For evolutionary reasons related to survival, humans fear being rejected and turned away by being alone. The motivation behind these behaviours is that, at the time of our ancestors, maintaining affiliative bonds of mutual protection and collaboration with one’s social group was fundamental for the survival of the individual and the species. To end up being excluded and expelled constituted a real risk for one’s life! Our brain has therefore evolved by identifying the possibility of being rejected, marginalized, forgotten and therefore being alone as a serious threat. The signs of separation stress and the motivation for reunion are the main ways in which this evolutionary strategy is expressed. Why do people fear of being alone?
Being with others and creating connections to avoid exclusion has therefore acquired vital importance. The man must be able to create relationships, to be part of a group and must not suffer a distancing. Being alone is very frightening, by nature.
Feeling of loneliness and social isolation
It therefore seems that the feeling of loneliness motivates the individual to remedy any feelings of disconnection and exclusion. These are potentially harmful. But with the evolution of the species, the sense of loneliness has also taken on other and multiple meanings. It is in fact a subjective feeling, characterized by emotional and cognitive aspects, which allows us to attribute meaning to the experience. By evaluating our relationships or having beliefs about them we can not feel alone even if isolated or, on the contrary, feel alone in a crowd.
Hence, loneliness was recognized to be more influenced by subjective parameters. This sometimes makes relationships with others qualitatively poor such as: relational difficulties, couple conflict and lack of intimacy, disappointment with one’s life conditions.
If, based on what has been said, feeling alone is a subjective state of mind, isolation has a more objective value. It can be quantified, for example with the number of social contacts you have or the distance from family or friends. But the two constructs have a two-way relationship as they can influence each other. A person may feel lonely after moving away from a group of friends, but their predisposition to feel alone, even in the presence of the group, can negatively affect relationships and make separation more possible.
The fear of loneliness is self-sustaining
Given these premises on the relationship between loneliness and isolation, it is therefore possible to imagine that there may be a sort of “self-fulfilling prophecy” regarding the subjective perception of loneliness.
Those who are more predisposed to a sense of loneliness will also have greater attention to social threats. He is more likely to identify dangerousness in relationships, has higher negative expectations in interactions with others, and has a selective memory for episodes in which he has felt alone or excluded. As if he were looking at the world through the subjective lens of his fear of being alone .
These predispositions are unconscious and will lead to dysfunctional behaviors in relationships with others. These in turn will respond negatively to the person’s clumsy attempts to connect. The result will be the confirmation of being alone, with increased anxiety, depression, decreased self-esteem in a self-perpetuating vicious circle.
Origins of the fear of being alone and of loneliness
But why do some people feel connected even if isolated and others feel alone among so many people?
As often happens in psychology and psychopathology, the factors that determine a mental state, emotions and perceptions of oneself are many. It is now clear that, even if there are innate, genetic dispositions, interpersonal experiences have a predominant role, influencing a possible innate disposition.
We now know that the exchange of care with the reference figures is the first context in which the opportunity to gain experience with the other presents itself. Family environments characterized by emotional deprivation, abuse, manipulation by the caregiver, abandonment or messages of not being well as a person, can lead the child to structure ideas / patterns of self as unlovable, of not worth, different from others.
These patterns, which we are often unaware of, may underlie the fear of feeling alone as an adult . This aspect would be too threatening as it would bring back painful emotions experienced in childhood.
How to deal with the fear of being alone
First of all, it is useful to ask ourselves what the ultimate fear of the fear of being alone is: “if I remained alone then does it mean that no one loves me?”, “If I remained alone I would not know what to do or how to move in the world?” does that mean I’m not good as a person? “.
Secondly, to understand if there are real living conditions that increase isolation. Such as having poor contact with others, not having friends or family to rely on, and therefore acting in order to reduce objective isolation .
Finally, ask yourself if the fear of being alone is invalidating, how much you limit your quality of life, social relationships, your mood. If the answers to these questions are positive, it is useful to ask a professional for help to understand the origins of this fear and work to take care of yourself.
Treating excessive fear of being alone
Cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and related third generation approaches (Schema Therapy, Compassion Focused Therapy , Acceptance and Commitment Therapy etc.), have the general objective of bringing the person to take care of himself. This is to meet those needs that were frustrated in childhood (such as being loved, cared for, protected or appreciated).
This process takes place through cognitive, behavioural, experiential techniques and through the therapeutic relationship. This serves as a corrective and “remedial” experience. In fact, the therapist will be the one from whom to “learn” to accept us as persons and to love us for who we are.
More specifically, these therapies are characterized by some fundamental aspects:
- An accurate exploration of childhood and adolescent experiences believed to be at the origin of current psychological problems, so as to allow us to understand why there is this fear of being alone.
- The use of emotional / experiential techniques (eg imagery rescripting), which allow to “rewrite” the experiences of the past, through the satisfaction of frustrated needs.
- Centrality of the therapist-patient relationship, considered a fundamental tool for evaluating and changing the person.
- Great attention to the dysfunctional ways in which the patient tried not to feel that pain deriving from the self-patterns. For example, if being alone is intolerable, the person could remain in an abusive relationship, use substances to not feel the pain of being alone or isolate themselves, convinced that there can be no hope.
These therapies tend to pursue the values of the person, which are the effective guide for our actions, to create a rich, full and meaningful life, while we accept the pain that inevitably accompanies it.