Approximately 11% of Australians suffer from phobias, and the fear of being alone is one of them. For some, this fear leads to uncontrollable physical and psychological symptoms and anxiety. In extreme cases, the fear of being alone could leave you unable to function normally until you’re with other people again.
Here, we’ll look at what causes the fear of being alone and how, with the right help, you can overcome that fear.
What is the fear of being alone?
The fear of being alone is also known as autophobia or monophobia. This common condition is classed as a specific phobia, brought on by the situation of being on your own. Notably, it is only considered a phobia if there is no real reason for the fear you are experiencing. For example, if you were in real danger and feared being alone, this would not be considered phobic thinking.
Autophobia manifests itself in many different ways. Some people are only scared when they’re completely alone in a room while others become afraid when there are no other people in the same building. This feeling of dread can occur even when you know you’re in a safe environment, such as your own home.
And, it’s not just the physical situation of being alone that can trigger autophobia. Sometimes, just the thought or idea that you’re soon to be on your own can cause severe anxiety, stress, and other symptoms.
What causes the fear of being alone?
Specific phobias, including autophobia, often begin in childhood and are typically the result of a traumatic or negative experience. The fear of being alone could be caused by any of the following events in childhood:
- Parents divorcing
- Loss of a parent
- Abandonment or being ignored and uncared for
- Being separated from a loved one in a crowded place
- Being alone and without support during a traumatic or dramatic event, such as a mugging or home break-in
- Having a parent or sibling with the same fear
- Other types of abuse or injury
Feeling lonely vs the fear of being alone
Loneliness and having a fear of being alone are two different things. Being lonely causes feelings of sadness or unhappiness about the number of friends, acquaintances, and other social connections you have in your life.
Autophobia makes you feel anxious or scared when you’re alone, no matter how many friends and family you have. Even when you’re with other people, just the thought of being alone can create deep feelings of dread.
What are the symptoms of autophobia?
People with autophobia and other specific phobias are often aware their fear is completely irrational. Yet, despite this awareness, they still develop symptoms when faced with the situation or prospect of being alone.
Everyone is different which is why autophobia affects people in different ways. Some feel scared that other people aren’t around while others have intense dread of what could happen when they’re alone, such as a burglary or an injury occurring.
If you have a fear of being alone, you may experience some or all of the following psychological symptoms:
- A constant worry or anxiety about being on your own or the anticipation of being alone.
- Dread at the thought of what could happen when you’re alone.
- A feeling of detachment when no one else is around.
- An overwhelming desire to escape and find company.
Monophobia can also lead to physical discomforts, such as:
- Chills or excessive sweating
- Shaking and trembling
- Chest pains and heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Indigestion or stomach upset
How s autophobia diagnosed?
Many people with autophobia are unaware they have this fear-based disorder. However, if you fear or dread the idea of being alone, a counsellor, therapist, or psychologist could help diagnose the condition.
Professionals look for certain criteria to diagnose specific phobias:
- The fear of being alone has persisted for six months or more.
- Despite knowing you’re safe when alone, you still experience intense feelings of anxiety and dread.
- The worry and fear of being alone force you to go to extreme lengths to avoid being in that situation.
- Symptoms present themselves when you’re alone or think about being on your own.
- The symptoms interfere with your daily life, affecting your ability to perform at work, hold down relationships, or enjoy yourself.
Once a qualified psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor has diagnosed autophobia, they can begin to help you manage and deal with the disorder and even overcome the fear of being alone altogether.
Treatment for the fear of being alone
Being alone is a difficult situation to constantly avoid, so monophobia sufferers have to try and learn to face or overcome their fear.
Therapists may use a number of techniques to help individuals cope with their irrational fear of being alone, especially exposure therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy. These two methods are classed as psychotherapies or talk therapies, and can involve:
- Identifying and examining the underlying cause of your fear
- Processing the emotions that were part of the trauma that caused your fear
- Teaching you relaxation techniques to help manage the symptoms, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises
- Countering the negative thoughts that occur when you’re alone so that, eventually, you learn to understand that being on your own is nothing to be afraid of
- Exposing you to your fear and slowly getting you used to be alone. This goal-based technique could begin with spending 15 minutes alone every day and gradually increasing this time period in the following days and weeks.
Are loneliness and the fear of being alone the same thing?
The fear of being alone and loneliness are not the same. Loneliness makes you sad and unhappy about your social situation and a disappointment in the number of friends and acquaintances you have. On the other hand, the fear of being alone causes extreme feelings of anxiety and stress. This fear is known as autophobia or monophobia and can even be experienced in a safe, comfortable environment, such as your own home. Many people with autophobia also feel severe anxiety at just the thought of being alone.
How do I know if I have a fear of being alone?
Autophobia manifests itself in a number of different physical and psychological ways. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you could have a fear of being alone:
- A persistent worry about the anticipation of being alone
- An extreme terror at the thought of what could happen when you’re alone
- An overwhelming desire to escape and be around other people
- Chills, sweating, shaking and trembling
- Chest pains
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath or hyperventilation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Is it rare to have autophobia?
Autophobia or the fear of being alone is more common than you may think. Although there are no data available on the number of people specifically affected by autophobia in Australia, studies do suggest that around 11% of Aussies will develop a phobia at some stage in their life and that approximately 6% of these will have a fear of being alone.
Is there a cure for autophobia?
If you have an irrational fear of being alone, you could be affected by autophobia. Firstly, know that you’re not alone and help is available. By working with a psychologist, counsellor, or therapist, you can learn to better deal with the disorder and its symptoms and, in the majority of cases, completely overcome your fear of being alone.
Autophobia can be effectively treated through psychotherapy techniques, such as:
- Exposure therapy. Encouraging you to spend a set period of time on your own every day. Goals could initially be set at 10 or 15 minutes and gradually increase over time until you become used to being alone.
- Cognitive behavioural Therapy. Looking into the root cause of your fear and teaching you relaxation and coping methods to counter symptoms and negative thoughts.
- Psychotherapy. Allowing you to discuss events and emotions from earlier periods in your life that contributed to your fearfulness.
Joanna Fishman is a director and managing editor with Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney with 15 years of experience managing care in the counselling industry.