Human beings are gregarious animals, who need social contact in order to survive and thrive in life. Family, partner, friends … all this is part of our lives and is of great importance at all stages of life. Although sometimes we need to be alone and some people do not need continuous contact, most human beings need and enjoy the company of others.
So, the idea of prolonged loneliness over time is something that generates some discomfort and suffering. However, some people develop a disproportionate phobia or panic compared to the idea of being alone, even for short periods, suffering from panic attacks and physiological symptoms in the face of such fear. This is what happens to people with hermophobia.
Loneliness phobia: hermophobia
We understand hermophobia to phobia of loneliness. heterophobia it would be classified as a situation specific phobiaIn other words, what produces fear would not be a particular physical element (like a spider or a ray) but a situation or a state in which the subject is or can be: in this case, to be alone.
As a phobia, it is a psychological alteration in which appears an irrational and disproportionate fear (often being the consideration of this irrationality recognized by the subject) towards a stimulus or a concrete situation, in this case the being. only.
This fear is so intense that the fact of confronting the phobic stimulus or the mere idea of doing so generates such anxiety that it is able to generate alterations such as cold sweats, dizziness, headache, tachycardia, or breathing problems, Which also generates active avoidance or escape from that situation or that stimulus or whatever you can remember.
In hermophobia the fear is usually directed towards loneliness, it is common for the fear to be left alone physically, although it also usually includes the idea of feeling alone despite being around people.
In this particular case also appear ruminations and obsessive thoughts with the possibility of being left alone, obscuring the ability to judge and rationalize and feel great anxiety at all times. Even during events where you are accompanied it is common that anticipatory thinking seems to be left behind. The possibility of being alone with strangers can also generate anxious reactions, and the loneliness doesn’t have to be physical.
This level of fear of loneliness can become very disabling, requiring constant attention from the person or company and greatly limiting their daily functioning.
Social contacts with family, partner and friends can deteriorate, as can hobbies and job performance (although this depends on the type of occupation in question). The affected person will avoid being left alone, and in extreme cases, they may become completely dependent on the company of others. So, they will usually be looking to stay with someone or stay in company at all times.
In extreme cases, this can lead to histrionic and theatrical behaviors and even faking illnesses in order to manipulate their environment, which when detected will usually generate distance from the environment and increasing isolation from the subject (A bit of a fact totally contrary to the intention of the subject).
It is also likely that they will adopt a position of emotional dependence on their surroundings, no matter how they treat them, as long as they are not left alone. In fact, beyond the very suffering that this phobia generates, one of its most serious possible risks is that the fear of being left alone can lead to accepting degrading treatment and even situations of abuse in the community. ‘one of the vital areas, including workplace harassment, sexual harassment. or even domestic violence. In some cases, fear and hopelessness, irritability and even aggression can arise if you try to leave them alone.
The specific causes of the appearance of this phobia are not fully known, although several hypotheses have been developed in this regard. First of all, it should be mentioned that the fear of loneliness is common to almost all people, having distinguished this normative fear from the existence of a phobia.
One of the theories in this regard tells us that there are phobias that arise from stimuli and situations that we are preprogrammed to fear, Being a product of the evolution of the species. If we think for example of the phobia of insects or snakes, we can imagine that in ancient times this fear and this flight of these stimuli were adaptive to us because they posed a real threat to subsistence. In the case of loneliness, the same thing happens: in prehistoric times, a person would only be an easy victim of a predator, the ability to defend himself or to acquire food being greatly diminished.
Thus, those who stayed in the group and were afraid of being alone had an easier time surviving, passing this trait on to subsequent generations. If we add to this hereditary tendency the existence of some sort of stress or threatening situation related to loneliness, we have a probable culture medium for the appearance of a phobia or personality disorders such as the addict or the histrionic.
Another theory tells us that this phobia is acquired by conditioning: at some point in life loneliness has been associated with a traumatic event or feeling helpless and the lack of control over our lives, and subsequently the fear generated by this moment is generalized to any situation related to loneliness. Frequent examples are the cases of children abandoned in childhood by their parents, homeless or orphaned at an early age. Bullying or the inability to form strong friendships can also lead to fear of being left alone.
It is also important to note that as a rule, hermophobia usually occurs, just like social phobia, during adolescence and identity formation. At this stage, the deprivation of the company of another or the perception of non-acceptance by the rest makes it difficult to acquire a solid identitySomething that in the long run will make it impossible to be alone with ourselves and need someone’s company to feel complete. It is also common for this type of phobia to occur in people with low social skills, low self-confidence, insecurity, and low self-esteem.
It should also be borne in mind that the fear of loneliness in the background can convey a fear of death, of not being able to move forward on your own, of failing or not achieving vital goals (it is current for one of them must have a family or social success).
Sermophobia is a very disabling problem for those who suffer from it, but fortunately it is a disorder treatable by psychotherapy.
It will first be necessary to explore what the subject fears about loneliness or the ideas or conceptions he has about it. It will also be necessary to work on the reason for the need for companionship, when the patient believes that the fear is born and why, what meaning it gives to the phobia and the expectations and beliefs that it has about both himself and himself. on the world. Or his future.
Once this is done, it may be wise to apply therapeutic resources such as cognitive restructuring in order to work on the subject’s beliefs and to try to generate explanations about reality and about oneself that are more adaptive than those maintained until. present, as well as expectations and demands. both in terms of oneself and the environment.
It will also be helpful to work on stress management, social skills and problem solving, self-esteem and a sense of self-efficacy and autonomy, To be all this something vital in this kind of phobia.
Likewise and as in almost all phobias, the most effective method in the treatment of phobic symptomatology (not so much in its causes, which should be worked with methodologies such as those above) is exposure. This would involve gradually exposing the subject to loneliness, after agreeing with the therapist on a hierarchy of related items to which he will gradually submit. It may also be helpful to use response prevention, meaning that the subject avoids seeking out the company at the time of the onset of anxiety.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
- Bados, A. (2005). Specific phobias. University of Barcelona. Faculty of Psychology. Department of Personality, Assessment and Psychological Treatment.