Here is the DSM IV criteria for Separation Anxiety Disorder:
A. Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more) of the following:
- Recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
- Persistent and excessive worry about losing, or about possible harm befalling, major attachment figures.
- Persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure(e.g.; getting lost or being kidnapped).
- Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because fear of separation.
- Persistent and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings.
- Persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home.
- Repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation.
- Repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomach aches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated.
B. The duration of the disturbance is at least 4 weeks.
C. The onset is before age 18 years.
It's strange how much I identify with this disorder. Every symptom could have been written specifically about me. I'm going to outline a little about how this disorder impacts my life.
I suffer from a fairly frequent fear of being kidnapped and forced to be isolated from my significant other. I also fear that he will be killed or will be taken away from me through a variety of scenarios (some more peculiar than others). I'm afraid he will meet someone else and leave me because he will like them more than me or find them more interesting.
When he has to go anywhere for any reason for any length of time my immediate response is to panic. A million scenarios run through my head. He has to go visit his grandma in the nursing home and my brain goes on panic overdrive: he likes his grandma more than me, he'd rather see her than see me, he just wants to get out of the house and be away from me, there might be a cute nurse there and she could be better than me and they could have an affair and maybe he'll never come home at all or maybe his car will wreck and he'll get amnesia, what if I am kidnapped while he's gone and he can't find me? It's silly and outside of the moment I can identify it as silly, but in the moment the fears feels very real and very valid.
My separation anxiety also causes me to miss out on doing things I would otherwise enjoy. I will avoid scheduling things for times when my significant other is at home, even if the overlap is less than an hour. I can't stand reducing the amount of time we have to spend together by even a few minutes. If there is a scheduling change for either of us, I panic. If I feel that he had control over the change and scheduled something during a time when we could have been together I get frustrated and accusatory. I panic and I behave irrationally.
Over the last three years, I have spent a total of maybe 15 nights away from my significant other. Those nights I couldn't sleep. I laid in bed and cried. I felt like he had abandoned me. I felt like he didn't love me anymore and didn't care that we were apart.
And that brings me to one of the major issues I struggle with. Because I place such importance on being together, when he does not show signs of separation anxiety when I'm not around I feel betrayed, unloved, undervalued. By my (flawed) logic: I love him and want to be with him, so I'm devastated when he's not around. He's not devastated when I'm not around (he's not even bothered!), so how can he love me? Does he even like me? Maybe he never wanted to be with me at all!
And this is the trap of Separation Anxiety Disorder. The more you try to make the person like/love you, the more you push them away and the reason for this is simple: to this other person, there is no issue. You are fighting a war in your head that doesn't really exist. It's as simple as that, but it's a damn hard lesson to learn. The reason he doesn't care when I'm not around is because it doesn't matter to him, not because he doesn't like me or love me or want to spend time with me, but because he does not share my fear that significant people might not return once they leave. From his perspective, since he knows I will always come back he is fine. Why shouldn't he be fine? He is secure in our love and attachment, he has no reason to believe my departure would or could mean anything other than that I have something in my schedule, so he finds something to do on his own and is just as happy as a clam. When I return home it's as if nothing has even happened, because nothing has happened, separations and reunions are a natural, normal part of life.
People with Separation Anxiety Disorder have a reason to feel the way that they do, they have a reason to fear abandonment. Many adults with this disorder were once neglected, abused and abandoned kids. They were hurt or not protected by the people they trusted. The important thing to remember is that other people have not had the same experiences and thus do not feel the same way. Adults who have had healthy relationships (particularly in childhood with their parents) are not afraid of being left alone. Their fundamental beliefs about the world are different from those of people with separation anxiety. Accepting and understanding this is the first step at overcoming the disorder.