Abandonment Schema

Abandonment Schema

This schema refers to the expectation that you will soon lose anyone with whom you have formed an emotional attachment.  You may constantly believe that your relationships are going to imminently end by different means – infidelity, death, or any other way that you can imagine with the end result of you being alone.

This schema tends to be activated when you are involved in intimate relationships and your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors interfere with the stability of these connections and cause you to live in a state of anxiety, waiting for the inevitable outcome of losing your loved one.

Real separation and loss like divorce can obviously trigger this schema, but usually more subtle situations can make you feel distress. Perhaps your partner acts bored, distant, momentarily distracted, or more attentive to another person. Or perhaps your partner suggests a plan that involves spending a brief time apart. Anything that feels disconnected can trigger the schema, even if it has nothing to do with real loss or abandonment.

There are two types of abandonment and they come from two different childhood environments. The first type comes from an environment that is too secure and overprotected. This type represents a combination of the Abandonment and Dependence schema (to be discussed in a subsequent post). The second type comes from an environment that is emotionally unstable. No one is consistently there for the child. As mentioned in my initial post introducing the topic of schemas, the purpose is not to blame parents but to initiate people understanding and recognizing possible explanations for current behavior.

When a child is raised in an overprotected environment, sometimes they become too dependent on others. The dependent child fears abandonment. The child is not free to explore the world and develop confidence in his or her ability to take care of him or herself. The child stays dependent on his or her mother (or other caregiver) for guidance and direction.

If you have the Abandonment schema, your romantic relationships are frequently chaotic and unsteady. They are like roller coaster rides. This is because you experience the relationship as perpetually on the brink of catastrophe.

So, what can you do to change the schema and reestablish more stable relationships?


  1. Work on changing your view that other people will eventually leave, die or behave unpredictably.


  1. Learn to stop catastrophizing about temporary separation from others.


  1. Use cognitive strategies to focus on altering the unrealistic expectation that others should be endlessly available and totally consistent.


  1. Learn to accept that other people have the right to set limits, determine boundaries, and establish separate space.


  1. Reduce obsessive focus on making sure the partner is still wanting to be with you.


  1. Change the view that you must do what other people want you to do or else you are going to be left behind, that you’re incompetent, or that you need other people to take care of you.


  1. Focus on choosing partners who are capable of making a commitment.


  1. Stop pushing partners away with behaviors that are too jealous, clinging, angry or controlling.


  1. Gradually learn to tolerate being alone and walk away from unstable relationships quickly, and become more comfortable in stable relationships.


Participating in therapy can help change schemas. The therapeutic relationship is a source of healing and clients can transfer this learning to significant others.