The fear of loneliness – being without company, standing apart, feeling isolated – affects almost all of us. It is only natural for human beings to want to feel close and connected with others – after all, we live in a very social world where our interactions with each other help us build fuller and happier lives.
Many psychologists and mental health professionals agree that being connected and having a support network is one of the most important prerequisites for a healthy and happy existence as a human being. Unfortunately, there are times when we find ourselves alone – despite our best efforts – due to factors that are often out of our control.
The thought of being alone for extended periods of time can be terrifying or elicit feelings of anxiety and sadness – often causing us to act in unhealthy ways.
Why is the idea of being alone so scary?
The Primal Switch
What is it about being alone that flips a primal switch in us, causing us so much emotional – and in some cases, physical discomfort?
* The answer probably lies within the fields of Evolutionary Psychology and Human Development. There are adaptive advantages to fearing being alone.
* During ancient times, people that traveled alone would have been more vulnerable to attacks from predators and other neighboring tribes. Being alone also could have meant that one would have to fend for him/herself, which would greatly decrease one’s chances of survival in the wild.
* We also know that people need contact and touch at a young age. A famous study performed on a group of monkeys found that when young monkeys were raised without physical touch and warmth from their mother, they would show signs of mental illness and distress later on in life.
* This is not to say that humans are the same as monkeys. But, at a very basic and primal level, many animals (humans included) have an emotional need for contact with others.
Overcoming the Fear of Being Alone
Since we already know how powerful the negative effects of not having contact with others can be from an early age and from an evolutionary standpoint, it should come as little surprise that the feelings of fear that we experience when alone can seem overwhelming.
* The first step to overcoming the fear of loneliness is to realize that the feelings you may experience can be intense and that this is completely okay.
* Whereas most people try to fight the feelings of panic or discomfort at being alone, you are going to do something that most people never do and is also why they rarely overcome this fear. Fighting the feelings brings additional discomfort and can make the “monster” of loneliness appear much bigger and stronger.
* The secret is to let these feelings wash over you completely without fighting them. Let the feelings permeate through you and within minutes you’ll feel completely different about being alone than how you did prior to doing this.
* While it may take longer than a few minutes for the feeling to dissipate entirely, you’ll already start to begin feeling relief as soon as you stop fighting these feelings and accept them. They’re natural responses to our need for contact going unmet for a brief period of time. By not fighting the feelings, you remove some of their power to frighten you or make you uncomfortable.
The fear of being alone affects all of us, no matter how brave we are in other situations.
If you can let yourself feel the emotions fully when you begin to get scared, you’ll free yourself from them, giving yourself a lifelong tool to work through any other unfamiliar or uncomfortable feelings you may experience in the future.
You can’t work through or conquer the feelings if you run from them. Facing them, feeling them completely, takes their power away and they become just another circumstance to you. One that you can develop ways to work through them, dissipate them, and prove to yourself over and over again that you are stronger than your fear.