How to Overcome the Fear of Losing Someone

Why am I scared to lose my partner?
on July 09, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Laura Caruso LMHC

No one wants to think about losing their loved ones. 

While we are all aware of our mortality, and the mortality of those close to us, it’s not something that anyone likes to dwell on. 

However, if you struggle with a consistent fear of losing someone, it can impact your every interaction and can have a profound effect on your relationship behaviors. So, is worrying about losing someone normal? And if it’s impacting your daily life, how do you cope? 

We look into the human fear of loss, and how to develop healthy coping strategies with the help of the experts in our in-depth guide. 

What is a fear of losing someone? 

The fear of losing someone is more than just a passing thought or worry, it denotes a strain of death anxiety known as ‘Thantophobia’. These fears become so intense that they impact daily life, crippling your well-being, and affecting your behaviors in relationships. 

No one wants to think about dying, or one’s loved ones passing on, and these worries are a normal part of life especially since we are all faced with our own mortality at one point or another. 

To understand the depth of Thanatophobia, it’s helpful to dive into the extensive research on the topic — helping us to understand the impact of these fears. 

The most commonly referenced research is the Collett–Lester Fear of Death Scale (CLFD), which believed that one’s fear of death is directly correlated with the fear of others dying. However, recent research shows that this isn’t always true and that your fear of losing someone else isn’t tied to your fear of death. 

For example, those who have a low fear of their death are almost equally likely to be high in fear of others or others dying. 

Therefore, looking at death anxiety as primarily self-directed is too limited a view, with the fear of losing someone else producing equally as impactful side effects. 

While grief is a natural part of life, causing us all to be confronted with our own mortality, people who struggle with thanatophobia will have a different response to the loss of a loved one compared to those with a neutral acceptance of death. Further research found that participants experiencing complicated grief had significantly higher death anxiety compared to participants without complicated grief. 

By considering all of this research, the importance of finding healthy ways to deal with death anxiety is further highlighted, so you can spare yourself this prolonged grieving process — and live a life without fear of an inevitable fact. 

What causes this fear of losing someone? 

There are many common causes of this heightened feeling of death anxiety, with the inevitability of our own ending as an inescapable fact of life. 

However, there are also other triggers and root causes for a more present and debilitating form of death anxiety. 

  1. Trauma: Many traumatic experiences can bring the concept of death to the forefront of our minds. For example, a near-death experience, the loss of a family member or loved one, or a personal experience of illness that made you feel close to death. 

  2. Anxiety disorders: Mental health is very closely tied to the concept of thanatophobia, as certain anxiety disorders heighten these feelings. People who struggle with generalized anxiety disorder or other mental health disorders are more likely to struggle with thanatophobia. 

  3. Loss of a loved one: If you lose someone you love, it will naturally bring the fear of death to the forefront of your mind. As you struggle through grief, it can trigger fears about the loss of other loved ones and can lead to several symptoms. 

  4. Illness: If you or someone you love is ill, it can trigger a fear of the worst, as you worry that recovery isn’t possible. These fears were incredibly heightened by the pandemic, as many people suffered from fears about contracting the virus and the effects of it long-term. 

  5. Existential concerns: As you get older, you are naturally more aware of your own mortality, and may spend a lot of time thinking about death. While some people find it easier to make peace with it, others can suffer greatly from these fears. 

  6. Religious beliefs: Certain religions heavily emphasize the punishment of the afterlife, or instill a fear of death into their practitioners. 

Is it normal to fear losing someone? 

It’s completely normal to worry about losing someone that you love. 

“The fear of losing someone is a universal human experience that can profoundly impact our relationships and well-being,” says Laura Caruso, licensed therapist and relationship expert. 

“Whether triggered by past experiences, uncertainties about the future, or the vulnerabilities of deep emotional connection, these fears can feel debilitating if left unmanaged.” 

While death anxiety is the most common form of these fears, many people in romantic relationships are afraid that their partner will walk away one day and leave them behind. Instead of worrying about death, many people are consumed by the fear that their partner will fall out of love, be unfaithful, or leave them. 

These fears are commonly attributed to your attachment style, with people with an anxious attachment being most prone to these thoughts. While reassurance can help with this strain of anxiety, it’s important to devise greater coping strategies so it doesn’t impact your daily life.

Symptoms of thanatophobia 

  1. Extreme fear of death: While everyone is wired to fear death, and to fight for survival, thantotophobia manifests as a very extreme fear of death. This may lead to avoidance behaviors, such as a refusal to discuss death, to attend hospitals, or funerals. 

