Abandonment - "don't leave me"

Why does everyone I love leave me?

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If you have an abandonment schema, you live with an almost constant fear that your relationships will end. 

Whether you’ve just started dating someone new or you’re in a more established relationship, small shifts in the dynamic can feel unbearable. Maybe it’s an argument, your partner seeming more distant than usual or the fact that they’ve booked a weekend away with friends… Whatever the situation, your mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario. Any break from your partner feels like a signal that it’s “the end”. It’s only a matter of time before they check out of the relationship and move on. And it could happen at any moment. Sooner or later you’ll be left all alone again…

For this reason, dating (and relationships) are often filled with anxiety, creating intense highs when things are going well but also crushing lows when you sense any kind of disconnection or change in the dynamic.

How does the abandonment schema develop?

It’s normal to have occasional moments of anxiety, especially in the first throws of a new relationship. But most people are able to tolerate small moments of disconnection. They know that this ebbing and flowing is a natural part of any relationship and it doesn’t necessarily threaten the connection as a whole. 

So if you have this schema, it’s because somewhere along the way you learnt that relationships are unstable. You learnt that the connections you cared about could be severed at any moment.

This schema can develop when we’ve grown up with caregivers who were unpredictable in their love and attention. You may have had parents who were consumed by their work and not really available to you. Or your upbringing may have been quite chaotic. You may have moved around a lot as a child, having to make new friends and leave old ones behind. Or you may have had parents who were consumed by their own difficulties (addiction, mental illness etc.) and who weren’t able to be emotionally attuned or consistently available to you.

But this schmea can also develop in response to a literal abandonment. You may have lost a parent when you were young or your parents may have divorced or separated. Or you may have had a relationship later in life which ended in a sudden, unexpected way.

The pain of what happened was devastating. So it makes sense that when you get hints of it happening again, it sends you into panic mode. Maybe you frantically call around your friends looking to dissect every last detail of an interaction. Or you get clingy and needy with your partner and desperately seek reassurance that things are OK.

The anxiety you feel when your love trap gets triggered is understandable. It’s been shown that children who grow up in unpredictable or unstable environments can become overly attuned to threats. The amygdala - the part of the brain which looks out for threats - can become overactive and hypersensitive. 

And it makes sense. By scanning situations and pre-empting threats you were able to maintain whatever connection you could as a child. This was your brain’s way of looking out for you. 

The only problem is that it doesn’t serve you anymore. This hypersensitivity can make it easier for you to misread situations and detect threats where there are none.

Signs you have this schema:

  • You become obsessive about the people you date to the detriment of other areas of your life. It can feel like you’re addicted to them
  • You’re oversensitive to criticism from the people you date. You believe your partner/ex-partner’s are criticising you even when they’re not
  • You need a lot of reassurance about the relationship - either from them or needing to talk about it with friends
  • You get attached to people very quickly (and sometimes move on quickly too)
  • You have a pattern of unhealthy relationships
  • You feel empty when your partner isn’t with you
  • You feel angry when your partner (or previous partners) do any of the following:
    • They come home later than you anticipated
    • They spend time with friends/family/colleagues without you
    • They take longer than usual to reply to your calls/texts

The journey to better relationships starts with you.

Get on demand dating and relationship support.

Rooted in proven psychological principles.

Take a free relationship assessment to explore what’s holding you back.

Find out your Relationship Style