phobiasometimes called egophobia, phobiaor phobia, is the fear of loneliness. A phobia occurs when a person is so afraid of loneliness or abandonment that it causes extreme anxiety far outweighs the actual threat or experience. The fear is so strong that it interferes with day-to-day functioning.
This article discusses phobias and their symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Defining the fear of loneliness
Some mental health care professionals may think of monophobia as a situational phobia, which is a specific phobia (intense, irrational fear of objects or situations that are rarely truly dangerous).
However, the fears associated with phobias are often more complex and often stem from other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety, mood disorders, or personality disorders.
Situation phobias usually occur when there is no threat or concern for most people. When people with phobias are confronted with thoughts of isolation, they may experience symptoms of severe anxiety. This reaction is disproportionate to the actual risk or danger posed by the situation.
Having a phobia doesn’t just mean being afraid of being physically alone. It also feels as if you are not loved or ignored. It can also mean fear of being separated from a particular person.
Like most phobias, the fear of being alone has psychological and physical characteristics. People with autism experience symptoms when they are alone or confronted with thoughts of being alone.
Symptoms of fear of being alone include:
- Morbid fear and anxiety when they are physically alone or feel like they are alone
- The thought of being isolated or cut off from the world creates intense worry and anxiety
- Intense anxiety disproportionate to the actual dangers of being alone
- Experiencing a sense of impending disaster or doom when they are alone
- Do your best to avoid loneliness
- Feeling isolated and lonely even in a crowd or with a group of people
- nausea or abdominal discomfort
- hard to fall asleep
- panic attack
To obtain a diagnosis of monophobia, a mental health professional or healthcare provider will refer to the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the official handbook of the American Psychiatric Association.
The manual uses the following diagnostic criteria to diagnose specific phobias:
- The fear was persistent, lasting more than six months.
- Fear is actively avoided and almost always causes anxiety immediately.
- Fear is not proportional to the actual danger of the object or situation.
- Fear can severely disrupt areas of basic functioning, including social and occupational functioning.
Phobias trigger a person’s stress response, also known as the fight or flight response. Fear of being alone can trigger this stress response for several reasons, including:
- Genetics: The genes people inherit are known to play a role in phobias and other anxiety disorders.
- Observational Learning Experience: If parents or siblings fear the same things, a person may have learned to fear loneliness.
- Direct Learning Experiences: Traumatic history or traumatic experiences, such as abandonment or abandonment, or the loss of a parent or caregiver, may lead to fears of loneliness.
- Informational Learning Experience: Hearing a situation on the news or watching a movie in which a person is alone and some traumatic event has occurred may cause someone to develop a fear of loneliness.
The goal of treating fear of being alone is to reduce symptoms associated with the fear. This can help you get to a place where you feel comfortable.
The main treatment modality involves different types of treatment. While medication can control symptoms, it’s not always necessary.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that helps people explore how they think and behave. It can help people better identify and change distorted and maladaptive (negative) thoughts and behaviors. It’s also thought to change how people ultimately feel.
Considered a first-line treatment for anxiety disorders, CBT may be helpful for phobias because it allows a person to examine their feelings and behaviors in response to their automatic thoughts.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a trauma-based treatment. It is designed to help people with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) overcome emotional distress from traumatic memories. A 2019 meta-analysis found that EMDR therapy had a positive effect on both panic and phobia symptoms.
Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRE)
Exposure therapy, which involves exposing people with phobias to feared objects under the care of a mental health professional, has been the mainstay of treatment for phobias for many years.
Virtual reality offers a whole new field of exposure therapy. Patients with phobias who participated in personalized virtual reality exposure therapy experienced reduced symptoms.
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRIs) and selectivity serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) are effective treatments for certain anxiety disorders. While not usually the first-line medication for a specific phobia, they may help with some symptoms associated with the phobia.
- SSRIs: Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline)
- SNRI: Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine)
coping with fear
There are ways to deal with phobias that people can try at home. These include:
- Journaling: Recording thoughts, fears, and worries about loneliness and isolation may help to better understand fears and anxiety.
- Relaxation techniques: Learning to relax the nervous system can be helpful for people with phobias. Techniques to help reduce stress and tension in the body include deep breathing exercises (soft, focused breathing), progressive muscle relaxation (tighten muscles as you inhale and relax them as you exhale), and visualization (use mental imagery to create a relaxed state of mind). There are free phone apps and videos online that offer guided meditations, tips and tricks to help.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on the present moment and letting intrusive, anxious thoughts pass without judging them, but just observing them.
- Yoga: Yoga not only provides movement and exercise, it also provides breathing patterns and also reduces anxiety and stress on the nervous system. Find free online videos or local courses.
When the fear is so severe that it limits or affects your quality of life, it may be time to seek help. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline online or call 1-800-662-4357 to learn more about how to find support and treatment options in your area.
Monophobia or autophobia is the fear of being alone. It can be thought of as a situational phobia, a form of a specific phobia. Symptoms of phobias vary depending on the severity of the condition, but can include anxiety, avoidance, difficulty maintaining relationships, or physical symptoms such as nausea and shaking when confronted with the concept of loneliness. Treatment for phobias includes different types of treatments and, if necessary, medication.
Fear of being alone can seriously affect or limit your quality of life. Fortunately, there are treatment options that can help you overcome your fears. You can start by seeking a mental health professional or counseling services to help you face this fear and live a good life.