The fear of being alone brings acute feelings of worry and panic at the thought of having to cope, either without a specific person or without any person being in close proximity to you. It is known by several names: monophobia, autophobia, isolophobia, or eremophobia. As with other anxiety disorders, symptoms can range from mild to severe.
When you have a fear of being alone you might stay in an unhealthy relationship. You might feel panic if someone leaves you at home alone. For some people, just being alone in a room, even when someone is in the next room is frightening. In severe cases, people find it difficult to use the bathroom alone. The fear of being alone usually occurs because you are afraid of loneliness or because you have fears for your safety.
Many people with monophobia are able to function and even thrive in any situation as long as someone they trust is with them. For example, people with agoraphobia are often anxious in crowds, but those with the fear of being alone might have no problems being in a crowd as long as someone is by their side. If they become separated, however, panic might take over. Anxious feelings when alone, or even thinking about being alone, make you believe that it is dangerous to be by yourself.
Most people have these fears from time to time — when young adults go off to college or move out on their own, some who is at the end of a long-term relationship, or when a loved one passes away. When you rely on someone else to help you through difficult situations, it is hard to imagine coping without that person there. But for people with monophobia, the anxious feelings are overwhelming and interfere with daily activities, including the ability to work or participate in social functioning.
Anxiety from the fear of being alone can bring about physical symptoms, such as dizziness, sweating, shaking, nausea, numbness, dry mouth, and heart palpitations. If you have monophobia, you might go to great lengths to avoid being alone, with some people pleading and crying when their partner leaves for work each day.
If you have a fear of being alone, talking with your doctor or a therapist can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be helpful. Therapists often use exposure therapy, where you will gradually learn to be alone, starting from the point you begin to feel anxious.
For example, if you become anxious when your partner leaves the room, you might start exposure therapy by remaining in a room for one minute, then two, and gradually build up the time you can remain in a room by yourself. Once you are comfortable with that, your partner might leave the house but stay in the yard and continue until you are comfortable being alone for extended periods. Exposure therapy will continue, sometimes for weeks or months, allowing you to build resources for coping with your anxiety incrementally.
As you learn to be by yourself with the help of a therapist or on your own, keep the following in mind:
Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely. You can relish the time alone because it gives you time to learn about you and explore your interests. Time alone lets you develop a sense of self. While you may enjoy your time with others, you can also enjoy time alone.
Being alone gives you a chance to learn about yourself. Use this time to reflect on your wishes, desires, dreams and feelings. Get in touch with what you want and where you want to go.
Being alone gives you an opportunity to explore interests that your partner may not enjoy. Your “partner” that helps relieve your fears could be a significant other, parent, sibling, or friend. No matter who it is, you probably have interests the other person doesn’t enjoy and they probably have interests you don’t enjoy. Separate time allows you each to explore these interests.
Being alone is a physical state. Being lonely is an emotional state. You can feel lonely in a crowd of people and you can be alone without feeling lonely. One does not lead to the other. There are different ways of coping with each. Think about which bothers you the most. Strategies for overcoming your fear should reflect your fears.
Being alone helps you better appreciate being with others. If your fear of being alone causes you to cling to others, you might spend all your time together worrying about the moment they will leave. This takes away your opportunity to enjoy their company. When you stop fearing that someone is going to leave, you open yourself up to relishing the time you spend together.
Being alone doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. Many times our anxious thoughts spin negative messages in our minds. You might tell yourself, “I can’t cope by myself,” “Being alone means no one wants to be around me,” or “I can’t protect myself if something happens.” Pay attention to your thoughts about being alone and work to change them to more realistic thoughts, such as, “It will be difficult at first, but I can cope,” or “Being alone is a gift,” or “I enjoy spending time by myself because it allows me to…”
It might be easier to spend time alone if you have a plan. Write a list of things you enjoy doing by yourself, such as reading a book, quietly listening to music, working in the garden, participating in a hobby or learning a new skill. Use this list to fill in the time when you are alone. Some people find it helpful to turn on the radio or television for background noise. Daily mindfulness meditation might also help.
Look to create a balance in your life. There are times when being alone is peaceful and gives you a chance to reflect on your life. There are other times when being with others gives you a sense of belonging and a chance to connect with others. Relish the time you have alone and seek out company when you need it.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.