Separation anxiety describes an unwillingness to be without a guardian or family member, or to be away from home, due to fear. This is actually a very common developmental stage for infants between the ages of 7 months and two years. It helps them to distinguish between their guardians and strangers, because they are at a point where they finally realize that a person does not “disappear” completely when they are not present, creating an attachment with their parents. As a result, they have a hard time being around new strangers without their parents. However, separation anxiety can affect teenagers, adults, and even dogs as well. Fortunately there is a solution to this form of anxiety, no matter how long it has persisted or how old the person experiencing it is.

We often do not realize just how attached we are to our surroundings until we are taken out of them. We become accustomed to what is familiar for us. The people in our daily lives and the places we spend the majority of our time become a huge part of who we are. Being separated from these familiar attributes can make us feel very alone and we may not know what to do with ourselves. Panic sets in as we feel completely unprepared to enter an unfamiliar environment.

Challenges Faced By Separation

Different people experience different levels of separation anxiety. Some may only feel mildly uneasy when separated from their homes or families, while others may feel more serious, full-blown affects of anxiety. We might fear that the person being separated from us is going to be lost forever, or put into serious harm or danger while we are not with them. They are not presently with us, so how do we know something horrible isn’t happening to them right now? Since the familiar person is unable to protect us, we might fear that we ourselves are going to end up in danger, such as getting lost or being kidnapped by a stranger. The thought of never seeing this person again eats away at us. For younger individuals, it may be difficult to go to sleep without a parent present, and the ensuing stress can give them nightmares. This can reach a point where the individual refuses to go to sleep at all out of intense fear.

Many of us who experience separation find it almost impossible to do what is expected of us when we are in these unfamiliar settings. As a result, we may refuse to be alone, attend school, or be anywhere that takes us out of our comfort zones. Someone who has spent most of their life at home may refuse to travel, even if given the financial opportunity, knowing they will not be able to handle being away from home for so long. Even if we are forced into these situations, we are likely to be extremely hesitant. We may even fake physical symptoms such as stomach pains or headaches to keep us from being separated. As a result, we obviously miss out on a lot of things life has to offer. The more we miss school, the less of an education we get. The more we avoid social situations, the less likely we are to make new friends.

How Separation Affects Other Relationships

Although the person with separation anxiety is affected by it the most, it can affect others as well. Refusing to attend school leads to different reactions from the parents. They might scold the child and make them feel worse out of frustration. Parents tend to have a lot on their plate to begin with, and an uncooperative child easily leads to further stress. A parent cannot always be there for their child, which in and of itself can be difficult to accept. Because the child is expecting more from the parent, the parent could be under constant strain, which can lead to bigger problems. Your separation anxiety could affect everyone in your household, since they are the ones most familiar to you and you seek them for comfort. They may feel torn between taking care of you because it makes them feel important, and helping you to become more independent because they know that it’s what’s best for you, regardless of how you feel about it.

How Therapy Can Help

Therapy has been proven to help separation anxiety by teaching us relaxation techniques and how to focus on positive feelings and thoughts. Rather than feeling bad and being punished for your behavior when being separated, you are rewarded for your small victories as you overcome your symptoms. This is a step-by-step process that encourages you to eventually be able to handle being on your own without your family member. Therapy can help to ease us into being comfortable in unfamiliar surroundings at a pace that works for us.

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