We are all forever alone. We may not be aware of it, but ultimately, we pass through lives alone. — Anonymous
Loneliness is a typical human experience; we have all felt lonely at times. It is mostly a feeling of sadness and emptiness. However, the fear of loneliness or being alone is different—it’s mostly a feeling of fear.
Autophobia, as some experts define it, is the anxiety and fear of being isolated or alone. Millions of people worldwide suffer from autophobia.
What Is Loneliness?
Loneliness is a state of emotional distress caused by a sense of social isolation. It occurs when a person perceives quality and intimacy gaps between the social connections they have and those they desire. It often manifests as irritability, dissatisfaction, self-centeredness, unhappiness, emptiness, and hopelessness.
Loneliness is defined as occurring when a person’s achieved social relations are less numerous or less satisfying than the person desires.— Peplau & Perlman, 1982
Loneliness can be brought on by physical isolation, illnesses, the grief of losing a loved one, or an emotional disconnect with the people around.
Is Loneliness Useful?
Loneliness has crucial usefulness from a survival point of view.
Research shows loneliness is a signal to change our behavior and reconnect with our friends and well-wishers, “that serves to help one avoid damage and promote the transmission of genes to the gene pool.” (Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2009)
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What Is Autophobia, The Fear of Loneliness?
Autophobia, or the irrational fear of loneliness, is an anxiety disorder that makes one afraid of being alone or away from known and familiar people. It is a fear of perceived future loneliness. It manifests itself when one anticipates, forecasts, or considers the possibility of being alone in the future.
Autophobia is mostly irrational and is also referred to as Monophobia, Eremophobia, and Isolophobia.
Autophobic people intensely feel the need for the company of other people, often a particular person, to feel safe. We know them to behave as “clingy partners” or, as psychologists would say, to have an anxious attachment style.
Their over-dependence on their partners, often coupled with their refusal to give them personal space or “me-time,” is frequently the reason for their abandonment. Thus, their fear of loneliness actually leads them to be physically lonely.
According to Lorne Campbell and Tara Marshall, 2011, anxiously attached persons have low self-esteem and are always seeking reassurance, emotional support, and closeness for fear of being abandoned.
Campbell and Marshall found that the ‘anxiously attached’ men and women experience higher highs and lower lows in their relationships:
- They are happiest when they are in relationships, and become too much upset when their partners withdraw from them.
- They are continuously on the lookout for signs of impending rejection or abandonment from their partners.
They typically press their partners to become intimate too soon for fear of losing their love.
They are also known to have rebound relationships soon after breakups.
Autophobia v/s Loneliness
- Loneliness is a present state of sadness and melancholy when one is alone, whereas autophobia is a fear of the future possibility of being alone.
- Loneliness reminds us to rebuild our lost and broken relationships and re-bond with those who can help us face and beat life’s challenges. It encourages us to reach out to people.
- On the other hand, autophobia causes people to avoid places that make them lonely and run away from such places, even if those places are crowded. It makes them fearful of exploring unknown territories.
What Causes One To Fear Loneliness?
Fear of Loneliness may have roots in childhood trauma or past trauma that involved a relationship breaking off, leaving them largely uncared for among strangers.
Autophobia has overlapping features of separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is a condition in which a child becomes overly anxious, even having nightmares and physical symptoms such as wetting their pants, when separated from a particular person, usually a parent.
When autophobic people imagine being abandoned by their loved ones, they experience intense anxiety, as if they were actually abandoned and left feeling unloved or unwanted.
Autophobia can also be caused by a traumatic incident in which they faced a stressful or dangerous situation when alone, leading to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). It is not uncommon for an autophobic person to confess that they were attacked by a stranger when alone in their house or walking along a desolate street.
Autophobic people may also have co-existing conditions like anxiety disorder and panic disorder.
Present loneliness in autophobia can also trigger future fears of loneliness.
How To Know If One Has Autophobia?
Fear of loneliness is a situational phobia that occurs when a person imagines or realizes they are alone and away from familiar people, causing them severe distress. For it to be diagnosed as autophobia, it must create enough anxiety to interfere with a person’s normal daily routine.
Some unmissable symptoms of autophobia are:
- A persistent sense of loneliness even when surrounded by loving and caring people.
- Feelings of anxiety or panic attacks when left alone at home or in a social setting with strangers.
- A strong sense of fear makes one have the urge to flee from the lonely place.
- Physical symptoms of anxiety, like chest pain, dizziness, nausea, fainting spells, hyperventilation, and tachycardia at the thought of being alone.
- Excessive or inadequate eating and/or sleeping habits.
- Feelings of self-detachment when one is alone.
Some experts opine that when a person reports suffering one or more of the above symptoms for at least six months, they may be diagnosed with autophobia.
One must consult a doctor or a certified counselor as soon as they find out their autophobic symptoms are starting to affect their normal life.
