Fear of Abandonment in the Era of Social Media

6 min read
cozmicphotos / Pixabay

Source: cozmicphotos / Pixabay

My colleagues and I have noted a sharp uptick in the number of clients who identify fear of abandonment as a major issue in their lives. Fear of abandonment has always been a factor in relationship dysfunction, but we’ve never seen it so much in the conscious minds of clients. It’s easy to attribute this to the isolation wrought by the pandemic. Equally influential may be the tenuousness of online relationships.

Disposition to fear of abandonment is embedded as a life-threatening alarm in the developing brain. Young children cannot survive if abandoned. As adults, the remnants of that irrational alarm sound when serious threats to relationships occur. (When we’re dumped, part of us feels like we might die.) The alarm will be louder, though no more rational, with a history of abandonment, especially if it occurred in early childhood. Unstable relationships (all those on the internet) stoke the embers of fear of abandonment.

Fear of abandonment is as normal as fear of death. The link between the two becomes apparent with the understanding that we don’t literally fear death; we can’t imagine what it’s like to be dead. What we fear is dying, losing the glow of life. Greater than the fear of what might come after death is the dread of losing what we leave behind and what we haven’t done enough of, namely appreciating.

The cure for both fear of abandonment and fear of dying is to live more fully, and we live more fully by appreciating more. Just as fear of dying can help us appreciate life, a little fear of abandonment helps us appreciate relationships and temper the self-obsessed behavior that would ruin them.


Fear of abandonment has a close cousin in fear of engulfment. While the former is a feeling that you can’t be well without a close connection to a significant other, the latter is a feeling that you might lose yourself or be overwhelmed by a close connection. Together, they create a painful relationship dynamic known as pursuer-distancer, wherein one party tries to achieve a degree of closeness and intimacy regarded as smothering by the other. Any attempt by the pursuer to get more closeness in the relationship is met with resistance—and more distance.

Common among the many ways of creating distance in intimate relationships are:

  • Workaholism or other obsessions
  • Over-involvement with children, friends, or neighbors
  • Abuse of alcohol and substances
  • Pornography
  • Affairs.

Pursuers see the primary relationship issue as the cold, withholding nature of their partners:

You just throw me a few crumbs of affection now and then. You don’t care at all about my needs.

Distancers see the “issue” as the neediness of their partners:

Nothing I do is enough for you. Nobody could meet your needs.

Live More Fully

The cure for both fear of abandonment and of engulfment is self-validation, the ability to recognize and affirm your value and worthiness.

I know I’m okay when I act on my deeper values.

I know I’m worthy of love because I can be compassionate and kind.

I know I can be a good partner because I can see and respect my partner’s perspectives and care about my partner’s feelings.

Fear of abandonment and engulfment diminish when value is created within. Here’s a free course on building core values, the essence of self-validation.

Accept and Improve

The Buddha pointed out two and a half millennia ago that most of the suffering in the world comes from wishing it was not the way it is. We waste enormous emotional energy railing against the way things are, with little left over to improve them. To regulate fear of abandonment, accept the current state of your well-being without blaming it on yourself or anyone else, then focus on improving it.

Relationships Essential Reads

Foster Desire, Not Emotional Need

Relationships thrive on desire, not perceived emotional need. You might prefer more closeness than your partner can tolerate, but you don’t need it. Desire empowers; neediness disempowers. Desire is attractive; neediness is not.

Desires stimulate appreciation and positive motivation. Perceptions of emotional needs cause obsessions, compulsive behavior, possessiveness, and ultimate failure.

Attitude of Connection

Connection in long-term relationships is a mental state and a choice. We choose to feel connected and choose to feel disconnected. In general, life is better when we choose to feel connected (see Attitudes of Connection). If you maintain a mental state of connection while reducing your pursuit of intimacy, a closer connection will likely come to you.

I’m Disappointed, But I’m OK

You can be disappointed by outcomes and still feel OK about yourself. The key is self-compassion—sympathy for your disappointment with motivation to improve.

I’m Lonely, But I’m OK

Feelings of abandonment are often stimulated by ordinary loneliness. Here’s an easy way to distinguish them. Common loneliness ameliorates somewhat with sensory stimulation, which is why we turn on the TV or play music when coming home to an empty house. On the other hand, fear of abandonment can intensify with sensory stimulation while alone; instead of enjoyment, music augers panic or despair. The major difference is that loneliness merely tells us that people who care about us are absent; fear of abandonment implies that we’re isolated—no one cares—and that we’re defective when alone.

Accept that conscious fear of abandonment is exaggerated and convoluted loneliness, and it will motivate you to make connections out of desire, not perceived emotional need.


Develop the confidence and skills to improve your life. This begins with learning emotion regulation skills, the ability to calm yourself when upset, and cheer yourself when down. Accept that your emotions are within you, and that is where they must be regulated. Other people can support self-regulation but are no substitute for it.


Fear of abandonment cannot be overcome without expanding your general aptitude for appreciation. Appreciation is opening your heart to be enhanced by the qualities or behavior of someone or something. You can train your brain to look for things to appreciate in family, friends, pets, community, nature, creative works, and spiritual experience.

The surest way to be appreciated is to appreciate. Sincere appreciation may be the most attractive emotional state and the least likely to result in fear of abandonment.

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