Autophobia is the fear of being alone or isolated. Think of it as the opposite of conditions like social anxiety. When someone has social anxiety, they're afraid of other people in general, even within their own homes. They fear interactions with strangers and sometimes even friends.
When someone has autophobia, they generally understand that their fear is irrational. However, that doesn't mean that they're able to get rid of their phobia and overcome it without assistance.
People with autophobia have difficulty feeling safe when they don't have anyone around. Isolation is terrifying (which has made the COVID-19 pandemic especially stressful for people with autophobia).
While they may be safe in their homes, autophobia can cause people to become paranoid. They may hear noises or attribute normal noises to dangers. They may suspect that there are intruders in their home or that they will experience a serious injury or illness with no one around to help them.
Someone can be an introvert and still have autophobia.
Fear is normal. Everyone feels anxious or fearful from time to time. Even a standard fear of isolation, or discomfort when being alone, is normal. So what makes autophobia so serious?
There are three basic types of phobias. All phobias are irrational and extreme fears. People with phobias have large reactions to the objects of their fear.
For example, someone with arachnophobia may panic, cry, leave their home, or break down if they see a spider. They may even feel as though there is always a spider around even when the spider is gone. The average person may feel uncomfortable or even frightened, but their reaction will be mild.
Simple (or specific) phobias are phobias that surround a specific object, animal, situation, or place. When someone has this type of phobia, they often know that it's irrational, but are still unable to control their emotions.
Autophobia is a complex phobia. Complex phobias include agoraphobia and social phobia. Autophobia is sometimes a part of agoraphobia, but it can also stand alone. Not much is known about autophobia, so it's difficult to classify.
Complex phobias must stand in the way of the person's day-to-day life in order to be classified as such. Simple phobias are easily avoidable (though still serious). Because autophobia causes so much stress and anxiety without the presence of a specific trigger, it is a complex phobia.
Signs and Symptoms of Autophobia
So how would one know that they have autophobia? Whether you're wondering for yourself or for someone else, there are a few symptoms that you can look out for.
People with autophobia obsess over the idea of being alone. They may carry this fear in the back of their minds even when they're amongst others. The idea of leaving the social group may cause them intense anxiety.
People with this phobia will resist leaving social situations, family gatherings, or even outings with a single friend or partner. They may even unintentionally, overstay their welcome.
Being alone will trigger the person's fight or flight response. They may want to leave their home in search of another person to cling to. They may also feel legitimate panic symptoms, such as chest pain, sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and even hyperventilation.
It's difficult to determine the specific causes of phobias. Some phobias may have no initial trigger at all, while others may relate to past events or even trauma.
People with autophobia may have experienced isolation as children. Others may have been in abusive relationships (romantic and otherwise) in which the abuser used isolation as a punishment.
Regardless of the cause of the autophobia, the result is always the same.
Treatment of Autophobia
There are several ways to treat phobias. Not everyone will respond well to every type of treatment, so it's common to try several types or even use two treatment methods simultaneously.
Here are a few common treatments for autophobia.
Exposure therapy is popular for people who experience phobias, but it's often too intense for people who are just starting their healing journey. Exposure therapy introduces a trigger or stimulus to the patient in a safe environment to try to acclimate and desensitize them.
When this happens, people who experience phobias are able to rationalize their fears and control their emotions. In a safe environment, they're able to build better associations with the thing that scares them.
There are several types of exposure therapy.
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a popular method of exposure therapy that works alongside imaginal exposure therapy. Imaginal therapy requires the patient to imagine the thing that they're afraid of. This is good for general "concepts" like the fear of being alone.
With EMDR, the patient focuses on the situation that scares them. This is best if experiences triggered the phobia. The patient "returns" to those experiences as the therapist helps them reprocess.
Exposure therapy is better for specific phobias, but it can still be effective for autophobia under the right conditions.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is considered a first-line treatment for a wide variety of conditions (including phobias).
A CBT therapist wants to help their patient understand the connection between thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. Their goal is to allow the patient to come to terms with their phobia and re-route their thoughts. The patient should learn to accept that the phobia is irrational.
Sometimes CBT therapists also use exposure therapy, but this depends on the patient.
CBT therapists will teach patients coping mechanisms. These are especially helpful for people with autophobia because if they're alone, they won't have anyone to turn to. They'll need to regulate themselves.
