A lot of people are afraid to be alone. But not a lot of people talk about it.
And some people are afraid to be alone – but don’t know that they are. The mind can be tricky like that.
For instance, we may structure our lives so that we are rarely ever alone. But not because we are consciously recognizing that that’s why we’re doing it.
What’s really interesting to me is that this concept is not well studied. I spent a few hours looking through peer-reviewed journals. Not much exists. I’m not sure why that is but I am sure it’s a real fear impacting a lot of people’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and decision-making processes.
If this feels like it might be you or someone you know, consider reading the rest of this article.
What Causes the Fear of Being Alone?
Like almost any answer you’ll read in any article I write, when it comes to trying to understand “the cause” – it depends. It almost always depends.
Here’s a list of 6 common reasons why people are afraid to be alone:
- They’ve had a traumatic experience of loss and are afraid to repeat it
- They grew up in a family with leaders (parents, caregivers) who were also afraid to be alone (even if they didn’t overtly say it out loud)
- They’ve experienced other significant trauma that they are afraid of happening again and believe it is more likely if they are alone
- They have a weakened sense of self and need constant mirroring and/or reassurance
- There’s something within themselves they are avoiding (consciously or unconsciously) and being around others helps to distract them
- The infiltration of social media into every aspect of our lives has created a false sense of connection that our brains become “used to”
This list is not exhaustive. But these are some of the top reasons that come to mind when I think about people I’ve worked with, people I know personally, and even myself – who can identify with this fear.
What Actually Is Fear of Being Alone?
Well, maybe you should go first. Are you afraid of being alone? If yes, what does that mean? What about being alone makes you afraid?
And is it being alone? Or, the idea of being alone?
Does it mean literally being by yourself?
Living by yourself?
Doing something outside of your house by yourself?
Being in silence?
Being without a partner or a romantic relationship?
Is it serious like, “I can’t leave my house alone or I can’t be home alone?”
Is it moderate like, “I really don’t like being alone. I can do it, but it is uncomfortable?”
And does it all depend on your circumstances?
I almost always recommend starting with questions like these whenever you are self-reflecting.
- What does this question mean to me?
- What do these actual words mean to me?
And in this case – what does ‘alone’ mean to me?
Be Careful With Labels
So often we adopt what we think is the definition of something when it doesn’t actually fit us all that well.
Or, we adopt an idea of something because it sounds right, but then we use that idea to define who we are.
The problem with using labels to self-define is – it doesn’t leave much room for growth. We decide that it is who we are and we see it as a static, permanent truth.
We don’t often realize that it might be working against us to think that way. Foreclosing of future possibilities.
What might it sound like to not use a label to define ourselves?
“This is an experience I have” versus “I am this thing.”
In this example it might sound like: I experience fear of being alone versus I am a person who is afraid to be alone.
Do you notice a difference between those two statements?
I also like understanding it as an experience (versus a definition) because it’s more flexible.
Sometimes we have the experience, and sometimes we don’t. The times we don’t are great opportunities to learn more about where some of our strengths come from. This is important in building resilience against our fears; in this case – of being alone.
Is Monophobia and Autophobia the Same Thing?
Yep. Totally the same thing. Both describe the fear of being alone.
Mono is the greek origin of “alone.”
Auto means “self.”
Phobia is an “extreme or irrational fear of something.”
It’s really important to note that when we use the word “phobia” we are talking about extreme and irrational.
Extreme and irrational usually mean it is causing severe dysfunction in your life.
Extreme example involving dysfunction: “I can’t leave the house because I am afraid to be without my pets. And so, I can’t leave to go to work. And so, I can’t afford to pay my bills.”
Non-extreme example, “I have to go get an uncomfortable Covid test, I am afraid to go alone.”
How to Get Over the Fear of Being Alone
If the fear of being alone is as serious as a “phobia,” then I recommend some type of Exposure Therapy.
True phobias are debilitating to live with. The good news is – you don’t have to. Some psychologists are specialized in this exact treatment and studies show it really works.
If it’s not as severe as a phobia suggests, or even if it is, but you’ve already tried (or are in) Exposure Therapy, I recommend an insight-oriented approach to therapy.
Insight-oriented approaches to therapy help people work through some of the questions I posed at the beginning of the article. Thinking about them in a safe space opens the mind up to really explore and see what it may be about.
If you’re considering working with a therapist to combat some of your fears of being alone, here are some places to start:
All the heals,