December 25, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

How do I get over my completely insane (and crippling) fear of spending time alone.

I've clearly had this problem for a while, but somehow wasn't able or willing to recognize it until yesterday.

A couple weeks ago my boyfriend and I ended up having a HUGE and RIDICULOUS fight the night before my birthday. He had made plans to go hang out with a friend, and I had assumed that since we were hanging out that day and on my birthday we would obviously spend midnight together. I ended up turning the entire thing into "WELL OBVIOUSLY MIDNIGHT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT" (even though I hadn't mentioned that to him, and I'm not even sure its true.) I framed it, unfairly, as him being neglectful, inadequate etc (I didn't directly say that, but it was the tone definitely)

The fight ended up lasting almost 3 hours, at which point he said it was getting ridiculous and didn't seem to be ending and he was going to leave now and see me tomorrow (probably). At this point I freaked out and said "You can't leave me alone on my birthday" "I would have made other plans" "I can't spend it alone!" "Why are you doing this to me!?" etc. I started crying as hard as I have in a long time. The idea of his leaving me alone seemed like the ABSOLUTE WORST THING THAT COULD EVER HAPPEN IN THE HISTORY OF EVER. He accused me of being manipulative, which is fair, I was. I was, in that moment, willing to do or say ANYTHING to get him to stay. Because his leaving was the end of the world in my crazed mind.

After the fact, I can totally see that I was being ridiculous. And this isn't the first time these sorts of fights have come up. (Although the "birthday" factor made things seem a lot more magnified, it's never been this bad.)

I try to make sure I have plans with my friends or family EVERY night. I look at my google calender and am calmed if it is full, or uneasy if it is empty. If my boyfriend cancels plans with me at the last minute, I always freak out because I am afraid I won't have time to make other plans. To him, he doesn't get why spending a night alone is the end of the world. It's stupid too, because often I will miss a party or stay home by myself by choice. Somehow that's perfectly fine... because I chose it.

Yesterday I hadn't made plans, and because it was Christmas Eve, I couldn't get ahold of anyone. I started to panic. I got so worked up I could barely breath and started crying. The idea of spending Christmas Eve alone scared me. I kept trying to tell myself that it was just a day, and it wasn't a big deal. But I wasn't calmed until by chance my bf called and we made plans to go get food. I don't know why I'm so crazy.

This is ruining my relationships, and sets me off into a guilt-shame spiral when I'm not in the moment and I can use my logic to see why it's so crazy. I've tried to use coping strategies but they are always lost in the moment. It's like my brain goes away and all there is is a giant pit of evil and if I don't find someone to talk to immediately I will fall into it. That sounds crazy, but its about how it feels.

I'm going to go talk to my university about counselling in January, but it takes a while to get into, and I feel like I need some advice/coping strategies NOW.

Side question: Should I talk to my boyfriend about my realization? Part of me wants to, but I don't want him to feel like I am trying to say that I am entitled to act the way I do, or like I'm trying to justify my behaviour. It isn't justified.
posted by pandorasbox to Human Relations (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure what to say about your boyfriend. But I would look into why you are so scared to be alone. Is it because you are bored? Scared to be alone in your thoughts? Ask yourself that....
posted by Autumn89 at 12:28 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to be like you. It was exhausting for everyone. I think I felt that if I was alone it was because nobody wanted to be with me. But that it was fine if I turned down invites to be alone, as I was clearly wanted.

Time and maturity cured me of this. I would have recommend seeing a psychologist for 17-23 year old me. I reckon it's abandonment issues.

It's not healthy, it's horrible for you and everyone around you and it will make you ill with worry.

I think the thing that may have helped me a little bit was to know that this also happens to some other people, it is NOT normal, and that being at a loose end is so completely and utterly normal and ok that it has a name.....being at a loose end. Also friends know you're like this and it makes them feel used when they realise.

Good luck, younger version of me. It's hard, but you can do it. Get some help and give your boyfriend some space. Apologise and tell him you were an idiot. No need to go further in to it just now. Hugs, possum.
posted by taff at 12:28 PM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

Side question: Should I talk to my boyfriend about my realization?

Write him a letter. Explain your realization. Apologize. Articulate that you sense you might need to seek some help in dealing with it. And ask his help in finding ways to help you cope with this till Jan. Reiterate your warmth and affection for him.
posted by infini at 12:35 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I knew someone like this. The root seemed to be a pattern of abandonment when she was younger - her father left her mother when things got tough, a valued mentor died right as they were starting work on something interesting. She had the same extreme attachments to 'special' days, also.

This seemed to be related to having a diminished sense of self-worth, like it only ever got half formed because her security kept getting stripped away.

