How You React To Your Fear of Abandonment: Recognising When You’ve Been Triggered

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So, we’ve looked at the signs of abandonment issues, we’ve identified where your fear of abandonment comes from and the limiting beliefs you’ve picked up from these experiences. In this post, we’re going to look at how your story influencers your reactions to particular types of people and situations. Or more specifically – recognising how you react to your fear of abandonment.

Understanding Your Natural Reactions

Do you ever act in ways that you look back on and kick yourself for? Do you ever wonder why you behave the way you do, why you think the way that you do, and wish that it could be different?

See, I’m all for taking responsibility. You can’t blame the past, you can’t blame other people. Ultimately, you’re in control of your actions… but when it comes to abandonment issues, this is only to a degree. 

It’s important to understand that there are powerful forces brewing beneath the surface. Powerful forces within your subconscious mind. 

  • Click here to understand how the subconscious mind works.

When your core beliefs get triggered, it brings back your painful memories of these experiences and the negative emotions, thoughts and uncomfortable sensations. 

As a result of this, your natural instinct, your biological need to protect yourself kicks in, and you are engaged in a behavioural reaction, designed to rid you of the painful thoughts and emotions.

This is why you find yourself doing the same things over and over again, often things that you think will help, but instead make you feel worse, or escalate the situation in the wrong direction.

Let Me Give You An Example

Let’s say your fear of abandonment is most prominent in romantic relationships. Once you catch feelings for the person that you’re dating, you feel scared, vulnerable. You start overthinking things because you feel like you have to “see all threats”. 

You no longer know if you’re actually getting gut feelings that something is wrong, or if you’re creating these concerns in your head. You’re worried. You don’t know if you trust the person, don’t know if they feel the same way about you. But you can start to over-react, because the situation makes you feel threatened, out of control.

As a result of this, maybe you start questioning them, maybe you try to rush the relationship (thinking it will give you more security.) You can’t think rationally. You’re not thinking rationally. You’re just acting – the same way that you always do. And you end up pushing them away.

You think you’re making things better, moving things along, “securing” this person and protecting what you have. But you’re not. If you’d have just acted the way you did when you first met them, everything would be okay now (most likely, anyway.)

Your behaviour can come across as a little crazy. You’re made to feel like you’re crazy. But you’re not. All of this is being driven by your unconscious mind. It’s difficult to control – especially when you don’t even know that it’s happening. It’s just the way you’ve been wired. But the good news is, you can re-wire it.

Once you recognise it, once you gain all the understanding you need, you can change.

The Flight, Fright or Freeze Response

So the first step to knowing how to change, is to recognise how you react to your fear of abandonment. Which trap does your mind lead you into? What is your response mechanism? 

See, when your story gets activated, your brain is in high-alert mode. It’s as if your life is being threatened – this perceived threat has actually hijaks the part of your brain known as the amygdala. The amygdala is a structure within our brain that plays an important role in guiding our emotions.

In fact, recent studies suggest that the amygdala is linked to our fear response – that’s why we stress out. The amygdala also regulates our flight, fright or freeze response. When we feel threatened, it can respond irrationally. 

Without getting too technical (but so that you can still understand why this happens) – essentially, the stimulus that you perceive as a threat, goes right to the amygdala before it reaches the neocortex. 

This survival mechanism reacts to things before the rational brain has come to process it. This means you’re not crazy. It’s just the amygdala doing its job!

The emotional part of your brain hikacks the rational part of your brain. And fear is a very powerful emotion – which is why it overwhelms your mind and prevents you from thinking logically. 

So What Do You Do? 

  • Do you fight? 
  • Do you run?
  • Or do you freeze?

The fight-flight-freeze isn’t a conscious decision. It’s an automatic reaction, so you can’t control it. It can also be triggered in a single instant, sometimes it can feel – completely out of the blue.

See it’s also actually heightened if you suffer from anxiety or have been through a traumatic event in your life. This could be an assault, an accident, childhood trauma, stressful life events.

From these, you can develop an exaggerated stress response – triggered even by nonthreatening situations. This is really important to understand.

Where a situation may seem like nothing to someone else, or where your blow-up may seem completely unreasonable – know that it’s just not that simple.

There’s just a lot bubbling away under the surface that you’re not even aware of, and your mind is hyper-sensitive.

It’s only trying to protect you. Our minds are constantly scanning for and focusing on any potential danger or threat to our safety and survival. 

When you’re in a situation where you’re engaging in an interaction – it could take just a look, word or an action trigger one of your core beliefs.

This then makes your memories activated, and that releases a powerful dose of negative emotions that fuels that fight, flight or fear response. So let’s take a look at what these may look like…

How You React To Your Fear Of Abandonment

When considering how you react to your fear of abandonment, I want you to try to identify which category of the fight, flight, freeze response that you typically fall into – and at which stage.

