13 Signs You’re Staying In A Toxic Relationship Because You’re Scared Of Feeling Lonely

The roots of loneliness grow deep and can hold you firmly in a bad relationship.

Last updated on Sep 12, 2023

Lonely woman, deep fear of being alone Aleshyn Andrei, pixelshot | Canva

Ignoring the signs of a toxic relationship can happen when you're too scared of feeling lonely to break up, the co-dependency on your toxic partner clouds your mind.

If you do eventually break up, you find you're feeling lonely and can’t stop thinking about them. Food has no flavor and every song sounds sad. You never have a moment’s rest from the heaviness in your chest.

Sometimes, you wonder what you are here for.


If this happens every time you break up with someone, and you only feel better around other people, you may have been in a toxic relationship, which leads to a life of loneliness and codependency, and I feel you.

I had no family, no husband, no significant other, and maybe one friend.

I felt absolutely at sea, utterly unmoored and adrift, pining back into the past for more connected, better, happier times. Adrift, alone, and unhappy was pretty much one hundred percent my identity for most of the past five years.

Since I’ve been widowed, a major question for me has been how to get my life to feel anything close to right again.


A brief flirtation with a married man didn’t help. Well…no. I can’t quite say that. It’s sent me on a learning quest, during which I discovered the concept of pathological loneliness.

RELATED: 5 Signs You're In A Toxic Relationship (And How To Get Out)

What is pathological loneliness?

Pathological loneliness is basically extreme loneliness. It’s loneliness that says, "Unless you find the right sort of support in your life, you will never feel right, never feel happy again. Period."


Pathological loneliness is a feature of codependent relationships.

In fact, the wonderful codependency expert Jerry Wise defines the feeling of loneliness as a sense of, "I’m not worth being with", as in, "I’m not worth being by myself with."

Pathological loneliness is one reason those with codependency don’t leave when it is clear they are being abused or maltreated by a person who isn’t interested in changing.

This doesn’t only hold true when you’re in a relationship with a person who is unwilling to change, such as an alcoholic, a drug addict, someone who’s beating you, or someone taking advantage of you while you pay all the bills. If your spouse is relying on you to make the marriage bearable, and you can’t stand the thought of being without them, your willingness to stay in the relationship might be something you need to consider.


Pathological loneliness often creates codependency and holds people in unhealthy relationships long past the point when a healthier person would have left.

People feel so helpless, so depressed, and so scared of being alone they reason the miserable (or even dangerous) relationship they are in is better than no relationship at all.

According to codependency expert Ross Rosenberg, author Kathleen Dowling Singh, and my own observations, there are factors at work in your life that indicate you may be pathologically lonely, so you settle for toxic relationships.

Here are 13 signs you’re staying in a toxic relationship because you’re scared of feeling lonely:

1. Feelings of extreme loneliness

Introverted types are going to feel extremely lonely, and if you’re extroverted, you feel a lot worse when alone than introverted people do. Either way, if you feel the pull of heavy loneliness on your heart, it is not a good sign for your relationship.


2. Constantly thinking of the past

When your loneliness in the relationship brings up memories from an older situation in the past, this can be a sign of past trauma still affecting your present life.

Some deeper emotional issues might be making you feel lonely along with the toxic relationship. Something other than simply being without human companionship.

3. Experiencing cognitive distortions

Telling yourself something that simply isn’t true about the condition of your loneliness.

For example, you want to be in a relationship but you always tell yourself, "I’ll never meet anybody again." You end up deceiving yourself there is no one else out there so you stay in the unhealthy relationship.


4. Boredom has a grip on you

When you don't have something you love doing when you're alone, boredom can set in and increase the feelings of loneliness.

Finding an activity that is actually better when done alone, such as painting or writing, is highly recommended to help process the feelings of the relationship, and be active.

5. You are surrounded by toxicity

You know you could develop closer friendships and social support, but you haven’t. Isolation is often a result of extreme loneliness, especially when the only choices you have are unhealthy.

Over the past five years, nearly anyone I’ve met has either been a toxic or otherwise inappropriate person, so I don't develop a bond with them. Knowing myself and my needs helps me choose people to get close to who will support me.


6. You can't entertain yourself

You can go do things alone, but you always think you can't because you "need someone to go with". Here is another trick of extreme loneliness and isolation working together to keep you in an unhealthy relationship.

However, you might discover a sense of independence you didn’t know you could find if you went out with yourself.

RELATED: 3 Reasons Your Fear Of Being Alone Actually Repels Men

7. An inability to calm down and feel better

When you're upset, you can't console yourself. This can be rooted in neglectful parenting in very early childhood, or perhaps from certain mental illnesses. For example, some sufferers of borderline personality disorder also have this reaction. However, this can also be a condition of accumulating unexpressed emotions in a toxic relationship.


Some people need another person to help them deescalate from extreme emotions or emotional accumulation, whether the help comes from being held in comfortable arms, or needing a voice of reason to "talk you down".

8. Anxiety about the future

This one can build from the pressures of unexpressed emotion. You get anxious about yourself if something bad happens.

What if help is needed, but no one is there to help?

9. You play into the social stigma of the lonely person.

Movies and TV show us the stereotype of lonely people as intentionally shying away from other people and feeling sorry for themselves.

Even worse is when we, the lonely people, think this of our own selves and then berate ourselves for it.


10. Feeling depressed and a sense of loss

Conditions like grief or depression make it worse, especially for the elderly, who may have lost most of the people they knew in years gone by. Grief makes the loneliness even more apparent.

