Being alone is distasteful, nasty, and unpleasant for all of us. But with people suffering from Autophobia, it’s a worst–case scenario that requires attention and treatment. People with this specific fear of being alone and isolated suffer from intense anxiety that actually impacts their health and well-being.
They are left with a lot of fear even with the idea of being left alone. The sufferers are even uncomfortable in places known to them, such as in their own homes. The person sees dread looming large on them but in reality, the threat is nowhere to be found.
Shortly saying, fear of being alone causes a host of unmanageable signs and symptoms that do not go away on their own, unless addressed.
Autophobia – Meaning
Autophobia is an irrational fear and dread related to feelings of being alone. The person may experience this fear even when they are with others. They fear isolation and separation from others in the social space.
The term ‘Autophobia’ comes from two Greek words; ‘Autos’ meaning ‘self’ and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear. Together, autophobia means an irrational, persistent fear of oneself. The sufferer cannot tolerate being with oneself. They fear rejection, isolation, abandonment, and being lonely and alone.
Autophobia is debilitating over a period of time because the irrational fear intrudes into everyday life and causes more fear in return. It stops normal functioning as well.
Sometimes, it is also known as the morbid fear of solitude and wilderness. When the mental illness strikes, the patient feels lonely, empty, and isolated deep inside even if they are in a room full of people. The fear comes from isolated thoughts about what will happen to them if others leave the room.
People with Autophobia develop deep apprehension and insecurity when living alone. They believe that they will be in an impending disaster if secluded from others. This fear of social isolation is completely irrelevant and irrational.
They start visualizing worst-case situations where a sticky feeling of fear and anxiety takes a toll on their mental health. Autophobia is an intense anxiety of being left out, isolated, or alone in any situation, even the ones which are otherwise comfortable for the person.
The most important point that needs to be noted is that a person with autophobia can also develop the symptoms even in the physical presence of others. In this case, they fear others leaving them and the room becoming empty. They may get terrified by the silence around them and start developing panic symptoms.
The worry of isolation and loneliness that comes with autophobia causes extreme distress to the person. Autophobia is also known as monophobia and aerophobia. This disorder falls under specific phobia of people and situations; however, this is not an official diagnosis.
Autophobia is not a listed phobia in DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) People suffering from this anxiety disorder have persistent and unusual discomfort with feeling lonely. The disorder and its symptoms are complex and the clinician will have to do a differential diagnosis to rule out separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What Exactly Happens in an Autophobe’s Mind?
Autophobia is based on irrational fear and the treatment modules help to identify these fear areas and overcome them completely. Most often, the persistent and irrational fear of the patient can occur without the object of fear.
It means the symptoms come from overthinking about the future possibilities of being alone and what will happen then.
This anticipatory anxiety of alone slowly becoming a normal thing for the patient. This normalization process leads to a serious hunt for safety behaviors. The person becomes clingy towards others and can go to any length to please others.
The fear spiral goes on increasing because the safety behaviors make them weak from within. Their self-confidence and faith in themselves are broken and they are left only with anxiety and nervousness to live with. In a way, the safety behaviors reinforce the fear rather than reduce it.
The person is overpowered by irrational fear completely.
Typical Signs of Autophobia or Fear of Being Alone
Monophobia or autophobia is manifested by signs of extreme fear, nervousness, and anticipatory anxiety related to something dreadful. In most cases, they live with the fear of:
- Being attacked by intruders or burglars at home while being alone
- Feeling of being unloved, or not wanted by others in the social space
- Fear of abandonment by near and dear ones
- Strangers coming inside the house
- Thinking of being harmed or killed by others when being alone
- Fear of dying due to a natural disaster or medical emergency
- Unexplained happenings or noises at home are dreadful for the sufferer.
- Fear of being separated from a particular loved one
- Sense of solitude causing nervousness
- Fear of being left alone in a crowded place
- Extreme anxiety related to facing a dangerous situation all by himself/herself
- Can never get things done when alone
Autophobia is not a diagnosable condition however all the signs of the ailment hint towards a specific phobia. Some evidence suggest that autophobia and loneliness feelings fall under the agoraphobic cluster of mental illness.
It is common for a person with autophobia to suffer from extreme anxiety and panic attacks when left alone. Sometimes, their minds get flooded with negative thoughts of being harmed even when there is no real threat around. Therefore we can say that the persistent fear of being left alone is a response to a perceived threat.
The patients may show observable physical and psychological symptoms that are highly uncomfortable, scary, and worsening over time.
