How to Have Good Relationships After Childhood Abandonment

You Can Find Peace and Make Connections

Childhood abandonment can happen in many ways. You might have felt abandoned as a child if any of these things happened when you were younger:

  • One parent moving out during a separation or divorce
  • Losing a parent or someone else you were very close to as a child
  • Experiencing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood
  • Having a parent in the military who was deployed
  • Watching your parents work long hours, or frequently be away from home for work reasons

This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course. Feeling abandoned can happen to all of us for different reasons, and at different times throughout our lives. But when difficult things happen to us as children, the effects can last into our adulthood. 

I’m hopeful that sharing these suggestions for how to have good relationships after childhood abandonment will give you ideas for how to find meaningful connection with others at this important time of your life.

Know the Abandonment was Not Your Fault When we are children, our brains are trying to connect the dots. Unfortunately, this can lead to misunderstandings that harm our self-esteem and affect our self-worth. 

If you felt abandoned by a parent or caregiver as a child, you may have thought it was your fault, or that there was something you could have done to prevent it from happening. 

I want to reassure you that you did not cause the abandonment you experienced. All the choices that ended with you feeling abandoned were made by the adults around you. Nothing about what happened to you as a child means you were or are a bad person or damaged goods. 

Sometimes people are not there to express love as much as we’d like. Or they do a poor job expressing love. Or they have a toxic or distorted way of expressing their feelings. All those things are related to their choices and their behavior. Not anything you did.

You have always been and will always be worthy of love, acceptance, and connection, regardless of others’ choices. You have the ability to make connections with others in spite of the difficult things you had to deal with as a child. People with abandonment issues can and do have many meaningful, rich relationships throughout the rest of their lives. And you can absolutely strengthen your sense of connection with others regardless of what’s happened in your past.

Recognize How Abandonment Impacts Relationships

The impact of childhood abandonment on your adult relationships goes beyond how you feel about yourself. It can affect how you feel about others, and how you relate to them. Sometimes, it may cause challenges and conflicts in your friendships and relationships. 
Through years of counseling young adults, here are a few of the most common ways I’ve noticed early abandonment issues affect later relationships:

  • Fear of Further Abandonment: You may feel constantly worried about whether your friend, your partner, or another family member will leave you or leave your relationship. 
  • Problems with Trust: That fear can lead to struggles trusting people, whether it's trusting people with your feelings, or trusting that they will be there for you.
  • “All or Nothing” Attitude: With relationships in general, people who experience abandonment might either feel the need to cling to anyone close to them, or they may be very detached in their friendships and relationships. It can sometimes be hard to find the middle ground. 
  • Desire to Control: You may feel a constant tension in your relationships because you want things to turn out for the best. You may try to influence your friends or people you’re dating to make certain choices, because you don’t want this relationship to suffer like past relationships. But this need to be in control is likely part of what’s putting strain on your friendships and relationships in the first place.

It may be hard to fully know or understand how abandonment has impacted your life, and that’s okay. We often have to learn these things with the help of a counselor or mentor to talk us through it. But any patterns you can recognize will help you know what to work on to make your friendships and relationships stronger. 

Remind Yourself: These Relationships are Different

One of the best things you can do as you work through abandonment issues in new relationships is to gently remind yourself of an important truth. This new relationship, whether it’s a new friend, a new partner, or another family member who wants to connect with you, is not a relationship with the person who abandoned you. 

You are in a relationship with a different person who will make different choices, which will have a different outcome. And you aren’t the same person, either. 

You are older and wiser, and you are making efforts to strengthen your friendships and relationships every day. It will take time to believe and trust these things about yourself and others, but that’s okay. Every effort you make to remind yourself of these truths in your relationships will be helpful in the long run. And perfection is not required for your relationships to grow. 

Don’t Expect Everything from One Person: When someone makes us feel abandoned, we often have a sense of them leaving a huge hole in our lives and hearts. When someone plays such a central role in your life, it is natural to grieve that loss. But it’s important to remember that, as you work on new friendships and relationships, no one person can be everything to us. No single relationship with another person is going to make us feel perfectly whole or complete. That doesn’t mean something is wrong. It's simply because we’re all human, and as meaningful as human relationships are, they can only do so much for us.

When I am longing for something more from life or relationships, I have to stop and remember that people can meet some of my needs, but not all of them. And I have some wonderful friends, but none of them are able to be there for me 24/7/365.

In those moments, I turn to my faith. I remember that God is always there, and He has an infinite capacity to listen, to love, and to fulfill me. If you’re open to thinking about God, I hope it helps you to know that God will never, ever abandon you. There is nothing you can do to be beyond His care or unworthy of His love. You were created out of love, and you can find a deep sense of connection with God that can sustain you during the ups and downs of life and relationships. 

Get Help Building New Relationships

Working through abandonment issues takes time, effort, and patience with yourself. It’s great to read about what to do, and to try your best to build trust and connection with others. But issues this complicated often need outside guidance, mentoring, and support. If you aren’t sure who to talk to, or don’t feel comfortable talking to friends and family about your feelings of abandonment, you aren’t alone. You can talk to a HopeCoach at TheHopeLine

Reach out to us anytime to talk about how childhood abandonment makes you feel, about your hopes for your relationships, and about how you’d like to grow. We’ll support you on your journey toward healing and connection. We’re here for you and ready to listen.

Have relationship challenges left you feeling isolated and frustrated? Find out the secret behind a healthy relationship for more advice.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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