Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder

Doughter getting emotional with her mother

My mother always shares a childhood vignette with me at the time when I first went to school. She shared that I did not cry at all when they took me to school on the first day or for that matter any day at all. My parents understood the experience as me being an obedient child or jokingly suggested that maybe I was happy to be away from them. But the question is: Can the supposed lack of separation anxiety be thought of myself being in a space of secured attachment or that the kind of parenting I was exposed to, allowed me to not feel any anxiety over the temporary separation? Lets’ find out!!

Separation anxiety as an experience is perhaps experienced by most of the children very early on in life. It can most visibly be noticed when a 4/5-year-old child starts going to school daily. We may have noticed either in our families or in our friends’; how children cry, throw a fit, or become extremely fragile when they are first taken to school. Slowly and gradually with the support of the school authorities and interaction with new children of their age; they come out of the fear and anxiety and thus actively engage in the development of their social life.

Separation anxiety, if one were to think of it, is something which starts sometime after we are born and might continue throughout our life. Once an infant starts recognizing their surroundings and most importantly one’s parents or immediate family members, it might start crying the next time when the caretaker disappears from its eyes. The infant in this scenario needs constant reassurance till the time it comes to realize that the caretaker who disappeared before its eyes is present somewhere near such that he/she would appear if the infant would need something. Therefore it might not be wrong that separation anxiety in an infant might start with the realization of the absence/presence of the caretaker.

What causes this anxiety? On a general note, when one is forced to leave behind a familiar environment such as the comfort, security of the home and go to a new space where there is no possible space for attachment figures to accompany(this is temporary, for gradually the child goes on to develop significant attachment figures in terms of teachers, friends, etc); separation anxiety might kick in. The everyday phenomena of separating from one’s loved ones for various purposes but the inability of a person to overcome the anxiety after some time might even cause feelings of abandonment inside the person, making him/her own up various coping mechanisms harmful in the long term. It might be noted that separation anxiety and separation anxiety disorders are completely different with the added condition of the anxiety being persistent and causing discrepancies in everyday life routine.

Parenting styles might play a huge role in predicting the risk of the child developing anxiety over the separation. Those who experience authoritarian parenting or negligent parenting might be at a higher risk for fear of abandonment, they might be in a constant state of separation anxiety. Thus, to get the love/affection from their caretakers they might become dependent, clingy, or even possessive in later relationships.   

Experiencing extreme persistent anxiety regarding separation from one’s family members whom one grows to get attached to, in fear of separation when one starts clinging to situations, people, objects, etc; it may be said that one is suffering from separation anxiety and because it can be observed persistently over a period of time and because it starts to interfere or cause disturbances in one’s personal, social and occupational life such that one is unable to proceed as far as daily activities are concerned; this condition becomes to be known as a separation anxiety disorder. The person experiencing this condition might be in a constant state of extreme worry about the loss of attachment figures to illness, death, etc such that either the attachment figures might be in harm or they themselves might experience some event leading to the separation. Such a condition when not addressed in time might lead to serious consequences wherein the person might refuse to step out of the house completely or agree to go only in the presence of an attachment figure. Such normal activities as children sleeping over at a friend’s place might also be done away with for even a minute separation from the attachment figure might prove disastrous for that person. In addition to this, nightmares and complaints of physical ailments might also be a common occurrence. In children especially those who are not so verbal yet through words, might express their internal conflicts majorly through play and also through their dreams/nightmares.  

The ongoing pandemic, lockdown restrictions, social distancing, etc might induce separation anxiety in people. Due to the pandemic and reduced social life; not being in a situation to meet one’s near and dear ones, be it family, friends, relatives, or even spaces such as offices, universities, schools, etc, can actually induce separation anxiety which can manifest itself strongly until timely intervention is possible. It is therefore the need of the hour to stay connected by whatever means possible with all our loved ones to get the reassurance that this separation is albeit a temporary one and that there are happy, good times ahead for all of us.   




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