What Are The Effects of Autophobia
Fear of loneliness can cause feelings of pain, worry, loss of interest, joylessness, unimportance, and a reluctance to take steps to build meaningful relationships.
Autophobia, if left unresolved, not only impacts social connectedness but also leads to increased severity of depression and physiological wear and tear.
“Feeling lonely, it turned out, caused your cortisol levels to absolutely soar—as much as some of the most disturbing things that can ever happen to you. Becoming acutely lonely, the experiment found, was as stressful as experiencing a physical attack. It’s worth repeating. Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.” — Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream
A person with persistent feelings of autophobia may imagine their partners cheating on them, even when it is not the case.
An autophobic person may try to control the social behaviors of their partner, much like an unconscious gaslighter. They check in on their partners more frequently than is comfortable.
They are often known to stalk their ex-partners or friends who have stopped connecting with them, in real life or on social media.
Loneliness can strike even in the midst of a crowd. People merely don’t want more people in their lives; they want the right people in their lives. Your many surface-level connections can’t shield you from feeling lonely. Loneliness comes from not having true, meaningful connections.
How To Overcome Fear of Being Alone
The anxiety of separation or desertion or death may cripple one’s normal daily life, at work and in other spheres.
Some helpful ways to handle this loneliness anxiety are:
- Accept your stress and fear of being alone (instead of denying it).
- Visit your past to understand the origins of your autophobia.
- Resolve underlying issues with the help of a mental health counselor.
- Brave out to places where you would meet people.
- Practice mindfulness meditation.
- Find a few things you love doing – like reading, writing, painting, or exercising – and engage yourself actively in them.
- Stay away from social media, as their algorithms tend to show more messages on loneliness depending on your browsing behavior.
- Indulge in activities of self-love without feeling guilty, like pampering yourself with a massage, enrolling in a clay-modeling class, or treating yourself to a sumptuous meal.
Here are three coping strategies to overcome your fear of loneliness (autophobia):
1. Build A Daily Routine.
Daily routines are comforting since patterns appeal to your brain. Following a set pattern of habits gives your brain a sense of familiarity and requires it to spend less energy, helping you to respond better to changes.
A daily routine improves your mental well-being by allowing you more control over your life. By cutting out some unpredictability from your day, a routine helps you cope with change and reduces your stress.
A routine is also an excellent means to set up new, healthy habits and encourage you to devote time to daily self-care. For example, a daily exercise habit is a great way to improve your mental and physical health.
Creating and adhering to a consistent schedule can help take your mind off the anxieties of being alone. So meticulously schedule your day. Group activities could keep you occupied to allow you to avoid being swamped by feelings of loneliness.
Set a time for bathing and sleeping. Fix your mealtimes. Set boundaries to keep your work life and home life separate.
Social contact is vital for our mental health. It can build our confidence, help us manage stress better, and add joy to our lives. Use your evenings to meet friends or familiars, or go to a club or a gym.
2. Build A Secure Attachment.
A securely attached person finds it easy to get emotionally close to others, as well as let others get close to them. They can trust others and be trusted, love and be loved, share their secrets, and have others share theirs with them.
To remodel your attachment style into a secure one, practice self-awareness and self-compassion, and build your self-esteem. Give yourself the same sort of kindness and compassion that you would offer to a great friend.
Take small steps toward being more trusting and empathic when people in your relationships decide to have personal space and personal time.
Write down what things your partner wants you to change, and consider reducing your “clinginess” to them.
3. Learn To Handle Stress.
Experiment with doing things alone more regularly and in gradually bigger steps. Start by spending an hour all on your own. Move on to more hours alone, like booking yourself a day in a hometown hotel (staycation or daycation).
This is called graded exposure, a treatment used to address anxiety-provoking situations, activities, or things. It operates through the process of habituation, which is marked by a steady reduction in the bodily symptoms of anxiety.
To get over the anxiety of loneliness, find a good friend to talk it out and release some of your bottled-up fears and stresses. Take their constructive suggestions.
If necessary, consult a mental health practitioner.
Can you have autophobia when around known people?
Yes, you can experience autophobia even when you are in the company of family, friends, and familiar people. The number of persons you interact with on a daily basis has little to do with how fearful you feel of future loneliness. It has been observed that many autophobic people talk to other people every day.
Is autophobia a mental disease?
Autophobia is a type of anxiety disorder, though it is not a formally recognized mental disease, and is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. In the United States, around 12.5% of adult individuals have reported a specific phobia similar to autophobia at some point in their lives.
The coping tactics we discussed above can help your autophobia. However, if it is difficult to handle it on your own, please contact a mental healthcare professional or your doctor to help you deal with it.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for changing the way you think and feel, allowing you to better manage your loneliness-related fears.
Finally, realize that you don’t have to suffer it alone. Reach out to helpful friends or join a support group.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).
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