My great-aunt made it almost to 95. All of her brothers, sisters, and a lot of her friends were already gone, and all her other relatives were scattered across the country.

When you have lost everyone, you want to stay even with someone who is not good for your well-being.

11. Feeling you are not worth helping

If you’re lonely and you need someone to come and rescue you from your plight, you may see that as a drain on another person, when what you really want is to contribute.


You want to have something to offer, to be valuable and wanted, rather than have someone conceding to spend time with you because you are needy.

12. You feel useless to those you love.

You have this idea you are so sad and you don’t have anything to offer anyone anyway.

If you’re grieving or depressed, you cannot offer others the cheer that makes people want to be around you, so you may decide you don’t want to inflict yourself on anyone else.

People need to feel useful. I am sure there are a lot of elderly in nursing homes, homebound, or assisted living who would feel the truth in this.

13. Feeling guilty for not loving them

You have the idea if you aren’t actively pining away, you don't really love the person you are with, so you must have fallen out of love with them and don’t love them anymore.


You then feel guilt or confusion over this, thinking to yourself, "If I don’t have these big, dramatic feelings anymore, do I still love the person?" This can lead to blaming yourself and you try to continue to be the one in the relationship to make things work.

RELATED: 17 Signs You're Codependent (AKA Addicted To Relationships)

Why does loneliness exist?

Being alone is almost universally seen as bad.

How many studies are there that show being chronically alone has a negative effect on morbidity and mortality in so many conditions, from cancer to heart problems to old age?

But, if alone-ness is so very bad for us, why are so many in these contemporary times finding themselves alone and feeling so bad about it?


Psychology and astrology both tell us when we suffer, we’re drawing to us the very conditions we need to master.

If that’s the case, then an awful lot of people on this planet need to do some sort of mastery work on this pathological relationship to being alone, myself included.

Author Kathleen Dowling Singh, in her book, The Grace in Aging: Awaken As You Grow Older, has some worthwhile thoughts. She points out that over the course of human life, we’re going to lose just about everything we have.

We’re going to lose everything we thought we needed, and we won’t be able to do anything to stop this process.

We’re going to lose our importance in the world, our high-powered jobs, and all the status that went with them, as we get older and eventually have to retire.


We’re going to lose our health and mobility one day. We’re going to die.

All these experiences are part of human life, writes Singh. If we can’t be alone successfully, Singh argues, we’re going to have a very tough time when these experiences of growing older come to meet us.

"We cannot secure pleasure permanently," writes Singh. "We cannot avoid the predictable sufferings." She also writes that "loneliness is the experience of being alone through a lens of deficiency and aversion, through the lens of ignorance."

Ignorance, perhaps, that we cannot avoid the predictable sufferings? Or ignorance we aren’t really deficient?

Ignorance that learning to handle being alone strengthens us to handle difficulties in our lives we have yet to meet?


It’s been discovered there’s a region of our brains that feels aloneness as a physical injury and sends out pain signals as if we’re having a gallbladder attack when we’ve broken up with someone who was bad for us anyway.

This region of the brain is a product of mammalian evolution, necessary so an abandoned young child or mammal will call out for its parent, and its parent will come running to take care of it.

It ensures the survival of the species, but we’re not children anymore. At some point in life, all of us will be alone.

Apparently, we’re supposed to mature ourselves enough so we can do it without collapsing into meaningless and hopelessness.


I think the inability to master being alone is what pathological loneliness is. That’s why it’s a feature of so many mental illnesses and difficult life stages.

RELATED: 4 Types Of Toxic Relationships You Need To Avoid (& How To Spot The Signs)

So, what do we do about it when we find ourselves caught in this all-too-common, all-too-human state?

Some reflection about why we think we are here and our purpose on the planet seems to be in order.

If we’re happy with what we’re putting out there, and we think it has worth, we’re going to feel happier even if we’re alone.

And feeling happier, as all of us lonely people know deep in our bones, attracts people a lot more than feeling unhappier. Then we might not be alone anymore.


But running around in a desperate search for people, for replacement friends, for replacement family, simply doesn’t work.

As long as we’re fretting over the sense of sadness we feel and pining away for happier times, we might be abusing others into taking care of us as if we were still little. Or, we might be allowing ourselves to be abused in order to not be alone.

We aren’t feeling or working on a life purpose or a sense of self-value. We aren’t working on a sense of wholeness on our own, so we can handle any instance of isolation that will come up in the future.


So how do we work on a life purpose or a sense of self-value? How can we be alone and yet comfortable?

We have the stuff to turn this over in our minds and work this issue out.

Perhaps this is what pathological loneliness really is: our immature self still crying out and insisting we’re still too little to help ourselves, and we wait for other people to come around and remove this responsibility from us.

It feels too difficult and we want others to help us to ignore it for a little while longer.

But, loneliness actually serves a crucial function for us: loneliness encourages us to prepare for self-reliance.

RELATED: 5 Completely Realistic Ways To Stop Feeling So Incredibly Lonely


If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, you’re not alone.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that approximately 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the U.S. More than 12 million women and men over the course of the year suffer from instances of domestic violence and abuse.

There are ways to go about asking for help as safely as possible. For more information, resources, legal advice, and relevant links visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. For anyone struggling from domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474.

P.D. Reader is a level one student in the NCGR School of Astrology, but her work focuses on spirituality, lifestyle, and relationship topics. She runs Unfaithful: Perspectives on the Third-Party Relationship Medium.