Promoting Healthy Relationships for Abandoned Adolescents’ Through Positive Psychology


For some, the establishment of secure relationships is a challenge due to the history of an untrustworthy and unreliable past (Peterson, 2006). Abandonment is the lack of provided security of an offspring which disrupts the formation of close bonds of affection from a significant person (Kocayörük & Şimşek, 2015).  It typically originates from a childhood loss such as a parent’s death, divorce, or inadequate emotional or physical care. Studies show that abandonment fear can lead to psychological complications that can affect social relationships in a child’s future (Wolchick, Tein, Sandler, & Doyle, 2002). To enhance healthy relationships, one can implicate positive therapy and positive prevention as the intervention.



The risk of all age groups being affected by the fear of abandonment is imperative. When a child is physically abandoned by their parent or caregiver, they experience long-term psychological challenges. The aspect of the attachment styles developed as an infant follows the person as they mature into an adult (Peterson, 2006). As an adolescent, they result to avoiding a potential intimate partner and peers (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010). As an adult, if your childhood showed no signs of abandonment you may still experience these challenges by losing a partner through a divorce or death. When developing relationships, fears tend to overpower the individual’s ability in seeking comfort and they develop avoidant or ambivalent relationships. (Peterson, 2006). Researchers Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, conducted a study to measure the correlation of a child’s fear of abandonment leading to later depressive symptoms. Their results indicated that the young child’s fear of abandonment during their child/adolescent years affected their anxiety of romantic relationships in their adolescent/adult years, which led to their depressive symptoms during their later years (2010).


But the adolescent stage is an essential stage in the human development process (Rodriguez, & Loos-Sant’ana, 2015). During this stage adolescents, develop cognitive abilities that are able to apply their own capabilities, beliefs, and goals to create new ideas. Between the ages of 15-18 years specifically, adolescents are seeking a consistent sense of their identity (2015). This will allow them to build a positive boundary within their surroundings and society based on their self-beliefs, self-concept, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Adolescents who find their issues as associations with abandonment are more inclined to be insecure and lack these capabilities. Therefore, they are finding difficulty in developing strong coping strategies during times of distress and behavioral problems when facing daily unavoidable issues (Rodriguez, & Loos-Sant’ana, 2015).



A major relationship disruption such as a divorce or parental death plays a huge role in the development of behavioral and mental health issues. About 2.5 million American children face a parental death by the age of 18 (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010). While in the past decade studies show a decrease in marriages and a developing increase in divorces (Schaan, & Vögele, 2016).  The lack of parental bereavement from the other parent during these traumatic events increases the child’s vulnerability to depression. The inadequate support leads the child into seeking the support in an unhealthy romantic relationship. Without coping with the stressors associated with the trauma and distress, the person develops the mental illness, depression.

As an infant, the quality of affection from a parent or caregiver is necessary for a sense of security. This is referred to as the attachment theory. It emphasizes the significance of the parent-child relationship by promoting the child’s perception of their basic needs which binds us together (Kocayörük & Şimşek, 2015 & Peterson, 2006).  A promotion of the positive relationship between a parent and child leads to the child’s healthy development (Wolchick, Tein, Sandler, & Doyle, 2002). At a young age, infants are socially responsive but have difficulty in identifying different people. They observe the faces of each person they meet, which is why their parent’s attention is an important aspect of their responsiveness (Peterson, 2006). A securely attached child is more confident in their social development. They’re capable of developing more social skills and develop good relationships. On the other hand, dimensions of detached or disengaged relationships develop an attachment insecurity. Individuals that develop attachment insecurity, struggle with intimacy, find closeness uncomfortable, less sociable, less flexible and persistent, and more likely to suffer from depression (Peterson, 2006). They result in avoidance behaviors by withdrawing, distancing themselves, dysfunctional anger and hostile attributions (Ratto, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 2016).



With the development of positive psychology, a clinical psychologist is not only alleviating distress and dysfunction but also promoting positive functioning as a way of constructing a positive continuum of a well-being (Joseph, & Maltby, 2014). Positive functioning promotes better health, an improvement in social relationships, and occupational functioning. Fostering the engagement, allows individuals to disassociate discrete disorders from their normal state. Individuals develop a higher level of the hierarchy that includes joy, happiness, relaxation, excitement, and interest. As opposed to a lower hierarchy of stress, anxiety, hostility, fear, and shame (2014).

Exploration in counseling or therapy is an important aspect in addressing the issues that result from the fear of abandonment (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010). This involves the process of dissecting a psychological problem as being a trauma associated with abandonment. A therapist or counselor will help the individual in separating their past fears from their reality in the present. The process produces cognitive transformations which can influence more positive reactions. Once they have recognized their fears are from their past they can reduce the way fears control their emotions in their current relationships and reach a sense of closure from their past experiences (Osvat, 2012). Integrating traumatic healing will allow and individual to work through their feelings promoting a more controlled healthy state.


