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Fear of abandonment or autophobia is an anxiety disorder which is characterized by an acute fear of being alone or isolated. It is backed with the fear of having to deal with the difficulties of life all by yourself. This is a fairly common yet discreet psychological problem. If under control, autophobia may seem normal, however, it can graduate to life-threatening limits. Let us understand this disorder better with a case study.

Tiara was a normal girl. She had several friends and a loving family. She was proactive, intelligent, and pretty. She was popular in school, and was the editor of the school newspaper. At the age of 15, Tiara's cousin Simon, also 15, met with an accident and died. Simon and Tiara were very close, and were practically best friends. It took her a while to get over Simon's death, but she was never the same. She became very anxious of people leaving her. She became possessive about her friends, and required constant reassurance of their presence. She hated being left alone, and even contemplated suicide. She jumped from one boyfriend to the other, breaking the relationship herself, rather than getting 'dumped' and left alone.

Tiara is a classic case of a person racked with a fear of abandonment. The events that led to her reaction(s) can be easily apprehended. Let's discuss a few other causes of this disorder.

Common Causes
  • The most common cause of this disorder is that the person has been deserted by someone, either by choice or by death. But such an experience could definitely seed the fear of being left alone in his mind.
  • It is also seen that leaving a child alone in a room, as a form of punishment or in jest, can lead to the development of this fear in him. However, this may not always be the case.
  • Another reason could be the memory of the discomfort the person may have faced when left alone (in a particular situation).
Being a psychological disorder, this fear may arise for several other reasons as well, which may be different for different people. Nonetheless, these are the most common ones.

Symptoms of Abandonment Issues

Tiara's symptoms were not very clear to her family due to their ignorance. This led to a delay in taking appropriate action at the right time. Let's see the symptoms to help deal with this phobia at the earliest.

Keeping Them Too Close
One of the first and most apparent symptoms is that the person will make constant efforts to reach out to people. This could make him seem very extroverted and friendly. But in reality, it could just be a means of pacifying himself that he is not alone. There is a possibility that this symptom has a 'clingy' clause attached to it. This means that the person will try hard to hold on tight to the people in their lives, which on the contrary may drive them away.

Panic
Panicking is another symptom. Making constant calls, sending messages at odd hours, and disturbing one's leisure time, are all signs that the person longs for attention. He/she feels that giving their loved ones a little space and time apart, would mean giving them an opportunity to escape. Their anxiety of detachment is rooted in their fear of being alone.

Playing the Emotional Card
The person will use emotional blackmail for simple and small matters. Using lines like, if you leave, I will kill myself, is a classic dialog heard quite often. He will say whatever it takes to stop the person from leaving, even if it is for a short span of time.

Jealousy
Fear of abandonment is often ascertained as an unrealistic form of jealousy. The concerned person accuses his loved ones of being unfaithful, or giving unbalanced love to one or more people. He may also compel his loved ones to cut off contact with the ones that make him feel insecure.

Relationship Hopping
Jumping from one romantic relationship to another is a very deceptive symptom. The person believes in ending the relationship rather than being hurt or dumped. This will compel him to switch relationships, to avoid emotional bonding and commitment.

Need for Constant Reassurance
The patient will need constant reassurance that he is loved and cared for. He will ask questions like why do you love me, or how come you care so much about me, to his near and dear ones very often.

Distancing Themselves from Others
Some people who have felt abandoned by a loved one in their childhood, may find it difficult to trust the bond of a love relationship, and may distance themselves emotionally as a protective measure. This is the result of a separation anxiety that he/she develops over a period of time. They find it difficult to accept any love relationship, due to their fear of losing them, like they did before.

Lack of Self-confidence
One of the most important symptoms of this disorder is that the person will have a very low sense of self-worth and self-esteem. He will make constant efforts to perfect himself when he is around his loved ones. He will not trust his own judgments, and will be indecisive about critical issues, until someone else's perspective comes into play. He is likely to go overboard, catering to all their needs, even if they don't deserve it.

People suffering from this disorder might exhibit all or most of these symptoms in varied degrees ranging from mild to intense. These could be taken as a basis of understanding whether a person, in fact, has a fear of abandonment or not.

Dealing with the fear of being alone is like dealing with any other anxiety disorder. The person will need counseling and care. The counselor will help him find the root cause of this fear, which, in most cases, can be traced back to incidents that have taken place in his childhood. The counselor will help the person understand that he is constantly struggling and making efforts to get noticed. Once he gives up on these expectations, stops struggling, and takes life as it comes, he can successfully get rid of this fear. He should try to keep his mind occupied with work or other activities, which will give him less time to feel anxious or lonely. Regular conversations with loved ones can also help.

Fear of being abandoned is a disorder that is not easily traced, but one that can really affect a person. The key to this is to think positively, take the help of a counselor, and trust your loved ones.