Emotional Abandonment: What Is It and How Do I Overcome It?

“When a child receives the message, even subtly or indirectly, that his emotions don't matter, he will grow up feeling, somewhere deep inside, that he himself doesn't matter.” ― Jonice Webb

What to Know About Emotional Abandonment

What is emotional abandonment?

Emotional abandonment happens when you feel like your feelings are ignored or simply aren't important to someone who should care about them. Sometimes, we call this emotional neglect, and it can happen in a lot of important relationships… emotional abandonment by parents or another family member, emotional abandonment by husband or wife... No matter which relationship you’re feeling rejected in, that kind of pain can have a lasting impact on how you engage in relationships and how you view yourself. 

If the people who are supposed to care the most about you and prioritize your needs simply don’t, it’s hard to see yourself as important. Neglect almost always leads to poor self-esteem or even self-hatred—a recipe for disaster when it comes to your mental health. So, if you’re feeling abandoned, it’s crucial to learn more, recognize the signs, and take extra good care of yourself.

How do you know if you’re dealing with emotional abandonment?

Some of the most common signs of abandonment issues are:

  • Self-hatred to the point of self-harm or destructive coping behaviors
  • Feeling anxious, insecure, or jealous in your relationships
  • People-pleasing to keep others from disliking you
  • Isolating from people rather than risking connecting with them
  • Getting attached to new relationships too quickly or being overly clingy in relationships
  • Having a hard time trusting people’s intentions toward you
  • Giving so much to your relationships that you’re exhausted or disappointed when others don’t put in the same amount of effort
  • Feeling disconnected, even in your most intimate relationships
  • Waiting for the other shoe to drop, even when a relationship is going well
  • Having a hard time with criticism, even if it’s true or communicated kindly
  • Settling for relationships you know are unhealthy to avoid being alone

Abandonment issues are often at the root of severe behavioral and mental health issues like addiction, whether your feelings of emotional abandonment are because a parent, partner, or sibling struggles with addiction or have led you to turn to addiction to numb your pain. Self-hatred, emotional neglect, and addiction are so often intertwined that it’s a fair guess to say that if there’s addiction in one of your relationships, emotional abandonment is at play.

Childhood emotional neglect or feeling abandoned by your partner can also have a lasting impact on your attachment style. What are attachment styles? Glad you asked! Attachment style theory suggests that our most essential relationships shape how our brains learn to be in relationships. The healthier your earliest and most formative relationships, the more secure your attachment style. Often, someone with a history of addiction, neglect, or abandonment struggles with healthy attachment and might fall into the categories of avoidant, disorganized, ambivalent, or anxious attachment style.

What Does It Look Like to Be Emotionally Abandoned?

“People raised on love see things differently than those raised on survival.”  ― Joy Marino

Emotional abandonment shows up in lots of ways! Do any of these scenarios feel familiar to you?


By the time you were in middle school, you were your mom’s therapist, so you’re really good at listening. You’re the friend everybody calls when they’re going through a hard time, and you love being that friend—you get to help them feel better. You get to feel irreplaceable to their lives. You get to feel important. But once they hang up the phone, you’re alone and you wonder if they’ll ever call you again. You get home from work each day and immediately start thinking of things you can do for other people—make your husband’s favorite thing for dinner, plan a fun day out with the kids, design a cool invitation for your friend's baby shower that takes you hours… but then you realize you haven’t showered in a couple of days, you forgot to actually eat some of that dinner, and you’re going to have to pick up an extra shift to afford that day out.

When our emotional needs are abandoned by the very people who are supposed to teach us how important we are, it’s easy to wind up forgetting about our needs completely. Emotional self-neglect becomes a habit because we’re too busy trying to make sure others never have a reason to abandon us. When we don’t even take time to notice our feelings anymore, we stop caring about our bodies… who has time for a shower or a meal or a walk when those ten minutes could be spent proving our value to the people we’re afraid to lose?


Your sister has gotten into drugs, and your parents are so busy dealing with her that you’re often a second thought, if not completely ignored. Sometimes, your parents even say, “You’re the one we never have to worry about,” which they think is a compliment. But really, they mean you don’t take up too much of their time. You’ve stopped even telling them when you have a home game unless they ask, and you never expect them to care about your grades… As long as you’re not failing or skipping school altogether like your sister does, they probably won’t even notice. 

Every once in a while, this feels like freedom… you can get away with whatever you want to as long as it doesn’t get you in the kind of trouble your sister gets into. As long as it doesn’t require any attention from your parents. 

