From the time a person is born, forming a healthy attachment to one’s caretakers is extremely important, as it helps an individual begin to develop healthy relationships with others early on. Being held, consoled during times of distress, and communicated with during infancy and into one’s childhood years can make a positive impact and set the stage for a person to be able to connect with others in an appropriate and beneficial way. Additionally, as a child becomes older, the relationships that he or she forms with her caretakers and other loved ones are no less important as a young person learns to mimic healthy behaviors, recognize when danger could be near, and understand what it means to be in a nurturing relationship with another individual.
However, even if a person develops a healthy attachment to caretakers and loved ones early on, there are some circumstances that have the ability to thwart such beneficial early childhood experiences and can cause a person to struggle with the formation of healthy relationships, the development of positive self-esteem, and being able to live an otherwise satisfying life.
An example of a circumstance that could alter a person’s ability to form healthy relationships with others is by experiencing abandonment trauma. This type of trauma, which can occur at any point in an individual’s life, ultimately causes those who experience it to then question their feelings of safety with others and act out accordingly. Abandonment trauma can be the result of neglect during childhood, being separated from one’s caretakers for an extended period of time, being rejected by one’s caretakers or other important loved ones, losing a loved one early on as a result of death (either expected or unexpected), or having a relationship with an individual who only sporadically engages with the person during her formative years.
As stated, several adverse effects can result when a person experiences a type of abandonment trauma. Self-destructive behaviors can emerge, an individual’s development can be stunted, and substance abuse can become a factor in a person’s life. Symptoms of mental health conditions, namely eating disorders, can also manifest in response to being abandoned, as these individuals often find solace in the things they cannot control by regulating the food that they eat in a restrictive and/or compulsive manner that could be life-threatening. For these reasons and more, it is important for a person to consider seeking treatment that addresses not just the circumstances that led to the development of abandonment trauma, but also the effects and mental health concerns that resulted as well.
Causes of Abandonment Trauma
Abandonment trauma is directly caused by an adverse experience or experiences in which an individual feels unsafe and alone after enduring one or more of the following types of trauma:
- Childhood neglect
- Caretaker separation
- Rejection from one’s caretaker
- Experiencing sudden loss of a caretaker or other important loved one
- Having a caretaker who is inconsistently present
The aforementioned traumas can bring about intense feelings of anxiety and fear, which can then bring about a number of effects that can alter the manner in which a person interacts with others, perceives the world around her, and feels about herself.
Signs of Abandonment Trauma
There are many telltale signs that infer an individual is suffering from abandonment trauma. The following are but a few examples of the symptoms that an individual may display if she has endured a type of trauma that left her feeling abandoned:
- Refusing to be separated from loved ones even in circumstances in which the individual is aware that she will eventually be reunited with the person she is unwilling to detach from
- Going to great lengths to prevent being abandoned
- Exaggerated startle response
- Intrusive thoughts
- Experiencing flashbacks as they relate to reliving being abandoned
- Overwhelming feelings of anxiety
- Abrupt changes in mood
- Feeling insecure
- Diminished self-confidence and self-esteem
- Intense feelings of fear
- Depressed mood
Effects of Abandonment Trauma
Allowing abandonment trauma to remain untreated can result in a whole host of adverse effects. As previously stated, many individuals go on to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating disorder, after having experienced such a trauma. One commonly cited reason for this is because many people who experience abandonment trauma attempt to control their eating habits and weight because they were unable to control the circumstances that led them to feel abandoned.
In addition to the potential for developing an eating disorder, the following types of disorders are among those that may affect the lives of those who have experienced a trauma in which they were abandoned:
- Depressive disorders
- Bipolar disorders
- Anxiety disorders, especially separation anxiety disorder
- Substance use disorders
- Posttraumatic stress disorder
- Acute stress disorder
- Adjustment disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders
- Reactive attachment disorder
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder
- Borderline personality disorder or another type of personality disorder
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Intermittent explosive disorder
- Conduct disorder
Furthermore, there are several other types of concerns that may emerge should a person continue experiencing the effects of abandonment trauma:
- Sleep disturbances
- Suicidal ideation
- Difficulty adhering to daily responsibilities
- Familial discord
- Difficulty maintaining employment
- Problems forming healthy relationships with others
Why Consider Treatment for Abandonment Trauma
Given the fact that trauma caused by abandonment can lead to life-altering and devastating effects, it is important for an individual to consider seeking treatment. By seeking care for this and any co-occurring concerns, a person can both heal from her past experiences and learn to manage emotions and behaviors in a healthier way.
Additionally, it is important for an individual to consider treatment options that have a proven track record of helping those grappling with the effects of abandonment trauma. Residential treatment, for example, has a long-standing and clinically-backed reputation for being extremely helpful to those who are struggling with the effects of abandonment trauma and the concerns that are known to co-exist alongside this type of problem. Within this level of care, adolescent girls and women can step away from their everyday lives to focus strictly on healing and recovery. Additionally, dedicated and compassionate professionals, many of which bring their own expertise from a variety of different clinical and medical backgrounds, are on hand to support those in residential treatment and can arm residents with the skills they need to achieve the lives they deserve to be living.
Several therapeutic interventions are also featured in residential treatment that may not be offered in other levels of care. Group therapy opportunities, individual therapy sessions, family therapy sessions that involve the loved ones of residents, and experiential therapies that help residents experience the mind-body connection are all part of the residential treatment experience. These interventions coupled with the invaluable support of the staff and other individuals who are receiving treatment make residential care one of the best options for someone who is suffering from the effects of abandonment trauma.
At Timberline Knolls, we understand how profoundly impactful trauma can be on a person’s life. For this reason, our renowned all-female treatment center proudly offers high quality care for adolescent girls and women who are struggling with eating disorders and co-occurring concerns, such as abandonment trauma.
If you or an important person in your life is in need of world class care that is set in a safe, tranquil environment that is extremely conduce to healing, look no further than Timberline Knolls. In choosing this center as place to recover from an eating disorder and abandonment trauma, you or your loved one can finally achieve a healed and happy life.