Dating a Man Whose Mother Abandoned Him


Definition of Maternal Abandonment

Abandonment occurs when a mother physically, emotionally or psychologically removes herself from her children. She does this by ending or ignoring her responsibility to parent her children, or ending her relationship with her children, according to Peter Gerlach, MSW.

I have a nephew who is in his late twenties now. His mother was in and out of his life as a child. His mother was my sister and I saw the way her behavior wretched his heart and shaped his psychological outlook.

Not only was his mother an on again off again parent, but his father was in prison. My mother, who is his grandmother had to take care of him most of his life.

I remember hating my sister for treating her son as if he was a revolving door. As if, her behavior would have no profound effect on his ability to sustain love and relationships when he got older. I look at him today, as a grown man but still see a very hurt child. I want to bring him to the water so that he can heal and be quenched of his thirst for the love that was supposed to be rightfully given to him from his mother but never was.

There is a gaping deficit, I can feel the pain in his energy when I am around him. It is stiff, stubborn and a ghostly shadow that relentlessly follows him. I want him to heal, but who or what could fill such a void that is empty of a mother’s love? Is there even a substitute?  I know many who are abandoned and live in that nightmare every day. They want to bring others into it because it’s scary living in a nightmare alone.

I saw my nephew grow up and I remember the times I confronted my sister as a teenager because her son would come to me crying, “Auntie, my mom is on drugs again.” I still cannot comprehend how a mother abandons her own children. If I cannot comprehend the act I cannot comprehend the awful consequences.

Unfortunately, there are lots of wounded little boys who did not receive the nurturing love and care from their mothers. These men feel secondary as if they weren’t good enough to be loved. These boys grow up into men who deal with awful attachment and abandonment issues. They either cling to lovers or remain aloof, unattached and afraid to get too close.

Men with abandonment issues are extremist. They either cling to women or are very detached from women and fearful of commitment. There is no grey area, just a constant imbalance and an ongoing shift between the two extremes.

We all have our demons. However, if you choose to deal with a man who has unresolved attachment issues, be ready to deal with a lot of back and forth, hot and cold behavior on his behalf. Unless he has had the proper counseling to deal with his abandonment issues, he will subconsciously try to work them out in his dealings with you and it can turn ugly fast!

Though they are aware that their constant fear of being left is not the fault of those who are still in their lives, letting go of the paranoia of abandonment is not an easy task. It is a habitual and subconscious thought process that can take years of therapy to fix. Even with therapy abandonment will always be a chink in this man’s armor.

People with abandonment issues are good at leaving. They walk away faster than you can yell, “Wait!” They want to leave you before you get the chance to leave them because watching a person walk out of their life first is too much of a reminder of their mother or father walking out of their life as a child.

It’s like kicking an unhealed wound, and it really hurts. Like many of us, the man with abandonment issues wants to avoid feeling pain at any cost so he makes it a point to leave you first!

He may come back, only to leave again when you try to get close to him or when he feels that you might leave him again. His back and forth action is provoked by hope and fear.

Encouraging counseling and even offering to go with him is the only way you will be able to have a healthy relationship with this person.

It is very important to ask men you are dating to tell you about their childhood and their relationship with their mother. Asking in a curious way that is playful and non-threatening is the best approach.

What causes a man to have abandonment issues?

  • Childhood abuse
  • Narcissistic parent(s)
  • Mother abandoned him
  • Absent father
  • Emotional abuse from parents/family as a child
  • Neglect as a child
  • Previous abusive relationships
  • Alcoholic or drug addicted parents
  • Adopted children
  • Death of a parent as a child
  • Emotionally unavailable caretakers
  • Being African American and the ill and devastating effects of oppression on families.
  • Divorced parents
  • Epigenetics – DNA you received from a parent who also had abandonment issues. It is now scientifically proven that trauma is passed on to offspring via DNA. I like to refer to it as family karma.

Do you suspect your love interest has abandonment issues? Below are a few signs to confirm your suspicion.