But most of the time, it just feels like you’re invisible in your own home. If your own parents don’t care whether you’re making A’s or going through a breakup, why should you? Why should anyone? You start to feel small. You begin to feel depressed, hopeless, and like nothing you do is worth noticing. So why do anything? When you stumble upon some of your sister’s stash at home, you wonder if maybe she’s onto something. Maybe taking the edge off your feelings wouldn’t be such a bad idea.


Your dad was a pastor. A good one. His sermons were inspired. He visited every sick church member at the hospital. He grabbed dinner with every new family who joined the congregation. He made people feel loved and excited to worship a God who had given them a beautiful community with a wise, kind leader.

But when you cried because the kitchen ran out of mashed potatoes at the Wednesday night social, your dad got frustrated with you. He told you to be a better example for the other kids and show them how to “be content in all things,” like Paul teaches in Phillippians. When you wanted to see a movie you were particularly excited about, your dad promised to take you, but every time you were supposed to go, something came up at church until eventually the movie wasn’t in theaters anymore. Anytime you got a bad grade or got into trouble at school, your dad freaked out about how this reflected on him as a leader; in other words, you were an embarrassment to him. An inconvenience.

Now that you’ve grown up, the whole concept of church or God leaves you feeling empty. It’s challenging to feel connected spiritually when your feelings have been neglected for so long. Why would you turn to something for support that left you feeling so insignificant growing up? Why would a God who’s “good” stick you with a dad who cared more about hundreds of strangers than his own kid? How could you not hate church? Why care about a God your dad cared more about than you?

How to Deal With Emotional Abandonment

“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”  ― Fred Rogers

If any of the scenarios above resonated with you, it’s time to consider facing the pain of emotional abandonment. But how? Where do you even start?

Professional Guidance

If you recognize emotional abandonment symptoms in your life, it’s a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. A licensed therapist can help you figure out whether your fear of abandonment is coming from childhood trauma or one of your more current relationships—they might even recommend couples counseling. If you feel like emotional abandonment has impacted your attachment style, a professional can also help you figure out what yours is. Knowing your attachment style can help you recognize when you’re acting from a place of fear or self-hate, and knowing your loved ones’ attachment styles can help you understand how to relate to them in healthier ways, too.

Caring for Yourself

What’s the opposite of abandonment? Showing up. Being there. Having compassion and holding space for someone’s needs and feelings. You’ve experienced abandonment, and now it’s time to give yourself the opposite.

  • Start paying attention to your physical needs. If you’ve been wearing a bra for the past year with a broken underwire that sticks through the lining and pokes you in the chest, today is the day. Get yourself a new one. If you’re hungry, and you’ve been ignoring it all day because there’s always something more urgent to do... Stop. Eat. Show up for yourself. If you can’t remember the last time you drank water instead of coffee or soda. Find the nearest water fountain, do not pass go, do not collect $200… just drink. Right now. Your physical needs are important.
  • Start advocating for yourself. If something hurts your feelings, say so. If something frustrates you, say so. You don’t have to be a jerk about it, but you do have to prove to yourself that your feelings deserve a voice. This might ruffle a few feathers, but the people who truly love and care for you will stick around. The people who can’t handle you having (gasp!) feelings will reveal themselves pretty quickly.
  • Seek help if you’re struggling with unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you’re struggling with addiction, self-harm, an eating disorder, or another destructive behavior that’s taking a toll on your mental health, well-being, and relationships, it’s time to show up for yourself. Ask for help. There is no shame in recognizing when you’re in too deep, and there are people willing to support you through recovery. 

What’s Faith Got To Do With It?

What we don’t need in the midst of struggle is shame for being human.” ― Brené Brown

If you are feeling emotionally abandoned we know it hurts. Thankfully, for those who believe in God, He promises never to leave you or abandon you. There is a verse in the Bible that says:

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

And another verse to give you hope:

For he has said, c“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

What comfort! Do you believe In God? If you do and you feel even God has abandoned you, we invite you to pray these words:

God, why have you abandoned me? And why did you let ________ abandon me?

There is no rule that says a prayer has to come from someone who feels connected to God. You can ask Jesus anything, tell Him anything, shout at him, cry with Him, and none of your feelings will scare Him away. Nothing you’ve done or felt can make Him leave you. When you are afraid of losing the people you love, tell Him. When you are worried that you’ll be rejected for what you have to say, tell Him. You’re never alone. 

If you don’t believe, but would like to learn more about a God who loves you unconditionally and will never leave you, please read this: Try The Solution

TheHopeLine is here for you, too. We’re always around to talk if you need someone to listen without judgment.

Download this free eBook on Abandonment!

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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