Like other anxiety disorders, autophobia may lead to some physical, as well as psychological, symptoms. Autophobia can be distressing to experience and may have a negative impact on a person's life if left untreated.
Understanding autophobia and how it can be treated helps people who have the condition to manage it better. This article explores the definition of autophobia, its key symptoms, and the treatments available.
Contents of this article:
Definition of autophobia
Autophobia is a specific phobia that is not the same as feeling lonely.
Autophobia is a type of specific phobia. A specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that involves a persistent, irrational, and excessive fear of a particular object or situation.
A specific phobia leads to a person avoiding the thing they are afraid of or experiencing intense anxiety if they are forced to endure it. For a person diagnosed with autophobia, the idea and experience of spending time by themselves may cause severe anxiety.
The term autophobia comes from the word "auto" (meaning self) and the word "phobia" (meaning fear). In the literal sense, then, autophobia is when people are afraid of themselves.
However, this is not what the mental health condition, autophobia, refers to. In the field of mental health, autophobia is when a person has a fear of spending time alone.
What is the difference between autophobia and loneliness?
Autophobia is not the same as feeling lonely. Many people experience loneliness when they do not have enough social interaction or lack meaningful relationships. Some people may even feel lonely when they are in a room with other people.
Feeling sad for these reasons is quite rational and different from experiencing autophobia. Autophobia is an irrational, severe anxiety, triggered by the idea of time spent alone or being without a specific person who affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities.
Other names for autophobia
There are a number of different names for autophobia that all refer to the same condition. These include:
Symptoms of autophobia
Autophobia can make people feel that they are unsafe, that they can't breathe, and give them a sense of impending doom.
Autophobia can lead a person to feel very anxious at the prospect of spending specific periods time on their own or without another person.
Another symptom may be that they fear their loved ones are going to abandon them and they will become isolated.
However, if this is the only symptom a person experiences, it is possible that separation anxiety disorder may be the cause.
Sometimes people with autophobia may feel isolated or alone even when they are in a group, as they feel disconnected from the people around them.
When left alone, people experiencing autophobia might feel:
- a sense of impending doom
- like they are unsafe
- afraid an intruder may break in
- overwhelmed by anxiety
- like they can't breathe
- like they might faint
- like they might die
- like they can't think clearly
- compelled to flee or find company
Autophobia can also lead to physical symptoms associated with panic attacks, including:
- feeling dizzy
- breathing too quickly
- feeling sick
- increased heart rate
Experiencing autophobia can lead to the following behaviors:
- going to extreme lengths to avoid being alone
- trying to find company as soon as possible when alone
- not wanting people to leave even when this is impractical
- a lack of independence in relationships
The symptoms and behaviors related to autophobia may put pressure on personal relationships.
Causes and related conditions
The prospect of time spent alone, even in a seemingly safe and familiar environment such as their own home, can trigger extreme anxiety for a person with autophobia.
Autophobia is a fear-based mental health condition. It is not based on any actual threat or risk. People experiencing autophobia may realize the way they feel is irrational, but this does not mean they can control their symptoms.
The cause of autophobia is unknown. It may relate to experiences in childhood that create a fear of abandonment, but there is no research available to support this. Examples include the death of a parent or parent's getting divorced.
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 while they are on their own with nobody around to help. This could lead to a fear of being alone.
Autophobia may be linked to agoraphobia and is sometimes considered to be a symptom of this condition. Agoraphobia is a fear of being unable to escape from a place or situation. For example, a person may experience this when traveling on public transport or walking through a crowded outside area.
Agoraphobia can reduce a person's self-confidence in their ability to complete tasks on their own. This may develop into a fear of spending time alone.
Autophobia may also be associated with borderline personality disorder. However, there is not currently any research available to prove a link.
Anyone experiencing the symptoms of autophobia should speak to their doctor. Once the doctor has excluded any physical causes for the symptoms, they may refer the person to a mental health specialist.
A mental health specialist will ask questions about a person's behavior and feelings. This helps them to evaluate a person's state of mind and diagnose any mental health conditions that may be affecting them.
To be diagnosed with autophobia, the anxiety the phobia causes will be significant enough to get in the way of a person's daily activities.
Management and treatment
CBT may be a recommended treatment for autophobia.
Treatments for autophobia include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy offers people practical techniques to deal with their anxiety around time spent alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 75 percent of people with specific phobias can overcome them with CBT.
According to research carried out at the University of Exeter, United Kingdom, exposure therapy helps to break the vicious cycle of avoidance that can happen when someone has a specific phobia. In autophobia, being afraid of being alone causes people to avoid spending time by themselves. Every time they avoid spending time alone, the idea of having to face spending time alone causes more anxiety than it did before. By exposing a person to their phobia repeatedly in a controlled way, exposure therapy breaks this cycle and increases their tolerance to time spent alone.
Sometimes a person experiencing autophobia may need medication in addition to psychotherapy. Beta-blockers, which block the effects of adrenaline that is released when someone is anxious, may help. Alternatively, benzodiazepines, which have a sedative effect, can help to reduce anxiety. But doctors try only to prescribe these in severe cases as they may cause addiction.
When treated, most people can manage their autophobia well, and the outlook for people who have the disorder is positive.
If a person experiencing autophobia speaks to a doctor and engages with treatment, then their condition is likely to improve. With the right treatment plan in place, over time the anxiety they experience when left alone may reduce significantly or go away entirely.