Some of the physical symptoms of autophobia are as follows:
- Excessive sweating
- Chest tightness
- Fast heart rate
- Hot flashes
- Shivering with cold
- Numbness in body extremities
- Dry mouth
- Not moving while alone
- Stiff body muscles
The psychological and emotional symptoms of autophobia are as follows:
- Fear of fainting
- Cannot think of anything else other than the fear of being alone anytime, at any moment
- Loss of clarity about what’s going on
- Intense fear and anxiety
- They are afraid of the thought of being lonely
- Thinking about upcoming situations where the patient can be alone
- Ruminating about worst-case harms, injuries, or death while being alone
- Fear of seclusion and isolation all of a sudden
- Constant worries of what will happen if left alone
- Strong avoidance response
- Crying and clinging habits
- Screaming out of fear if heard an unusual noise that may not be anything serious
- Thoughts of being alone can trigger intense fear
- Irrational worries by imagining the situation. So, the fear response is perceived ideation, not a real threat
- Extreme terror, panic, and dread causes them to feel sick and exhausted mentally
Autophobia Causes and Risk Factors
Some amount of fear is normal because it is an evolutionary response to threat and discomfort. However, the fear and anxiety that autophobia patients experience are extreme and thereby uncomfortable.
It is believed that a variety of factors are responsible for their development. It could be genetics, abnormal brain functioning, learned behavior, and even trauma that can give rise to autophobia.
Some of the causes could be:
1. Traumatic childhood experiences
Just like any other phobia such as claustrophobia or arachnophobia, this phobia can also develop due to trauma-ridden experiences. If the person had ever experienced a frightening situation by being alone in a place, house, or elsewhere, then they may develop intense fear symptoms of being alone.
2. Influence of genetics
When autophobia starts to show up, it is important for any clinician to understand the details of the genetic factors that can lead to the illness. Growing up with family members or parents with a similar fear of being alone results in more fear in the sufferer.
Children who fear being alone show signs of terror and crying along with temper tantrums. They must have seen their parents reacting to such perceived threats with a lot of emotional discomforts. Research studies have also supported the role of genetics in developing specific phobias.
The first-degree relatives of the patient are three times more likely to develop the phobia. Autophobia also runs in families. If the child grows up in a family where parents are scared of being isolated and left alone, they may develop similar symptoms of fear quite easily.
3. Learned behavior
Your phobic response is learned and various research findings have proved that children and adults are equally susceptible to responding with fear if they see someone else showing similar signs of phobia.
This is also true for situations where the person must have seen others becoming uncomfortable when left alone or feels alone amidst all others. Sometimes, hearing or seeing someone else’s negative experiences can also cause autophobia.
This is called fear conditioning and research has supported the claim that specific phobias and learned behavior are interconnected.
4. Changes in brain functioning
Individuals who suffer from specific phobias such as autophobia show intense signs of fear, and mental uneasiness. They were found to have hyperactivity in the amygdala when exposed to phobia-inducing stimuli. Sometimes changes in brain functioning due to mood disorders or any other anxiety-related ailments can also give rise to autophobia.
5. Temperament and personality factors
People who are more sensitive, soft, and inhibited by nature are more prone to develop the fear of being alone. These individuals possess a sensitive temperament that overthinks and cannot live their lives alone.
They may suffer from extreme anxiety and fear in situations where they are about to take responsibility for themselves on their own. Negative thoughts about worst-case circumstances may flood their mind. They may feel helpless in these situations and the fear intensifies in return.
Comorbid Conditions Associated with Autophobia
There are some comorbid conditions that increase the chances of developing autophobia. some of them are as follows:
1. Panic disorders or other phobias
People suffering from intense panic symptoms suffer from racing hearts, trembling, and other physical symptoms more than normal people. Thus, if the fear of being alone mixing up with the existing symptoms of panic disorder, then the signs of the illness increase further and can become full-blown autophobia sooner.
2. Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
Sometimes autophobia signs can occur if the patient already has the existing symptoms of bipolar personality disorder. They have an intense fear of being alone, isolated, or abandoned in their social life. People with BPD show extreme mood swings and anxiety signs that can become worse with time, if left untreated.
3. Dependent personality disorder (DPD)
When a person has a dependent nature it means they will find it extremely hard to take care of them. Thus, the fear of being alone is a symptom of this illness as well. The patients may feel helpless being alone and the fear aggravates with time.
Some of the risk factors of autophobia are as follows:
- Abandoned children who developed a lonely feelings from childhood can suffer from fear of being alone. Their trauma of loneliness leads to phobia.
- Emotional neglect of the person or any other childhood trauma
- History of PTSD and anxiety disorders
- Poverty and financial crunch can lead to autophobia. The child or adult may get isolated due to a lack of funds to sustain the entire family.
- Recent stressors such as the death of a loved one on whom the patient was quite dependent mentally.
- Toxic relationships where the person always fears that their partner may leave them.
- Clinginess and attachment issues of the person can also lead to extreme fear of being alone oneself.