  2. Preoccupation with mortality: If you struggle with death anxiety, you might find you’re constantly thinking about your own mortality. This goes beyond the normal thought, but a prolonged occupation with the fact that no one can live forever. 

  3. Intrusive thoughts: Death anxiety can manifest as constant intrusive thoughts, with thoughts of death corrupting your daily life. This can include persistent images of thoughts about the death of their loved one. 

  4. Physical symptoms: There are many physical symptoms of thanatophobia including panic attacks, increased heart rate, dizziness, sweating, and nausea. These debilitating symptoms can signal the need for professional help. 

  5. Struggles with daily life: With a combination of these symptoms, it can be very difficult to go about your daily life. These fears can also have an extensive impact on your relationships, as you might struggle with separation anxiety from your loved one — as you are preoccupied with a fear of losing them. 

Effects of thanatophobia on relationships

While the fear of losing someone is normal, extreme death anxiety can affect every new relationship and interaction.

If you struggle to let go of these fears, it can be overwhelming not only for you but also for those you love. 

“Understanding the complex intersection of emotion, thought, and behavior is critical in examining how thanatophobia impacts relationships,” says Caruso. 

“Emotionally, individuals grappling with the fear of losing a loved one often experience heightened anxiety and stress. These emotional states can fuel intrusive thoughts about potential loss, leading to patterns of overprotective behavior.”

As death anxiety fuels these fears, it can serve to push people away as they interpret these behaviors as clinginess or obsessiveness. 

“This protective stance, intended to mitigate fears, can paradoxically strain communication and deepen emotional distance between partners, fueling dependence or clinginess to overcompensate for the disconnection,” says Caruso. 

Therefore, your fear of losing someone can result in losing them from your life.

What are coping mechanisms for dealing with the fear of losing someone? 

With so much at stake, it’s important to seek help if death anxiety is having such a profound impact on your life and relationships. 

“Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences with thanatophobia,” says Caruso. 

“How has this fear impacted your relationships, thoughts, and behaviors? Recognizing the patterns and triggers associated with thanatophobia can be a powerful first step toward personal growth and resilience. Through self-awareness and introspection, you can begin to develop strategies for managing these fears in constructive ways.” 

Remember, for the sake of your own health, it’s important to reach out to a trusted friend or to seek professional help to navigate these fears. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, or other types of therapy or psychotherapy can be incredibly beneficial when developing healing strategies. 

According to Caruso, coping mechanisms for dealing with the fear of losing someone, or thanatophobia, focus on fostering emotional resilience and promoting healthier relationship dynamics. Here are several effective strategies:

  1. Mindfulness and grounding techniques can help individuals stay present and manage anxious thoughts about potential loss. Deep breathing, meditation, or grounding exercises (like focusing on senses or surroundings) are all tools that can provide a sense of calm and control.

  2. Openly sharing fears and concerns with your partner or a trusted person can alleviate the burden of anxiety. Honest and open communication fosters understanding and strengthens emotional bonds, reducing the isolation often associated with thanatophobia.

  3. Challenge and reframe negative thought patterns associated with the fear of loss. Instead of catastrophizing future scenarios, focus on realistic outcomes and coping strategies. Cognitive-behavioral techniques, guided by a therapist, can help in this process.

  4. Actively work on building trust within the relationship through consistent support, reliability, and reassurance. Establishing routines and rituals that reinforce commitment and stability can help alleviate fears of abandonment.

  5. Prioritize self-care activities that promote emotional well-being, such as exercise, hobbies, and spending time with supportive friends and family. Investing in personal growth and maintaining a sense of identity outside the relationship can strengthen resilience.

  6. Seeking guidance from a therapist or counselor specializing in anxiety or relationship issues can provide personalized strategies and tools to manage thanatophobia. Therapy can help explore underlying fears, develop coping skills, and improve overall relationship dynamics.

  7. Cultivate gratitude for the present moment and the positive aspects of your relationship. Regularly expressing appreciation and affection can reinforce connection and reduce fears of loss.

  8. Acknowledge that fears of loss are natural but need not dominate your thoughts or actions. Embracing uncertainty as part of life's journey can reduce the grip of thanatophobia and allow for more authentic, less fear-driven relationships.

Remember that these fears will not disappear overnight, it’s about working towards making these thoughts and anxieties more manageable over time. 

“Above all, remember that overcoming thanatophobia is a journey marked by progress and resilience,” says Caruso.  

“By confronting fears with courage and commitment, you can transform your relationships into sources of comfort, security, and joy. Embrace the journey toward emotional freedom and deeper connection, knowing that each step forward brings you closer to a more fulfilling and enriching life with your loved ones.” 

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