Eremophobia (phobia of loneliness): symptoms, causes and treatment
The human being is a gregarious animal, which requires social contact to survive and thrive in life. Family, couple, friends ... all this is part of our life and is of great importance in all stages of life. Although sometimes we may need to be alone and some people do not need continuous contact, most of us need and enjoy the company of others.
Thus, the idea of loneliness prolonged in time is something that generates some discomfort and suffering. However, some people develop a phobia or panic disproportionate to the idea of being alone, even if it is for brief periods, suffering from panic attacks and physiological symptoms in the face of this fear. This is what happens to people with eremophobia .
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Phobia to the solitude: the eremofobia
It is understood by eremofobia to the phobia to the solitude. The eremophobia would be classified as a situational-specific phobia , that is to say, what produces fear would not be a concrete physical element (like a spider or a ray) but a situation or state in which the subject is or can be found: in this case, to be alone.
As a phobia it is a psychological alteration in which an irrational and disproportionate fear appears (often being the consideration of this irrationality recognized by the subject) towards a specific stimulus or situation, in this case being alone.
This fear is so intense that the fact of facing the phobic stimulus or the mere idea of doing so generates an anxiety that is capable of generating alterations such as cold sweats, dizziness, headaches, tachycardia or respiratory problems , something that also generates an active avoidance or flight of this situation or stimulus or of what can remember it.
In the eremofobia the fear is in general towards the solitude, being habitual that the fear is given to remain physically alone although also usually includes the idea of feeling alone in spite of being surrounded by people.
In this particular case, rumination and thoughts of an obsessive type also appear with the possibility of remaining alone, clouding the capacity for judgment and rationalization and feeling great anxiety at all times. Even in events where you are accompanied it is frequent that the anticipatory thought appears that it is going to be left alone . It can also generate anxious responses the possibility of being alone with strangers, it is not necessary for the loneliness to be physical.
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This level of fear of loneliness can become very disabling, with the person needing constant attention or company and greatly limiting their daily functioning.
Social contact with family, couple and friends can deteriorate, as well as leisure time and work performance (although it will depend on the type of job in question). The affected person will avoid at all costs remaining alone, being able in extreme cases to become totally dependent on the company of others. Thus, they will usually seek to stay with someone or stay in company at all times.
In extreme cases this can generate histrionic, theatrical behaviors and even the pretense of diseases in order to manipulate their environment, something that once detected will generate in general a departure from the environment and an increasing isolation of the subject (something in fact totally contrary to what the subject claims).
Likewise, it is also likely that a position of emotional dependence will be adopted towards their environment, regardless of the treatment that they provide, as long as they are not left alone. In fact, beyond the very suffering that this phobia generates, one of its most serious possible risks is that the fear of being left alone can lead to accepting degrading treatment and even situations of abuse in any of the vital areas, including harassment at work, harassment sexual or even dating violence. In some cases, in addition, fear and despair, irritability and even aggressiveness may appear if they try to leave them alone.
The specific causes of the appearance of this phobia are not fully known, although several hypotheses have been developed in this regard. In the first place it is worth mentioning that the fear of loneliness is common in almost all people, and this normative fear must be distinguished from the existence of a phobia.
One of the theories in this regard tells us that there are some phobias that come from stimuli and situations that we are pre-programmed to fear , being a product of the evolution of the species.If we think, for example, of the phobia of insects or snakes, we can imagine that in antiquity this fear and flight from these stimuli were adaptive since they posed a real threat to subsistence. In the case of loneliness, the same thing happens: in prehistory a person would only be an easy victim of a predator, being the capacity for defense or acquisition of food greatly diminished.
Thus, who remained in the group and was afraid to be alone had easier to survive, passing this feature to the next generations. If we add to this inherited tendency the existence of some type of stressor or threatening situation linked to being alone, we have a probable breeding ground for the appearance of a phobia or personality disorders such as the dependent or the histrionic.
Another theory tells us that this phobia is acquired by conditioning: at some point in life loneliness has been associated with a traumatic event or feeling of helplessness and lack of control of our life, and later the fear generated by that moment is generalized to any situation related to loneliness. Frequent examples are cases of children abandoned in childhood by their parents, homeless or those who become orphans at an early age. Also bullying or not being able to generate strong friendship relationships can generate fear of being left alone.
It is also important to bear in mind that, as a general rule, eremophobia usually appears, as occurs with social phobia, during adolescence and the formation of identity. In this stage the deprivation of the company of others or the perception of non-acceptance by the rest hinders the acquisition of a solid identity , something that in the long run will make it unfeasible to be alone with ourselves and to specify the company of someone to feel complete. It is also common for this type of phobia to occur in people with few social skills, lack of self-confidence, insecurity and low self-esteem.
It is also necessary to bear in mind that the fear of loneliness in the background may be transmitting a fear of death, not being able to get ahead by oneself, failure or not achieving vital goals (being frequent that one of they are to have family or social success).
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The eremofobia is a highly invalidating problem for those who suffer it, but fortunately it is a treatable alteration through psychotherapy .
In the first place it will be necessary to explore what it is that the subject of loneliness fears or the ideas or conceptions it has about it. We will also have to work on why the need for company, at what moment the patient believes that fear originated and why, what meaning it gives to the phobia and the expectations and beliefs that it has both about itself and about the world or your future.
Once this is done, it may be advisable to apply therapeutic resources such as cognitive restructuring in order to work on the subject's beliefs and try to generate explanations about reality and about oneself that are more adaptive than those maintained up to now, as well as expectations and demands both in relation to the self and the environment.
It will also be useful to work on stress management, social skills and problem solving, Self-esteem and the feeling of self-efficacy and autonomy , all being something vital in this type of phobia.
Likewise and as in almost all phobias, the most effective method in the treatment of phobic symptoms (not so much in their causes, something that should be worked with methodologies like the previous ones) is exposure. It would try to make the subject was making a gradual exposure to loneliness, after agreeing with the therapist a hierarchy of items linked to it to which little by little it will be submitted. It may be useful to also use the prevention of response, that is to say that the subject avoids looking for company at the moment of the appearance of anxiety.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
- Bados, A. (2005). Specific phobias University of Barcelona. Faculty of Psychology Departament de Personalitat, Avaluació i Tractament Psicològics.