- Insecure attachment or anxious attachment style with parents or caregivers in childhood can lead to this fear
Difference between Autophobia and Loneliness
There is a misunderstanding in the general community that autophobia is the same as loneliness. But, in reality, they are not the same at all. Loneliness is an emotion that is normal when your near and dear ones are not around.
You feel isolated and depressed. Loneliness never triggers feelings of fear. It could induce a sense of hopelessness and sadness but there is no fear of being alone.
In autophobia or monophobia, the person suffers from an irrational fear of being alone even when they are with others. The fear comes from anticipating perceived harm that is baseless and absolutely irrational. The person develops extreme anxiety surrounding the thought of being alone because they anticipate a situation that can leave them in danger with no immediate aid to lean on.
Autophobia can worsen over time if not treated, while loneliness is temporary and can go away once the person develops appropriate coping skills to reduce their isolated feelings.
Is the Fear of Being Alone or Autophobia Normal?
No, autophobia is not normal because the person suffering from the symptoms of this illness often reports overwhelming anxiety, uneasiness, and fear when thinking of being alone in a place. This fear is not based on a real threat. Even then the patient suffers from avoidance response and has a desperate need to be with others always.
At times, the excessive anxiety of the person interferes with their daily life. Their relationships struggle for personal space and their near and dear ones find it hard to relate with them normally. Because of their clingy nature, their intimacy with their partners may be reduced. There is more emotional dependency and less love.
Thus, we can infer that autophobia symptoms worsen over some time and the sufferer needs therapy to heal their old scars and feel secure about living alone in life.
Diagnosis of Autophobia
Autophobia is not a listed mental health condition. The diagnosis is made on the basis of the symptoms. Your mental health professional will use the expertise in identifying the troubleshooting area and can come up with the right treatment plan.
The diagnosis of autophobia is done by a mental health professional. Your doctor usually asks many questions in order to understand the symptoms well.
They will do a thorough mental status examination along with the past medical history and family history so that they can ascertain the course and causes of the illness.
The actual diagnosis or treatment of autophobia will be done after you have met the symptoms guidelines given in DSM-5 for specific types of situational phobia.
Some of these diagnostic criteria for autophobia are as follows:
- The constant fear of staying at home alone.
- Fear of being alone or left out from others in public places
- Sensing danger, harm, and threat when none is around
- Anticipating serious danger if left alone sometime, somewhere.
- Feelings of isolation and separation are just perceived ideas, not reality.
- Self-detachment feelings when one is alone even for a few moments.
- Fainting spells or breathing difficulties occur quite often
- Worrying about the future possibilities of being alone
If the patient is having persistent fears that are more than 6 months now, the clinician will diagnose autophobia and will suggest a plan of treatment for the patient. Moreover, the fear of being alone is severe and intense and it interferes with the normal functioning of the person in everyday life.
How Rare or Common is Autophobia?
Autophobia or monophobia manifests itself clearly when the sufferer anticipates, forecasts, and ruminates about situations where they could be left alone. These individuals fear extreme situations that are perceived ideations and not real threats.
They will always have an intense need to be with specific persons such as their partners, parents, friends, and even colleagues surrounding them. Autophobic patients imagine being alone even when others are around.
Though there is no recorded data on the prevalence of autophobia globally, it is assumed that autophobia is a common phobia and many people suffer from this illness, maybe much more than what gets officially diagnosed.
Impact of Autophobia
If you are the one suffering from autophobia, the impact of your illness can be far-fetched. Your healthy relationships will be the first area to get affected. Some of the immediate impacts would be on the following walks of life.
- Relationships will appear clingy and sticky. Your family members, friends, and colleagues will all be impacted by your fear.
- Low self-esteem is obvious
- Poor self-image and inability to trust oneself to go on without others’ support
- Your closeness and emotional bonding will feel problematic to others. They will want to move away from you
- Your fears will hold you back from doing things alone in the professional field. This can impact your work quality and efficiency.
- Always looking for signs that others are trying to abandon you. This causes more anxiety and puts you in hopelessness and depression.
- You will please others more in order to gain their attention and closeness
- Constant fear and catastrophic thinking will overpower you. Maybe these disturbing thoughts will rob your inner peace and you will always feel alone in this big world.
Autophobia Treatment and Cure
The treatment options for autophobia are the same as we have for all other specific phobias. It usually includes psychiatric counseling, cognitive behavior therapy, and medication.
To maintain good mental health, the patient will have to learn the skills of self-management of symptoms whenever they appear. For this, lifestyle changes, and developing positivity are always important.
1. Cognitive behavior therapy
CBT is a preferred approach for treating phobias. It is a short-term therapy rather than a psychodynamic approach. The client and the therapist meet in an agreed-upon location in a face-to-face setting to talk about the issues of the client in a safe space.
