Autophobia, the Fear of Being Lonely

Being alone can be healthy and enriching, but for some people it's intolerable. This is the case for those who suffer from autophobia. Today's article will discuss this disorder and its consequences.
Autophobia, the Fear of Being Lonely
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 15 December, 2022

Autophobia is pretty common in this era. This disorder occurs in people who experience high levels of anxiety when they’re alone.

As you may already know, some enjoy solitude while others try to avoid it. Furthermore, some of us like our moments of peace and introspection, and there are times when being around others can feel uncomfortable. Solitude feels like a punishment and companionship ends up becoming a necessity for those who are afraid of being alone.

So, what’s do you like to do on your days off? Are they opportunities to rest and pamper yourself? Or, do you panic and start looking for companions?

Yes, many of us are rather uncomfortable being alone. However, this discomfort reaches pathological levels for a small group of people.

What’s autophobia?

The term autophobia means “fear of oneself.” However, it isn’t necessarily about fearing one’s own presence, but about being all alone. In other words, these people can’t stand feeling lonely.

This disorder falls under the category of phobia and these are the symptoms:

  • There’s an intensely irrational fear of being alone at any given moment.
  • The person avoids being alone by all means and truly feel sick when they can’t find companionship.
  • Irrational fear and anxiety impair the daily functioning of an individual and affect them at a social, personal, and professional level.
  • The symptoms last more than six months.
A lonely person.
The fear of being alone is a characteristic of this era in which most of us are hyperconnected.

Read about Loneliness in Older People and How It Affects Their Health

How does it manifest?

The previous symptoms, typical of autophobia, are basically those of an anxiety disorder and manifest in diverse slopes. Thus, the following conditions usually appear:

  • There are dysfunctional thoughts associated with being alone at the cognitive level. An individual may believe to be in danger (an attack or an accident) and worry no one will be there if they need help and so they’ll die as consequence. However, there’s also a certain component of fear of being ignored or rejected. This is usually someone in great need of approval.
  • Also, there are somatic symptoms at a physiological level such as tachycardia, palpitations, sweating, dizziness, and various pains.
  • On a behavioral level, a person with autophobia avoids loneliness and will try to escape it as soon as possible and by any means.

What are the causes of autophobia?

The causes of autophobia aren’t completely clear and vary depending on the specific case. The origin is usually a direct experience in which a person was alone in a dangerous situation. For example, if they experienced a traumatic experience when there was no one around.

Vicarious learning is also a common trigger for fear after witnessing the negative consequences of loneliness on others.

As we said before, autophobia is common in this era, even though it doesn’t manifest with such intensity in everyone. This is an individualistic, competitive society that promotes independence; a culture that seldom allows introspection.

We’re used to frantic rhythms and overly stimulating environments. New technologies and electronic devices keep us in contact with others or distracted by external information at all times. Thus, we don’t usually listen or look at ourselves, so we don’t really know ourselves.

Indeed, we’re not used to being in touch with our inner selves and we’re uncomfortable when we are. Such discomfort becomes a real fear for those afflicted by autophobia.

A woman on a swing.
The origin of autophobia isn’t always clear and there must be a psychological approach to avoid complications.

It’s essential to learn to be alone

The consequences of autophobia go beyond the discomfort and anxiety it generates in the person. In fact, the inability to be alone can lead to establishing emotional dependency and other harmful relationships. Also, excessive neediness can sever our emotional ties.
Live exposure is the main treatment for autophobia. It involves the gradual exposure of a person to situations in which they’re alone.

It’s also important to perform a cognitive restructuring of the dysfunctional thoughts to replace them with others that are better adjusted and appropriate. Similarly, learning some techniques of control of the activation to regulate the anxiety can also be useful to a person afflicted by this condition.

In short, being alone is a common and healthy circumstance we must be able to tolerate. Furthermore, solitude is a great opportunity to connect with ourselves and improve our emotional health.

Thus, why not take advantage of it and fully enjoy it?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Bonet, J. I. C. (2001). Tratamientos psicológicos eficaces para las fobias específicas. Psicothema13(3), 447-452.
  • Tortella-Feliu, M., & Fullana, M. A. R. (1998). Una revisión de los estudios retrospectivos sobre el origen de las fobias específicas. Psicología conductual6(3), 555-580.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.