Monophobia, or the fear of being alone, is a catch-all term for several discrete fears. Some people are afraid of being apart from a particular person. Others have the fear of living alone, being home alone, or being in public by themselves. These fears may or may not share a common cause. A World Mental Health Survey found that childhood adversity and lifetime trauma are important risk factors for a fear of being alone becoming a full-on separation anxiety disorder.1 Regardless of the severity of the fear, support is available.
Understanding the Phobia of Being Alone( Monophobia )
There are a few variations on the fear of being alone and each may have different underlying psychological causes. The fear of being alone in public may be linked to conditions such as social phobia or agoraphobia.2 It may be triggered by feelings of loneliness and challenges with self-regulation. It may be linked to unintegrated traumatic memories of dangerous situations or feelings of inadequacy should an emergency arise, a common concern for many people who fear to be alone even when in their own homes. There may be legitimate reasons for the feelings of fear, such as if you live in a neighborhood with a high crime rate. Generally, these fears should not dictate the way you live your life, beyond encouraging you to take rational safety precautions.
Most people can identify one or a few people that help make up their support system and whom they miss while they are away. Most of the time, these feelings are mild and relatively short-lived. Prolonged distress may be a sign of insecure attachment and may in extreme cases be an indicator of an anxiety disorder. This fear is common in small children. It is generally considered a normal part of development and is not diagnosed as a condition like separation anxiety disorder unless it lasts later into childhood or is unusually severe.
Coping With the Phobia
Regardless of which form your monophobia takes, you might find comfort in a few basic strategies. First, make sure you do what you can to minimize the legitimate risks that may be underlying your fear. Even if your response is disproportionate to the situation, it may be trying to alert you to a needed action in your environment. Once you’ve done that, if your fear response is still causing you distress, the best thing you can do is work on your ability to self-regulate and be present in your environment. Many people find that relaxation exercises lower anxiety levels and can even ward off a panic attack. Purposeful breathing, meditation, and aromatherapy are relatively easy to learn and can be used anywhere.4
If that doesn’t work and the fear is significantly impacting your life, you may find that background noise helps to distract you. Carrying a stimulating toy can also give you something to focus on while in public to mitigate anxiety, as can carrying around a book or tablet. Be careful that this latter option does not become a way of avoiding addressing the underlying causes of your fear. If you are unable to handle this on your own, look to your support system. Talking on the phone or online is often enough to assuage immediate distress. Long-term, some families create rituals, such as having the same thing for dinner or sending special e-mails at the same time each night, to honor their relationships while they’re apart.