Most people are aware of the term separation anxiety. It's usually used to talk about children, or occasionally pets. Separation anxiety in children is considered a grave issue because a child that is unable to be separated from his or her parents becomes more likely to miss out on crucial psychosocial development opportunities, and could develop further anxiety problems later on in life.
What you may not realize is that adult separation anxiety may also be a serious problem, and psychologists have considered adding it to their diagnostic manual. Many adults are prone to these separation anxiety issues and may not even know it, indicating that the problem may be more widespread than it was first believed.
Think You're Suffering From Adult Separation Anxiety?
ASA may be hard to self-diagnose, but you may be suffering from other anxiety issues that contribute to these feelings of anxiousness. My anxiety test can help you score your anxiety, compare it to others, and learn more about your separation anxiety.
Click here to take my anxiety symptom test, which will help you understand your anxiety issues better.
From Childhood to Adulthood
Separation anxiety may have developed during childhood, or it may have become a problem due to the experiences you've had as an adult. Many of those with anxiety and those that have suffered from abuse or neglect find some or all of the symptoms of ASA.
It's complicated, but treatment is possible. It starts with your anxiety symptoms. If you haven't yet, take my free 7-minute anxiety questionnaire now. You'll be able to see your anxiety rank and score and learn more about the severity of your symptoms.
How Separation Anxiety Manifests in Adults
The real issue is spotting it. Separation anxiety at its extreme levels may be quite noticeable. Those with an overwhelming attachment to a close relative to the point where they cannot leave their side without experiencing a panic attack are very likely to be suffering from separation anxiety. But what about in its lighter forms? Here are some examples of behaviors that could potentially relate to ASA:
- Extreme Jealousy A definite example of separation anxiety in adults is jealousy. Jealousy may be completely unrelated to ASA - for example, control of others is the cause of jealousy, as are trust issues - but some forms of deep jealousy may also be due to separation anxiety, where the individual becomes far less trusting because they're subconsciously worried that someone will leave them. This is especially true if the jealousy is accompanied by anxious thoughts, such as a fear of being alone or irrational concerns about infidelity.
- Over Strict Parenting There is also some evidence that extremely strict and demanding parents may have separation anxiety issues as well. Sometimes referred to as reverse-separation anxiety, the parents may be so concerned that their child will someone leave them someday that they try to control the child's life as best they can.
- Stuck in Relationships Another way that separation anxiety may manifest itself is in the way that people treat relationships. Not just romantic relationships either, but also friendships and occasionally familial relationships. Those that are in relationships that are otherwise "bad" for their physical or mental health may be suffering from some form of adult separation anxiety, which is why they become afraid to leave the relationship.
- Mooching Finally, those that "mooch" off their parents into adulthood or those that never seem to leave their friends' homes and appear upset over the lack of connection may be experiencing separation anxiety in some way. Or they may simply be using them.
Because there are no diagnostic criteria for ASA yet, it's difficult to say whether or not any of the above behaviors would be included, and research into adult separation anxiety is currently very slim. But there are reasons to believe that ASA is a genuine problem, and affect the lives of countless adults.
Symptoms of Adult Separation Anxiety
Because there has yet to be a precise diagnostic tool set forth to gain a better understanding of separation anxiety in adults, it becomes difficult to tell what is a symptom of ASA and what may simply be an adults personality. The best way to understand what ASA is is to view the symptoms of separation anxiety in children and see how they can manifest as adults. In children, symptoms of separation anxiety include:
- Distress when attached to a specific figure or figures.
- Excessive worry about losing these figures.
- Anxious, "worst case scenario" thinking about separation.
- Trouble sleeping when away from a specific person.
- Physical complaints when separation appears imminent.
One might also add the belief that the person cannot live without another person, or that their quality of life will suffer dramatically.
Adult brains are much more advanced than the brains of children, so it's likely that adult separation anxiety will reveal itself in different ways. Nevertheless, severe distress at the thought of being without someone is very likely to be a problem of ASA, and some variation of the above list would likely fit into any diagnostic criteria.
How to Stop Adult Separation Anxiety
Because adult separation disorder is only recently being recognized as a serious mental health problem, there aren't many treatments that have been developed specifically to address the disorder. But there are some treatments that may be beneficial. If you believe you or someone else has ASA, finding help is important. The first step is admitting that there is a problem because combatting ASA takes a conscious awareness of your separation anxiety symptoms. Then you can try some of the following:
- Countering Other Anxiety Treating your anxiety symptoms can be very helpful. Many people with ASA display obsessive thoughts very similar to OCD, and some experience anxiety attacks when left alone. Recognizing the symptoms of other anxiety disorders can be extremely advantageous. Click here to start my anxiety test and see what you can treat.
- Childhood Separation Procedures The same treatments that help children with separation anxiety may help adults as well. ASA can benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as systematic desensitization - learning to be alone in a way that is calming and better for mental health. Some medications may also be recommended, and relaxation strategies can be implemented as well.
- Support Groups Finding support can also be beneficial. Support groups for ASA may be a big help because it provides the person with additional social support beyond the person they're connected to. Often one of the fears is losing that support so that a solid support group may be of assistance.
Research into ASA needs to continue before it's easy to recommend treatment, but the above list has been effective for those with ASA in the past. You should also make sure that you're treating any other anxiety and stress issues as well, as these tend to exacerbate ASA symptoms.
I've helped many people with adult separation anxiety overcome their fears, but you have to start with my free anxiety test. Only by addressing the symptoms can a treatment be advised.So if you haven't yet, click here to begin.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Nov 28, 2017.