When you think about separation anxiety disorder you most likely associate it with children. But there’s now evidence that the condition is also present in adults. In adults, the condition causes an irrational feeling of anxiety and fear when a spouse or loved one is out of sight or has been out of contact for a relatively short period of time. Psychologists are actually contemplating adding the condition to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. About 1/3 of children suffering from separation anxiety disorder go on to be adults suffering from the disorder with these adults accounting for 22.5% of adults suffering from separation anxiety disorder. However, the vast majority of adults suffering from separation anxiety disorder develop the condition as a result of events that have occurred during adulthood. A higher percentage of adults suffer from separation anxiety disorder than children. While 7% of adults develop the condition only 4% of children develop separation anxiety disorder. Because the condition has no diagnostics tools it’s hard to tell if an adult has the disorder or if their behavior is caused by personality traits. It’s likely that adults may display similar symptoms as children suffering from separation anxiety disorder, albeit slightly modified.
Such symptoms include:
- Distress when separated from 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 eminent.
Other less obvious behaviors may also indicate the presence of separation anxiety in adults such as:
- Irrational displays of jealousy caused by a subconscious fear that their partner may abandon them. Such jealousy stems from or may be accompanied by a fear of being alone, an illogical fear of being cheated on, or anxious thoughts about separation.
- Overprotective and controlling parenting caused by a fear that their children may one day abandon them. In an attempt to prevent this, the parent tries to exert as much control over the child’s life as possible.
- Staying in unhealthy relationships may also be a sign of separation anxiety disorder in adults. Most likely caused by the fear of being alone.
The condition can also lead to the breakdown of a romantic relationship because a partner’s clinginess becomes too much to bear. However, because separation anxiety is not a recognized disorder in adults there is no standardized method of treatment. Nonetheless, some case studies have shown that antidepressants and cognitive exposure can help elevate the symptoms of separation anxiety in adults.