Coping mechanisms involve activities, grounding, and breathing exercises (amongst others).
Anxiety medications aren't a solution for autophobia, but they can help relieve the symptoms so the person with the phobia can go about their day-to-day life without intense stress.
Common anxiety medications for people with phobias are benzodiazepines (such as Xanax). They're available in both fast-acting and standard varieties. Fast-acting varieties are good for impending panic attacks.
Some psychiatrists may prescribe an SSRI for anxiety, though these are more often used for depression.
Beta-blockers are best when used in combination with exposure therapy. As long as they're used with therapy, research suggests that they may prevent the patient by "reducing the retrieval of fear memory."
Beta-blockers are also effective for managing physical symptoms of fear and anxiety. These include rapid heartbeat, heart palpitations, flushed skin, and more.
In extreme cases, sedatives are often necessary for people with autophobia.
Sedatives are a final option for people who are experiencing serious symptoms from their autophobia, such as panic attacks or debilitating anxiety. They're also helpful if the patient's autophobia causes sleeplessness.
Sedatives can be benzodiazepines (as we mentioned before) but there are other options. Barbiturate's and hypnotics are popular sedatives, as are antipsychotics.
When someone takes one of these medications, they will feel sleepy. Some people fall asleep right away while others feel serene and "heavy." If the patient takes a sedative, they should not operate heavy machinery (including cars).
So what are common triggers for autophobia?
Autophobia is triggered when someone is alone or fears being alone. Even if the person with autophobia is around other people at a gathering, the idea of the gathering ending can be enough to trigger a response.
Breakups can trigger autophobia symptoms. Even the threat of a breakup may cause severe emotional distress. Even a roommate, family member, or partner who leaves the home to go on a temporary errand can trigger autophobia.
What The Research Says
There isn't much research about autophobia.
While the core of the fear might be legitimate (for example, it is possible that the person with autophobia will be alone forever, especially if they don't seek other people), the response is what makes it a phobia.
Because autophobia is a complex phobia, there is still plenty of research to be done in the future.
Risks Associated with Autophobia
Autophobia, like all phobias, comes with several risks.
The most common risk of autophobia is panic attacks. Panic attacks can feel like heart attacks. These will further distress the person with autophobia.
People with autophobia may develop other mental health conditions. Common conditions include anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Some people with autophobia (and other types of phobias) experience substance use disorders.
What Are the Side Effects of Autophobia?
Autophobia does have side effects, but the side effects vary. For the phobia itself, side effects include (among others):
Extreme mood disturbances
If the person with a phobia is taking medication, they also have to consider the side effects of that. These vary depending on the type of medication that the person is taking.
Common side effects of medications that help with anxiety or sedation include:
Whenever someone takes a new medication, it's important to talk to their doctor about potential risks and side effects.
There is no medical test for autophobia. If you suspect that you might be experiencing autophobia based on the information above, it's important that you contact a mental health professional for an official diagnosis. There are simple online tests you may take such as this one, which may give you a better indication of your condition. However, we always recommend seeking out a professional for an official diagnosis.
The therapist or psychiatrist will talk to you about your symptoms. They may ask you questions about your past experiences and how you react to triggers.
Mental health professionals often take their time when diagnosing patients. Many mental health conditions have similar symptoms, and a proper diagnosis is necessary for treatment.
Can Autophobia Be Cured?
Phobias are tricky. Whether or not you can cure your phobia is up to you and your specific situation. With the right combination of therapy and medication, you may be able to overcome your autophobia.
It's important that people with autophobia don't try to "cure" it by always surrounding themselves with other people. While this may seem like a simple solution, depending on others for your own happiness is harmful (for both parties).
A patient is "in recovery" when they no longer overreact to being alone. They may not feel comfortable, but their discomfort doesn't trigger a fear response. People with phobias can relapse, so it's helpful to continue seeing a therapist or psychiatrist even after you feel better.
With all of this in mind, is it possible that you have autophobia?
Autophobia is a serious condition. It's more than simply "not wanting to be alone." Rather, it's a phobia that disrupts the life of the person who is experiencing it.
Phobias are manageable, but it's important to seek the proper care. You can move past your phobia with help and support.
If you're ready to start seeking treatment, why not get a quote for the best health insurance that can help you get the perfect mental health professional? Visit us at Insurdinary and get a quote today.