Photo courtesy of Matt Janicki
My old dog used to get so upset when I left the house that he’d start crying and howling if I so much as touched my shoes or looked at my keys. Admittedly, I thought he was being more than a bit dramatic about things.
Then I had children, and I learned that babies do it too! Infants go through a very distinct phase of not wanting to be away from their parents when they develop the concept of object permanence - the knowledge that objects and people don’t disappear when out of sight. Infants from age 10 months to 3 years may put up quite a fight any time they are asked to separate from Mommy or Daddy. I experienced this with both of my children; however, one was much more anxious than the other.
Traditionally, diagnosed cases of separation anxiety have been limited to young children, pre-teens, and pets (usually dogs). A dog is a pack animal and it goes against its nature to be left alone. Human infants are learning object permanence, and adolescents are going through a lot of transitions, during which anxiety is common.
But what if you don’t fall into any of the above categories and you’re still extremely distressed when faced with being apart from a loved one? In the 1990s, Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder became recognized as a specific mental disorder because of psychology pioneer Vijaya Manicavasagar.
If you’re suffering from Adult Separation Anxiety Disorder, you’ll exhibit some of the following symptoms:
- Major feelings of distress when thinking about being apart from an attachment figure (usually this is a spouse or friend)
- Excessive worry about this person when you are apart
- Extreme fear of being alone
- Fear of going to sleep alone or inability to sleep away from home; insomnia
- Nightmares about being alone or being separated
- Headaches, stomach pains, vomiting or dizziness when anticipating separation from the person to whom you are most attached
In your efforts to make small but significant changes in your life, the stress and fear of being alone is definitely something that you should address. Being overly attached to someone as an adult is hard on relationships and individuals.
I’ve recently met several people who were really struggling with being alone, and the suffering of their partner was what was I noticed first. Most spouses simply can’t deal with such neediness and many turn away from the relationship. Ironically, many people with Separation Anxiety have trouble forming lasting relationships.
Any type of anxiety is something that can be treated successfully. If you or a loved one is suffering from feelings of excessive fear and nervousness that are out of proportion to the situation at hand, don’t be afraid to turn to a professional for help.
I did, and it made a major difference in my life. The right medication combined with talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy eased my anxiety and helped me start functioning normally again. In your journey to take control of your life and get on the right track, remember that asking for help is a very courageous thing to do, and in the case of a mental disorder, it will make all the difference.