In CBT sessions, the patient is made to explore their current life situations, talk about their fears, and understand the scenarios well. CBT helps the patient to change their negative thoughts about future probabilities of being alone and how they can be addressed.
It teaches the patient to become aware of their faulty thoughts. Here comes the role of cognition in therapy. The aim of CBT is to alter the mental state of the patient so that the fear involvement can be reduced.
The therapist helps the patient uncover the past trauma of being alone and what threats the situation issued. Then, the patient is also made to develop a CBT journal where patients are encouraged to note down their negative thought patterns and feelings in detail.
The therapist helps the patient break down life events and emotional responses so that they can be aware of their mental states. While journaling, patients can identify:
- The fear triggers immediate response patterns
- Automatic and negative responses to the fear
- Picking one instance of negative experience and dwelling on the fear forever
- Overgeneralizing and focusing on the negative conclusion
- Intense fear reactions to non-threatening situations
CBT helps phobia patients identify the fear triggers and develop awareness about the real threat. The patient is made to approach their fear elements slowly so that the tolerance levels improve unless the fear goes off fully.
CBT learning for patients:
- Learning to modify, alter, and confront distorted thoughts and [perceptions
- Learning to assess the situations on the basis of real threats only
- Practicing positive self-talk and use of positive affirmations to boost confidence
- Self-evaluation of the progress made toward recovery
2. Exposure therapy
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the feared stimulus slowly. Initially, it is done in a safe setting where the fear response will probably be less intense, and once the toleration improves, then the patient is put in real-life situations.
They can be made to stay alone in their homes and evaluate their thoughts and feelings. The therapist records the instant reactions and helps the patient confront their fears.
Exposure therapy reduces avoidance responses and clingy behaviors that come naturally with the sickness. The goal of this therapy is to improve the quality of life of the patient. They should not limit their daily activities because of their irrational fear.
For autophobia, your therapist will help you to improve your tolerance level of living alone. The improvement done each day is recorded so that the fear is fully eliminated.
Phobias are treatable conditions. CBT and exposure therapy can do wonders if done correctly. Sometimes, the fear of being alone can be because of comorbid conditions such as bipolar personality disorder or other phobias.
In these cases, medications are prescribed so that the patient’s fears can be kept under control and they can be benefitted from the psychotherapy sessions.
Note: Medications should be taken only under the guidance of a certified psychiatrist for maximum benefits without side effects.
4. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
This method is used along with exposure therapy. It is used to help patients confront their fears directly, thereby reducing anxious responses over time. Here, the patient is made to focus on all those events that triggered a fear response previously.
Then, their responses and reactions are recorded. The patients are taught to analyze their irrational fear responses so that they can develop better logical solutions to handle the situation the next time they are feeling alone in some way.
5. Group Therapy
Group therapy is an alternative treatment option for autophobia. In this treatment, similar sufferers can meet and share each other’s challenges with each other. They can gather insight into new ways to overcome their symptoms and provide emotional support to one another to sail through their adverse conditions.
How to Overcome Autophobia Symptoms (Self-help Strategies)
If you are suffering from autophobia, you will be suffering from intense anxiety, helplessness, and obsessive thinking. Thus, symptom management will take time until full recovery is done. Thus, it is always advisable that you learn to live with your fear and develop healthy coping skills.
Along with psychotherapy, it is important for you to learn basic self-management skills to reduce your fear response and perceived threats.
- Deep breathing exercises and meditation to learn calming techniques in times of perceived and real threats.
- You can try using progressive muscle relaxation
- Self-assuring statements can help
- Use of positive affirmations
- Self-soothing habits such as listening to music, going for a walk, getting a massage done
- Good night’s sleep is highly essential
- Healthy eating habits and avoiding substance abuse as much as you can
- Remind yourself that your symptoms can be challenging but you will soon be fine
- Talk to friends or family members if you find yourself stuck alone at home
- Use your hobbies to divert your mind to productive tasks. Your fear will take a backseat
- Listening to podcasts or watching TV when you seem to be uncomfortable with fear
- Get medical advice when you think you feel the fear is too much now
Some of the interesting books that you can read to feel better and gather more information about the illness are as follows:
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Living a lonely life or feeling of being alone is not the same for everyone. Many people will openly admit that they do not like to stay alone, but this discomfort cannot equal the fear response of an autophobic patient.
For an autophobic patient, the fear becomes a habitual response pattern in any situation, and with anyone. Their fear is excessive, and painful, and interferes with their daily life and relationships. But the good news is, the condition is treatable and new adaptive ways to deal with fear can come to the person’s rescue after using psychotherapy and CBT.
There is hope at the end of the struggle. You just need to deliver patience and understanding while the treatment is going on unless fully recovered.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.