Traumatic healing involving the connection of body mind and psyche that forms as a method for those who seek a deeper healing (Levine, 2010). Individuals who suffer from negative impacts like fear, helplessness, loss of trust, and anger benefit from this process. The length of a traumatic experience for an individual determines the depth of the process. Due to denial for some traumatized individuals, healing can be a challenge. Severe and long-term traumas force individuals to feel taunted by their thoughts and feelings (Levine, 2010). These thoughts alter their views of their surroundings and they are subjected to anxiety, insomnia, and irritability. In an effort of traumatic healing, individuals must heal their cognitive, physical and emotional centers in the body. The primary goal serves the purpose of improving the quality of life (2010).

Adolescents who’ve experienced a traumatic experience in their childhood will participate in an intervention to enhance their relationships which include positive therapy and positive prevention methods.

The positive therapy and positive prevention model for adolescent abandonment would include three techniques that are used during a week-long healing session:

  1. Establishing a relationship: The individual will address their psychological issues and how they are relevant to childhood abandonment with an empathetic counselor or therapist. Once they are able to achieve this cognitive transformation they can develop more positive reactions and realistic expectations (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010).
  2. Separation: After creating a trustworthy relationship with their counselor or therapist the individual will separate their past fears from their present realities (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010). This involves the individual creating scenarios that they identify as traumatic experiences as a child that led to their fears of abandonment (Levine, 2010). The individual will then, imagine themselves as a matured adolescent that overcame these obstacles. They will visualize themselves as being successful.
  3. Traumatic Healing: The adolescents will then report to their counselor or therapist their positive emotional and behavioral changes that allow the individual to create a sense of self-generated safety.

The positive therapy and prevention technique will promote the adolescent’s ability in minimizing the fears that control their emotions and current relationships from their past childhood experiences. This will allow the adolescent to distinguish the vulnerable/helpless child from the stronger/capable adult (Schoenfelder, Sandler, Wolchik, & Mackinnon, 2010).


Jarero, I., Roque-López, S., & Gomez, J. (2013). The provision of an emdr-based multicomponent trauma treatment with child victims of severe interpersonal trauma. Journal of EMDRPractice and Research,7(1), 17-28. doi:10.1891/1933-3196.7.1.17
Joseph, S., & Maltby, J. (2014). Positive functioning inventory: initial validation of a 12-item self-report measure of well-being. Psychology of Well-Being,4(1). doi:10.1186/s13612-014-0015-6
Kocayörük, E., & Şimşek, Ö F. (2015). Parental attachment and adolescents’perception of school alienation: the mediation role of self-esteem and adjustment. The Journal of Psychology,150(4), 405-421. doi:10.1080/00223980.2015.1060185

Levine, P. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Osvat, C. (2012). Children in need. predisposing factors in preventing child abandonment and school dropout. Revista De Asistenta Sociala, (2), 181-190.

Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Ratto, N., Doyle, A., & Markiewicz, D. (2016). Attachment with mother and adolescents’ conflict with romantic partner or close friend. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science /Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement,48(1), 68-77. doi:10.1037/cbs0000031

Rodriguez, S. N., & Loos-Sant’ana, H. (2015). Self-concept, self-esteem and self-efficacy: The role of self-beliefs in the coping process of socially vulnerable adolescents. Journal of Latino/Latin American Studies,7(1), 33-44. doi:10.18085/1549-9502-7.1.33

Schaan, V. K., & Vögele, C. (2016). Resilience and rejection sensitivity mediate long-termoutcomes of parental divorce. European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry,25(11), 1267-1269. doi:10.1007/s00787-016-0893-7

Schoenfelder, E. N., Sandler, I. N., Wolchik, S., & Mackinnon, D. (2010). Quality of social relationships and the development of depression in parentally bereaved youth. Journal of Youth and Adolescence,40(1), 85-96. doi:10.1007/s10964-009-9503-z

Tassicker, R. J. (2005). Psychodynamic Theory and Counseling in Predictive Testing for Huntington’s Disease. Journal of Genetic Counseling,14(2), 99-107. doi:10.1007/s10897-005-4066-y

Wolchick, A. S., Tein, Y. J., Sandler, N. I., & Doyle, W. K. (2002). Fear of abandonment as a mediator of the relations between divorce stressors and mother-child relationship quality and children’s adjustment problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30(4), 401-418. doi: 10.1023/A:1015722109114


One comment

  1. Great post . Really hope any and every person who needs this is able to read this
    With positive psychology and traumatic healing those who are really struggling can really still rejuvenate their spirit from the effects of past experiences.


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