Autophobia refers to anxiety triggered by the idea and experience of spending time alone.
Autophobia is not an official diagnosis. It does not appear in the manual that clinicians use to diagnose mental health conditions, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.
Instead, it falls under the category of specific phobias, which are fears or anxiety about a specific object or situation.
Any phobia is distressing and can have a negative impact on a person’s life if they do not receive the right treatment. And like other anxiety disorders, autophobia can have physical and psychological symptoms.
Understanding autophobia and its treatments can help people manage the condition. This article explores the definition of autophobia, its key symptoms, and possible treatments.
Autophobia is anxiety about being isolated from other people. A person with this phobia does not necessarily have to be physically alone to experience symptoms.
Other names for autophobia include eremophobia, monophobia, and isolophobia.
Autophobia is a specific phobia. This means that it is a type of anxiety disorder that involves a persistent, irrational, and excessive fear of a particular object or situation.
A person with a specific phobia avoids the thing that they fear, and if they encounter it, they experience intense anxiety.
For someone with autophobia, the idea and experience of spending time alone can cause severe anxiety.
Still, there are no official definitions of autophobia. Autophobia is complex, and it may be difficult to distinguish from separation anxiety disorder, fears of abandonment, disordered attachment, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Autophobia is not the same as feeling lonely.
Loneliness refers to negative emotions that arise when a person feels that they have too few social interactions or meaningful connections. People can feel lonely even when they are with others.
Having autophobia involves severe anxiety triggered by the idea of spending time alone.
People may also feel anxious when they are lonely, though this anxiety is less intense than that of autophobia.
Autophobia has the same general set of symptoms as other specific phobias. It involves experiencing severe anxiety at the prospect of spending time alone.
Specific symptoms of autophobia may include:
- experiencing immediate fear or anxiety when alone or when thinking about being alone
- avoiding being alone or situations that may require it
- having panic attacks
- having an awareness that the fear is disproportionate to the situation
- having general anxiety or depression
For a doctor to diagnose a specific phobia, a person must have experienced symptoms for at least 6 months, and the symptoms must have caused significant distress or have impaired important areas of life, such as the person’s social or work life.
In children, specific phobias can cause crying, temper tantrums, freezing in place, and clinging to a caregiver.
Experiencing autophobia can lead to the following behaviors:
- going to extreme lengths to avoid being alone
- trying to find company as soon as possible
- not wanting people to leave, even when this is impractical
- having a lack of independence in relationships
Indeed, the symptoms and behaviors related to autophobia can put pressure on personal relationships.
People with autophobia may fear that their loved ones are going to abandon them and that they will become isolated. If this is the only symptom that a person experiences, it is possible they may instead have separation anxiety disorder.
As with other specific phobias, the cause of autophobia is not always clear. It may relate to previous trauma or negative experiences when alone.
Phobias often develop in childhood, and many people do not remember the specific source of the fear. Autophobia may relate to a childhood experience that led to a fear of abandonment, such as parental divorce or a death in the family.
In some people, a phobia is linked with another condition.
Autophobia may develop as a result of other anxiety disorders.
For example, a person who experiences panic attacks may develop a fear of having one with nobody around to help.
Also, autophobia may be a symptom. For example, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom consider a fear of being left alone to be a symptom of agoraphobia, a fear of being in places or situations where escape might be difficult.
Agoraphobia can also reduce a person’s confidence in their ability to complete tasks on their own. This may develop into a fear of spending time alone.
In some cases, autophobia may be linked with generalized anxiety disorder, other phobias, or PTSD.
If a person suspects that they have autophobia, they can speak with a doctor or a mental health professional for advice and treatment.
The clinician will ask about the person’s behavior and feelings. This helps them evaluate the person’s state of mind and work out whether any mental health conditions may be affecting them.
The clinician may diagnose a specific phobia if the fear and negative emotions have lasted for more than 6 months and get in the way of important areas of the person’s life, such as their social or work life.
Once a person knows the cause of their symptoms, they can take steps to find the most effective ways of treating and overcoming them.
Treatments for autophobia are the same as those for other specific phobias. They can include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: Usually called CBT, this provides practical techniques to help a person cope with anxiety, and it is a common treatment for specific phobias.
- Exposure therapy: This is another type of behavioral therapy. It involves gradual exposure to the feared situation, in a safe and controlled way, to help reduce overall anxiety.
- Medication: In combination with psychotherapy, this can help ease anxiety about specific situations.
Among the options for medication are beta-blockers, which reduce the effects of adrenaline that the body releases during anxiety. A doctor may prescribe benzodiazepines in severe cases, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn that these can lead to addiction. They can also have life threatening effects when used with alcohol or opioid drugs.
Autophobia, like other specific phobias, is treatable. Therapy, sometimes in combination with medication, can help a person manage their symptoms.
With the right treatment approach, the anxiety usually reduces significantly or goes away entirely.