The ability to be alone is built in childhood. As Daniel Bailly, psychiatrist, reminds us, separation anxiety associated with the absence of the mother is a normal factor in child development. It peaks between 8 and 11 months and then fades. Normally, around 18 months, the child understands that even if he doesn’t see her, his mother will continue to exist and she will come back. While waiting for her return, he comforts himself by thinking of her. Provided he could build a solid and comforting relationship with his mother “good enough”.
According to psychoanalysts those who experience loneliness badly often suffer from early affective deficiencies: either due to a real separation from the mother, experienced as a trauma (professional trip, hospitalization); or that this mother was physically present but psychologically absent, because she was caught up in depressive or anxious thoughts. The fact of being alone then revives the pain of the initial maternal absence. These adults need the love of others to be physically reminded of them to be believed. In the case of blues, they cannot appeal to the benevolent inner images of their parents, their friends. They have not internalized the comforting fact that we can count for each other, not even separated by the miles.
A difficult relationship with loneliness can also be associated with a phobia. “We are then in a less disabling neurotic register,” underlines psychiatrist Patrice Huerre. The difficulty of finding yourself alone is the visible result of another fear that is not recognized as such: the fear of silence, of darkness and above all the fear of yourself, of being confronted with one’s own world. The other becomes a “counterphobic” object, reassuring and helping to fight anxiety, in short, the equivalent of an “anxiolytic”! In his presence we avoid thinking about what scares us, our desires, our fears, our fantasies, etc.
It can also be associated with objective fears, with real trauma, however minor (according to a stranger in a parking lot, being harassed on the phone, being harassed on the subway, etc.). A person who has been attacked will fear that it will happen again and will not be able to remain alone. In short, everyone supports loneliness more or less well, and it happens to all of us to escape confrontation with ourselves by numbing ourselves with people.
Most importantly, you can alternate moments of loneliness and moments of dependence: this characterizes emotional maturity.
Elodie 40 years, without profession: “There is always someone by my side”
“I am the fifth daughter of six siblings. At home I shared my room with two of my sisters, there was no intimacy. In the bathroom one was getting up, the other was taking a shower while the third was peeing! I went from living with my parents to living as a couple. I have four children and babysit two babies to earn a living. There is always someone by my side. The rare moments when I am alone I am afraid of feeling unwell and that there will be no one to help me. I jump at the slightest creak. It is so stressful that I call my mother, a neighbor or a friend on the phone! »
Virginie 26 years old, commercial: “If I don’t have anything planned for the evening, it’s fear”
“Every evening I plan a restaurant, a movie with friends. If I don’t have a plan, it’s fear. I stay in the office until everyone is gone, even though I have nothing to do there. I can’t bear to come home to an empty house. First instinct: I turn on the TV. I don’t look at it, but it is there and I fall asleep with it. My stomach is in knots, I can’t swallow anything, I walk like a soul in pain from my bedroom to the living room. »
François 32, pharmacist: “I hate that Marie goes out without me, even if only for an hour”
“Since I met Marie, we’ve been inseparable. I have to hold her hand in mine, look at her, hear her voice. It’s stupid, but I hate that she goes out without me, even for an hour. I feel like she’s letting me down. I do nothing, I wait for his return. Luckily I have my dog! In fact, as soon as I am alone I have the impression of being useless, of being unloved, of being useless, of non-existence! “.
Couple: me, with and without you
According to Serge Hefez, the couple’s therapist, the partners implicitly choose each other for their capacity for autonomy and fusion. In therapy, we first work on the couple’s explicit “official program”. One complains: “He doesn’t take care of me, I’m still alone. The other flees: “She is choking me, I need air.” »
When we turn to unconscious processes, we realize that one is affectively dependent as much as the other. The interest is to make a change in the relationship, to find the right distance, not too symbiotic and not too wide. The empowerment of the other is then no longer experienced as an abandonment but as a bond of better quality.
What must we do ?
By Frédéric Fanget, behavioral psychotherapist
Dive into his discomfort
Make it a habit to look at yourself: analyze what is happening, evaluate your emotions and write down all the negative thoughts that come over you. Running away from the problem is pointless. It is better to look in his past for situations of loneliness that have caused sadness and fear. It’s about recognizing the emotional imprint, the old cognitive pattern that repeats itself in the present.
Gradually getting used to
Force yourself to stay alone in your apartment to do an activity that you enjoy: listening to your favorite piece of jazz, talking on the phone, singing, painting… So loneliness is associated with a positive emotion. In the beginning, a few minutes of solitude will suffice. You have to get used to it little by little, otherwise the phobia is likely to get stronger. If you manage to cope for several hours without being overwhelmed by fear, confidence and optimism are restored. You then only have to test other “delicate” situations, such as going to the cinema or going on vacation alone.
Fear of abandonment by Daniel Bailly.
An overview of the clinical and epidemiological aspects of separation anxiety disorder (Masson).