The Fight Response

If your reaction is to fight when faced with a core-belief triggering event, you may do things like…

  • Aggression and Hostility: React by blaming, criticising, challenging or being resistant.
  • Dominance or Excessive Self-Assertion: Reacting by trying to control others.
  • Recognition Seeking or Status Seeking: Reacting with efforts to impress and get attention.
  • Manipulation and Exploitation: Trying to meet your own needs, without letting others know what you’re doing. This may involve the use of seduction, or not being completely honest with who you’re with and how you feel.
  • Passive Aggressiveness or Rebellion: Appearing to be a certain way, but essentially rebelling. 
React To Your Fear of Abandonment

The Flight Response

If your reaction is to flee when faced with a core-belief triggering event, you may do things like…

  • Social Withdrawal or Excessive Autonomy: Reacting with behaviour that leads to isolating yourself socially.
  • Disconnecting and Withdrawing: You may appear excessively independent and self-reliant, or you may engage in solitary activities, like reading, switching off to the tv, or working alone.
  • Compulsive Stimulation Seeking: Searching for excitement or distraction. It could be through something like compulsive shopping, sex, drinking, gambling.
  • Addictive Self-Soothing: Reacting with behaviour that finds you seeking comfort with drugs, alcohol, food or excessive self-stimulation.
  • Psychological Withdrawal: Escaping through dissociation, denial, fantasy or other internal forms.
React To Your Fear of Abandonment

The Freeze Response

If your reaction is to freeze when faced with a core-belief triggering event, you become very compliant and dependent on a person. You’ll start to rely on the person, behave passively, give in, try to avoid conflict at all costs or always having to please. Your needs go out the window. It’s just a case of trying to keep them there.

There’s also one more behavioural reaction (and this is a big one when it comes to the fear of abandonment!)

The Force Response

This can be summarised as Clinging and Chasing. You either desperately cling onto, or run after, the person you’ve gotten close to.

Remember, when it comes to abandonment issues, you’re trying to avoid being left (or being hurt again by someone leaving) which is why this is such a common reaction when it comes to Fear of Abandonment.

React To Your Fear of Abandonment

How Do You React To Your Fear of Abandonment?

Now you are familiar with some of the common coping behaviours and reactions, you can then start to identify the ones that are significant to you. Which sounds most familiar?

Get as clear as you possibly can. Some of these terms are rather technical, so start by piecing together your behaviour – then put it into a category once you’re clearer.

You may find that you do more than one thing, have different types of reactions. Let me give you an example…

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar?

Let’s say your parents divorced when you were a teenager. It shattered your world and everything you knew, it completely tore your family apart. But you grew up, you got through it, you escaped to college and played the fun-loving party girl.

You kept friendships and relationships pretty one-dimensional, not opening up, and preferring others not to open up to you. Your relationships were superficial, your drinking became a little out of control.

Ultimately, you were trying to avoid feeling the pain of being abaonment. The drinking led to too many hookups, with too many guys you couldn’t even remember the names of.

You thought you were protecting yourself from re-experiencing the emotional pain you felt from your emotional divorce.

Perhaps you thought that, “If I don’t get close to anyone, then I can’t get hurt when they leave…” Only it doesn’t work like that.

You were still in pain and creating more pain by behaving in ways that weren’t consistent with who you really are.

You see? It’s not always a case of – I do this in this situation, or I do that when that happens. Recognise the ongoing behaviours, the constant response – your general way of dealing with your fear of abandonment.

Your Abandonment Issues Won’t Just Go Away

It’s easy to become avoidant – to try to push the fear of abandonment aside. It becomes your natural way of living. The thing is, it’s also a trap…

You can’t run away from the emotional pain that gets triggered.

Whatever memories you have, whatever beliefs you have – you have to challenge them because they may be distorting the lense in which you view the world. See, you’re still reacting based on past threats or experiences, but you have to remember…

Your past is not your future.

If your behavioural reactions are unhelpful – they’re not protecting you, they’re hurting you. And you HAVE to start to see it that way.

These reactions are also only providing temporary relief from the emotional pain. It doesn’t make it go away – it just builds on the thoughts, feelings and emotions you have around a particular thing or person.

This builds up and up, to cause yet more damage – especially in the long run. That’s why you need to be able to recognise when your mind is and isn’t being rational – to STOP, CALM DOWN, BREATHE and give it a little time.

You Can Get a Handle of This

How long it takes you to calm down and return to your natural state is going to vary from person to person (and it will depend on what caused it).

Typically it takes 20 to 30 minutes for your body to return to normal and to calm down, which is why it’s important to try not to act in this time.

Awareness is key. Knowledge is power. But only when it’s applied.

If you can recognise how you react to your fear of abandonment, if you can notice the responses to triggers – you don’t even have to get fully clear on the trigger in that moment…

You just have to recognise what you’re doing, notice it, become aware, ride it out, cool down. Then, once you’re back in a level-state, you can review your overall thoughts and feelings once more.

We’ll build on this more in the next posts, but for now – get clear on this.

You’re doing amazing, truly you are. Stick with this, and I promise, together, we’ll work you through it. Your abandonment issues do not have to rule your life and your relationships.

Browse the Abandonment Series: 

Take care, and know that I’m here if you need me.


Have Your Abandonment Issues Been Triggered?
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Ella Stearn
Ell is a Breakup, Dating & Relationship Specialist & Coach, with over 3 million annual readers, globally. As the Creator of Forgetting Fairytales, her mission is to help you learn to love yourself, find the right person to give your love to, then make it a love that truly lasts.

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