I've heard that kids who grow up poor with weak or absent parents frequently exhibit the behavior where they hoard food in their rooms, even afterwards if they into much better situations - It's almost like you're hoarding people. The new parents can't understand that it was defense mechanism against literally not having food to eat sometimes.

I'm not sure what the best way to move forward is, but I think that just wanting to change and basic mindfulness are the core of every successful strategy. Recognize the negative feelings when they happen, allow yourself to feel the feeling, but at the same time distance yourself from it.
posted by spatula at 12:40 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might enjoy this wonderful video: How to Be Alone (it's one of my favoritest things ever)
posted by danceswithlight at 12:42 PM on December 25, 2012 [15 favorites]

Why think of it being alone? Isn't there a book you want to read? A recipe you want to make? A project you want to focus on?

I would definitely write to your boyfriend and apologize for the freakouts and manipulation. Let him know you are seeking help, and that you will be trying to grow as a person, which includes not treating him as a creation only put on this earth to give you self-validation.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:07 PM on December 25, 2012

Can you desensitize yourself by having one day a week where you don't plan to see anyone?
I mean, if people happen to ask you to sonething on that day you might as well go (seeing as in this scenario it doesn't bother you to refuse an invitation). But make a conscious effort not to meet people. Instead, plan treat yourself to your favourite movie, do things that make you feel busy and proud of yourself (like knitting or writing) or take a luxurious bath.
Maybe that will help reprogram you to see alone time as something positive?
You could also enlist the help of a friend to maybe text you that evening with "go you!" messages.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:44 PM on December 25, 2012

Practice spending shorts bursts of time alone. You'll feel panicked, start crying, and want desperately to call friends or family. Force yourself to go for another minute... then another minute ... See how many minutes you can last. Once you break past the horrible despair and realize that you are still alive and still sane, you will feel momentarily triumphant. Practice this with increasing stretches of time, until you have built up the confidence that you can survive being alone.

It is like going through rehab for drugs or smoking. If you force yourself to get past the addiction symptoms, eventually you will be cured. If you break down and take a hit when the withdrawal hits, you'll never break free.
posted by cheesecake at 2:03 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was, in that moment, willing to do or say ANYTHING to get him to stay. Because his leaving was the end of the world in my crazed mind.

This sort of "frantic effort to avoid abandonment" type stuff is one characteristic of borderline personality. Not saying that's you- there are many other criteria- but I'd agree with maybe discussing these issues with a therapist soon. Seriously, it will make you feel better, I used to have feelings sort of like this- though maybe not as intense- and now that I've started dealing with them better it's a pretty significant weight off my mind, and it's just easier to live without all that intensity.

Also, maybe your boyfriend is just bad for you. I used to fear abandonment from my ex and in retrospect, he WAS a jerk who strung me along and almost certainly would have abandoned me by now if I hadn't left him first. Sure, maybe all the insecurity really is coming only from you, but I find that hard to believe.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 6:49 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

The true definition of being an introvert is that you recharge from alone time...if you are an introvert who is denying herself this time, you will be always frustrated and upset. You need to practice being alone...find something you really want to do but can't with other people around (really getting into a book, learning a language, taking a long bath) and SAVE it until you are alone. THat will make you look forward to being alone for a bit at least. Have some friends on call that if you get panicy, they will at least talk online or on the phone. And I agree to look at your relationships if you were previously ok with being alone...they might be subconsciounsly be leading you to totally depend on them for your happiness. Blessings!
posted by msleann at 6:58 PM on December 25, 2012

Also, maybe your boyfriend is just bad for you. I used to fear abandonment from my ex and in retrospect, he WAS a jerk who strung me along and almost certainly would have abandoned me by now if I hadn't left him first. Sure, maybe all the insecurity really is coming only from you, but I find that hard to believe.

You love this guy. You fear he doesn't love you and you're shaming yourself so you can change yourself to get him to stay.

In the end, it's not a lot to want the person you love to value you. Calling you manipulative is weird. You weren't fake upset, you were real upset. And boyfriends who call their girlfriends manipulative aren't great guys usually. It's a trick, a way to make you feel bad for having emotions he finds inconvenient.

You might love him, but this guy is half out the door and doesn't really care about you as much as you do him. Which is not to say you shouldn't be more independent, but only to say that, yes, your reliance on this guy to not wreck whatever self esteem you have left is a bad bet.
posted by discopolo at 8:37 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, if this is the same guy from previous questions, you're working way too hard and wrecking yourself for someone who really should be more sensitive.
posted by discopolo at 8:41 PM on December 25, 2012

Set aside one night a week to not hang out with friends, and give yourself something to do. I recommend a yoga class. You're with people, but you're focusing on yourself in a structured way. If you find yourself without plans, fine--go to yoga.

This also works with any kind of exercise, but make it something directed, like a running program or another kind of class.
posted by elizeh at 7:49 PM on December 26, 2012

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