Abandoned child syndrome

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Abandoned child syndrome is a behavioral or psychological condition that results primarily from the loss of one or both parents, or sexual abuse. Abandonment may be physical (the parent is not present in the child's life) or emotional (the parent withholds affection, nurturing, or stimulation).[1]

Parents who leave their children, with or without good reason, can cause psychological damage to the child. This damage is reversible, but only with appropriate assistance.[2] Abandoned children may also often suffer physical damage from neglect, malnutrition, starvation, and abuse.

Abandonment experiences and boundary violations are in no way indictments of a child's innate goodness and value. Instead, they reveal the flawed thinking, false beliefs, and impaired behaviors of those who hurt them. Still, the wounds are struck deep in their young hearts and minds, and the very real pain can still be felt today. The causes of emotional injury need to be understood and accepted so they can heal. Until that occurs, the pain will stay with them, becoming a driving force in their adult lives.[3]

The abandoned child syndrome is not recognized as a mental disorder in any of the medical manuals, such as the ICD-10[4] or the DSM-IV,[5] neither is it part of the proposed revision of this manual, the DSM-5.[6]


When children are raised with chronic loss, without the psychological or physical protection they need and certainly deserve, it is most natural for them to internalize incredible fear. Not receiving the necessary psychological or physical protection equals abandonment. And, living with repeated abandonment experiences creates toxic shame. Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: "You are not important. You are not of value." This is the pain from which people need to heal.[3]

For some children abandonment is primarily physical. Physical abandonment occurs when the physical conditions necessary for thriving have been replaced by:

  • Lack of appropriate supervision
  • Inadequate provision of nutrition and meals
  • Inadequate clothing, housing, heat, or shelter
  • Physical and/or sexual abuse
  • Verbal and/or emotional abuse (shaming, shunning)
  • Neglect


Symptoms may be physical or mental, and may extend into adulthood and perhaps throughout a person's life.

  • Alienation from the environment - withdrawal from social activities, resistance towards others.
  • Guilt - the child believes that they did something wrong that caused the abandonment (often associated with depression).
  • Fear and uncertainty - "clinginess", insecurities.[7]
  • Sleep and eating disorders - malnutrition, starvation, disturbed sleep, nightmares.[7]
  • Physical ailments - fatigue, drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, depression, lack of energy and creativity, anger, grief.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henley, Arthur. "The abandoned child." Deviancy and the family. Ed. Clifton D. Bryant and J. Gipson Wells. Philadelphia: F. A. Davis, 1973. 199-208.
  2. ^ "Children Deprived of Parental Care". Human Rights Watch. 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13. 
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-01-31. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  4. ^ "ICD 10". Priory.com. 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  5. ^ "BehaveNetŽ Clinical Capsule™: DSM-IV-TR Classification". Behavenet.com. Archived from the original on 2011-10-26. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  6. ^ "Disorders Usually First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, or Adolescence | APA DSM-5". Dsm5.org. Retrieved 2011-10-27. 
  7. ^ a b c Myers, Linda Joy (2005). "Connecting the Past and the Present: Healing Abandonment and Abuse through Awareness" Archived 2014-11-01 at the Wayback Machine..