  1. He moves too fast. Healthy relationships have a normal progression. If you date a guy who just met you but text and call you 5 times a day, he has abandonment issues. He may smother you with attention and begin to turn you off.
  2. He is hot & cold. His words don’t match his actions. One minute he’s hot for you and the next minute he forgets you exist. The confusion will wreak havoc on your life, is it really worth dealing with?
  3. He’s a player. Men don’t tell you they are lying cheats, you usually just find out. If you trust your instincts as a woman you will know right away! Men with abandonment issues that were caused by their mother have a lot of pent up animosity against women. They don’t like women and they want to hurt women because the first lady in their life hurt them badly. The player takes pride in lying to you, abusing your trust and betraying you because he feels like he is getting back at his mother. I know it’s twisted but it’s the truth!
  4. He is incredibly selfish. A healthy amount of selfishness is needed to progress in life but men with abandonment issues take being selfish into an entirely new and narcissistic level. He is overly concerned with his own life, desires, and career goals because he feels that investing in people will leave him out in the cold like his momma did. Investing in himself, his careers and personal goals are safer. He will barely listen when you talk and never go out of his way to show you that you are unique or special to him.
  5. He expects perfection. It is sad and unfortunate that most men who were abandoned by their mothers internalize false truths. They believe that their mother left them as a child because they weren’t good enough. Similar to how abused women feel when they allow a man to beat on them. As a result of not feeling good enough to be loved, he makes it a priority to be perfect in every area of his life. He is an overachiever. He expects that his girlfriend is also perfect in return and one little flaw in her can completely turn him off. He lives in an illusion.
  6. He’s insecure. He really doesn’t believe that you love him or that you will stay. He thinks he’s not good enough to be loved so that anything can along and stop you from loving him. If you get promoted he thinks you’ll leave, if you hang out with your friends, he thinks you will leave, if you get a new haircut he thinks your trying to impress a male co-worker, if you are having a bad day he will assume responsibility for that think it is his fault.

If you can handle the pain, confusion and off and on again dynamic of dealing with a guy with abandonment issues, more power to you! Unfortunately, I had emotionally unavailable parents and I had to work out my own issues of abandonment by myself. I didn’t want to drag people into my hell anymore. It was my salvation I had to work out and I did. Now I am better for it. My advice, point him in the direction of healing and don’t involve yourself until you see that he is actively getting the help he needs.


By Janell Hihi


8 thoughts on “Dating a Man Whose Mother Abandoned Him

    1. My husbands mother died when he was 4 years old. The family was split up. The three older children went to their mothers ex-husband. My husband remained with his alcoholic father who eventually gave him up to a sister to raise. We’ve been married for 38 years. We have a wonderful family . He’s always been unhappy and abusive. Is there hope? I’m so lonely and sad in this relationship


  1. I’m going through a bad breakup with my boyfriend. His mom abandoned him when he was 3 years old. She had drugs issues and died of an overdose when he was 15. I never realized that the trauma he faced as a child has affected our relationship. We have been friends since were kids and started dating over a year ago. With 17 years of friendship between us I thought he was a solid person to share my life with. As soon as our relationship got more serious he abandoned it. This article has helped me understand all the things I didnt see when I was in the relationship. It’s been 6 weeks since he left and I’m just trying to understand him. Best article I have read about this topic. Thank you for the wisdom.


  2. Is it a good idea to bring this to his attention? perhaps he doesn’t realize the hurt he’s causing . He recently left the relationship ( for the fourth time) and me being the nurturer I am, wants to help him get to a better place. So should I sit him down and say ” I think this is what you’re struggling with”? Or should I just focus on my own healing and leave him be?


  3. Wonferful article it shed a lot of light on my own relationship and gave me a clearer understanding of who I’m dealing with.


  4. There is a corollary issue with women who were abandoned, or rejected, by their fathers. I went with such a woman all through college, who essentially left me at the alter for another man. Her mother told me (after) that abandoning others was a childhood pattern: to abruptly break things off with playmates and refuse all communication afterward. As an exceptionally beautiful woman, all through her life, she broke other men’s hearts.


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