leave His children. Though we cannot see Him, He is always there. He is the one being in all of the universe who can be relied on not to abandon us through selfishness or even death.
God is Love.
The Apostle John tells us several times that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). This does not mean that God is the concept of love, that God has no other attributes, or merely that He is loving. What John is saying is that the Triune God is the archetype of all love.
Before the world began, God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – existed in an eternal relationship of love. This is important to recognize because it means that God did not create the world because He was bored, lonely, or lacking something. God was perfectly complete in Himself before the creation of the world.
So why did God create the world? Because it was His good pleasure to do so. Since God created the world “very good,” it was inevitable that He would not love His creation. The love of God for the world that He created survived even the Fall of Mankind into sin. God loves His children with perfect and transcendent love, and so it is inconceivable that He would ever abandon them.
Christian Counseling for Fear of Abandonment
If the knowledge of God’s sovereignty, Fatherhood, and love as described in His word are not enough to help you overcome your fear of abandonment, then you may need further support. Find a trusted friend or your pastor to confide in and talk over your anxieties.
Christian counseling for abandonment can also help. Making use of Christian counseling doesn’t mean that you are somehow “damaged goods,” it just means that in your very human frailty you may need some extra help to overcome your fears.
A Christian counselor will come alongside you and help you work through your fear of abandonment, giving you the tools to combat your doubts and fears and regain control over your emotions and relationships. They will help you get to a place in life where you are comfortable making and sustaining healthy relationships with others.
If you are struggling with fear of abandonment, seek help. You can have a life of inner peace and rest knowing that God loves His children better than any earthly father ever could and will “never leave them nor forsake them.”
“Rain”, Courtesy of Kristina Tripkovic, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Admiring the View”, Courtesy of Paola Chaaya, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Considering the Cross”, Courtesy of Keem Ibarra, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “All Together”, Courtesy of Hannah Busing, Unsplash.com, CC0 License