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What Is The Difference Between Autophobia & Loneliness?

Lonely individual on a park bench

Autophobia is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by the idea and experience of spending time alone.

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.

People with autophobia do not necessarily have to be physically alone to experience symptoms. 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.

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.

Symptoms of Autophobia

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
  • overwhelmed by anxiety
  • like they can’t breathe
  • like they might faint
  • like they can’t think clearly
  • compelled to flee or find company

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 often put pressure on personal relationships.  I actually see and treat this phobia quite frequently and nearly every client has interpersonal strife, angst and out of proportion emotional responses.

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 parents 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.

When treated with neuro-plastic modification, most people can manage their autophobia well, and the outlook for people who have the disorder is quite positive.

If a person experiencing autophobia speaks to a doctor, such as myself, and engages with the proper treatment, then their condition is more than likely to improve. With the right treatment plan in place, over time I have seen nearly all the anxiety my client’s experience when left alone, reduce significantly, or go away entirely.  This is NEUROPLASTICITY at work!!!

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Dr. Sydney Ceruto

A Pioneer in Neuroscience-Based Coaching

As the founder of MindLAB Neuroscience, Dr. Sydney Ceruto has been a leading force in integrating neuroscience into coaching and counseling for over two decades. With three master's degrees in psychology and two PhDs in behavioral and cognitive neuroscience, she is widely considered a top expert in her field.

Harnessing the power of neuroscience-based coaching, Dr. Ceruto's innovative approach focuses on neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and neural pathway rewiring to foster lasting positive change in mental health.

Dr. Ceruto holds esteemed memberships in the Forbes Executive Council, Positive Performance Alliance, Wharton Executive Education Program, the International Society of Female Professionals, and executive writing positions for Alternatives Watch, Brainz Magazine, and TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.

Dr. Ceruto's accomplishments include:

  • The 2022 CREA Award.
  • A lead research position at NYU Steinhardt.
  • Volunteer work with Covenant House and the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI).

Her science-backed method of Neural Rewiring has successfully guided thousands of clients toward happier, more productive, and more resilient lives.