Fear of loneliness is a relatively common type of discomfort among people who go into psychotherapy, as well as many others who do not find this problem to be treatable with professional help.
It is a phenomenon in which emotions and ideas about what might happen in the future combine to form a vicious cycle of fears and feelings of helplessness.
In this article we will see a summary of how the fear of loneliness arises and what we can do to overcome it.
How does the fear of loneliness appear?
The first thing to be clear about is that whenever we talk in psychology about the causes of a particular emotional or behavioral problem, we are necessarily simplifying a very complex reality.
Of course, simplifying, in an abstract sense, is not always bad; after all, virtually every branch of science has to simplify what they study, such as breaking it down into variables. The key is knowing how to spot the most relevant aspects that allow us to explain a lot of what we are trying to understand.
What are the most relevant elements to understand how the fear of loneliness arises? Let’s see.
First of all, it should be noted the importance of anxiety as a phenomenon involved in the fear of being alone. Anxiety is both a psychological and physiological condition that causes us to put ourselves in “alarm mode”, that is, to react quickly to any sign of danger or risk of losing something.
Unlike simple fear, in anxiety our mind is actively working leading us to imagine bad things that might happen. In other words, it is: anxious, has his attention turned to the future, with a pessimistic biasTo try to react as soon as possible at the first sign that one of these problems is starting to take off.
Thus, faced with the fear of loneliness, anxiety leads us to foresee all kinds of disastrous scenarios for our future: total lack of friends, absence of those who could protect us, etc.
2. Isolation or antisocial habits
If we feel this fear of being left alone, we also see over time that this state of anxiety is not used to solve the problem. Therefore, when faced with the fear of loneliness, although it may seem counterintuitive, many people adopt habits that generate a “self-fulfilling prophecy” effect: the expectation of something happening makes it more likely.
This can happen in several different ways. On the one hand, some people think that they are predestined not to have relevant emotional or loving relationships, and this feeling of helplessness leads them to develop a very lonely lifestyle, in which they try to find forms of gratification in a life characterized by social isolation. .
On the other hand, some people adopt a mindset in which others become instruments for one purpose: not to be left alone. In the long run, if there is no therapeutic support, it usually leads to problems, so the relationships that can be established are usually not healthy or stable.
3. Biological predispositions
In virtually all psychological phenomena there are influences from biology. However, these do not determine anything, but interact with psychological and contextual elements. For example, people whose genes predispose them to more anxiety are more likely to be afraid of loneliness, but that doesn’t mean they are doomed to suffer from it all the time.
Distinguish fear from loneliness from phobias
In most cases, fear of loneliness is not a mental disorder that can be considered a disorder. However, it is important to distinguish between two phenomena which correspond to the term “fear of loneliness” and which are nevertheless very different. On the one hand, there is the fear of being left alone, which is diffuse in nature and manifests itself in a wide variety of ways even in the same person, and on the other hand, the phobia of loneliness, which is a type anxiety disorder.
Loneliness phobia, or eremophobia, causes those who develop it to experience a seizure in which their anxiety levels rise rapidly, to the point of having difficulty controlling their own actions. Its symptoms are typical of most types of phobias: tremors, sweating, dizziness or even nausea, etc. In other words, it is expressed mainly in specific situations for several consecutive minutes.
In contrast, diffuse, non-phobic fear of loneliness does not have this component of sudden elevation of anxiety to a very extreme point. Of course, there is one thing that both types of psychological issues share: catastrophic thoughts about what will happen in the future because of this dreaded loneliness.
What to do?
Here are some tips for dealing with the fear of loneliness that is not phobic.
1. Do not focus on people, but on contexts
It would be a mistake to set a goal of forming friendships with specific people to avoid the fear of loneliness; it would only lead to this problematic instrumentalist mentality. It is much more advisable to set ourselves the goal of exposing ourselves to contexts in which we are able to develop a rich social life, in which it is easier to connect with others.
2. Consider the balance between the controllable and the uncontrollable
By definition, we cannot fully control what goes on in our social life because there are many people involved in it. However, in all cases we have some leeway. Always keep in mind that even under the most adverse circumstances, there are things we can do to improve our quality of life.
3. Go for it
Do not give in to crippling helplessness; establishes a routine of social life. You don’t have to envision being a very charismatic person or someone who always knows what to say and what to do in front of others, having good friendships and healthy social relationships doesn’t mean having to do all of these things.
4. Look beyond
It is not essential to feel understood and loved by those who are usually in our social environment. You can look further: for example, in groups of people with similar interests to yours.
5. Help others
Helping others is especially beneficial in cases of fear of loneliness, as it is one of the most important forms of socialization that exists and it helps to bond stronger.
6. Pay attention
Don’t Lock In: Remember that your relationship with your own body is as important or more important than interacting with others. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t have the desire or the energy to socialize.
7. If you need it, go to psychotherapy
Psychologists are trained to deal with forms of discomfort such as fear of loneliness. If you think you need it, count on us.
- 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, Psychological Assessment and Treatment.
- Coplan, RJ, Bowker, JC (2013). A manual of loneliness: psychological perspectives on social isolation. Wiley Blackwel.
- Sylvers, P .; Lilienfeld, SO; LaPrairie, JL (2011). Differences between fear and anxiety about traits: implications for psychopathology. Journal of clinical psychology. 31 (1): pages 122 to 137.