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If You Hate Being Alone, You Might Relate to This Anxiety Struggle

Most of us will readily admit that when we are feeling lonely, things can feel a little off-kilter. Aristotle nailed it when he famously said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” It’s a simple fact that we humans need other humans. 

While being alone for too long can be an uncomfortable experience for most of us (introverts included!), for people with monophobia, an anxiety-related phobia centered on the fear of being alone or lonely, being by themselves is basically intolerable.

Thoughts like “My friends will forget about me if I’m not constantly with them” and “What if I’m alone and have a heart attack with no one around to help me?” can plague folks with monophobia to the point that they avoid being alone — ever. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. It’s only natural to crave intimacy and time with others (we all do!), but we also need time to ourselves for self-reflection and recharging. If fear is keeping you from ever being alone, we hope the below information provides you the support and relief you need to navigate this intense fear.

What Is Monophobia?

Monophobia, sometimes called autophobia, is the extreme fear of being alone.

“Monophobia is a phobia where people experience anxiety connected to being alone or feeling lonely,” Jameeka Moore, Psy.D. who specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other anxiety-related disorders, told The Mighty. 

People with monophobia can fear being alone for a lot of reasons. One person might be worried about an emergency happening to them (like burglars breaking in or having a heart attack), and there being no one around to help. Another might view being alone as “confirmation” of their fear of being unwanted by the people in their lives. No matter how the fear manifests, people with monophobia typically connect being with others to emotional and/or physical safety.

Symptoms of Monophobia

Someone with monophobia can experience high levels of anxiety when faced with being alone — even if they are in a place that usually feels comfortable for them, like their home or workplace. In extreme cases, some people might not be able to use the restroom without another person being in the room with them.

When alone (or avoiding being alone), they might fall prey to “catastrophizing,” an irrational pattern of thinking that makes us believe the worst is bound to happen, even if the odds are pretty small. For example, someone with monophobia might live in a low-crime area, but still feel anxious and overestimate the probability of being robbed, leading them to never be alone as a way to prepare for this “eventual” outcome.

According to licensed clinical psychologist Philip Pierce, Ph.D., when triggered, people with monophobia can experience common physical anxiety symptoms like dizziness, shaking and rapid heartbeat. Some other symptoms might include:

  • Excessive worry about being alone
  • Difficulty breathing or hyperventilation
  • Intestinal distress
  • Increased perspiration
  • Feeling faint

In order to avoid uncomfortable symptoms like these, people with monophobia may engage in “safety behaviors,” actions taken to cope with and decrease anxiety. One classic safety behavior is avoidance.

“When the symptoms are activated, people will experience an intense urge to avoid being alone or to flee situations where they are alone,” Dr. Moore explained.

Other safety behaviors may include always living with roommates, traveling in a pair or group or constantly being on a phone or video call when home alone. Clinical postdoctoral fellow, Samantha Myhre, Ph.D., noted some people may be prone to reassurance-seeking (for example, constantly asking loved ones when they will be back) or dependency on medication or substances to cope with the fear of being alone.

What Causes Monophobia?

For some people, monophobia can be traced back to a past traumatic experience, usually from childhood.

“Some people who deal with monophobia might have experienced a traumatic event while alone in their past and as a result, have developed a belief that they must be with someone in order to be safe,” Dr. Myhre told The Mighty. “Others might have a history of separation anxiety as a child.”

In other cases, the “cause” of monophobia is unknown. If you have monophobia, but don’t have a “reason,” have no fear! Finding the root cause of a phobia isn’t necessary for successful treatment. 

If you find yourself unable to be by yourself, you’re not alone. Monophobia or not, it’s important to get the help you need. Reach out to a trusted mental health professional and loved one for support. To connect online with people who care, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe.

Treating Monophobia

If there’s one thing you need to know about treating monophobia, it’s that treatment for phobias, in general, is often very successful. Patients who engage in exposure and response prevention (ERP) — the gold-standard treatment for phobias — often see victory over the fears that held them back for so long.

For those who have never heard of ERP, it’s a type of therapy that involves slowly exposing yourself to your fear and resisting the ways you’ve typically responded to it in the past. Sound difficult? It can be! Facing your fears head-on is challenging, but it can help you live a freer life.

In ERP therapy, a specialist will gradually lead you through a series of “exposures” designed to acclimate you to your fear over time so you are able to tolerate it without avoiding it or using safety behaviors to cope. If you’re wondering why ERP discourages avoidance and safety behaviors, it’s because they can actually hurt you in the long-run by strengthening your aversion to being alone. 

Some examples of exposures for someone with monophobia might include listening to music or having the TV on while you’re by yourself, gradually working up to sitting by yourself in a room in complete silence. 

“Exposure therapy can be incredibly empowering when you show yourself (and your brain) just how strong you really are,” Myhre explained.

Living with monophobia doesn’t mean you are doomed to struggle forever. Anxiety doesn’t have to always be in the driver’s seat. For anyone who is on the fence about seeking treatment, Myhre has a few words of encouragement:

At times our anxiety can convince us that the worst possible outcome is likely to happen and that if it did, we would not be able to cope with it. Well, anxiety can be a liar! Continuing to believe this thinking trap prevents you from having the chance to prove your anxiety wrong. If you are struggling with monophobia, I encourage you to consider whether following the demands of your anxiety is getting you to where you want to be. If it isn’t, please consider seeking treatment with a qualified mental health professional. Exposure therapy can feel intimidating, however, your life and future are worth the “risk.” Phobias are highly treatable and you deserve more than what your phobia gives you!

For more on ERP and phobias, check out the following stories from our community:

GettyImages photo via JORM SANGSORN