Loneliness. Solitude. Being Alone.
These words bring different images and feelings, to different people, at different times in their life.
After a breakup or divorce, solitude can be a heartbreaking physical pain. After an abusive relationship, it may be just what you need.
For a mother who cannot even have a proper shower in peace; being alone for ten minutes, is like Christmas.
For introverts, solitude is the way to recharge their batteries. For an extrovert, it is a type of death.
We might think we know how to be alone, but most of us, only know how to do this with the TV or radio on, or if we are flipping through our phone.
Are you able to go for a walk on your own, and enjoy it? Can you sit in your home, alone, doing absolutely nothing?
For some, these ideas may appear weird, or downright frightening. But should we not all learn how to be ok alone, just with our thoughts? We are born alone, and we die alone. Isn’t it, therefore, normal to find ourselves alone somewhere along the path? And should we not be able to live that time well too?
Instead, we go to different extremes, to avoid loneliness. We work long hours; stay in, or enter unhealthy relationships; engage in casual sex; abuse of alcohol, or food; over enmesh in other people’s problems, and more. And we do this mindlessly, reaching for the next project, or problem, to ward of the emptiness.
Different Types of Loneliness
This type of loneliness is the most apparent one. These people are emarginated because they are different, have different social skills, obvious mental illnesses, are homeless, etc. Unless they have a supporting family and/or social supporting systems, these people have less opportunity, or ability to form lasting connections.
This may be situational, or by choice. For example many limit their life to family and work, This may sometimes be inevitable, especially for a working mother, where the male partner does not contribute equally, so she has no free time to invest in her friendships. But some people, by choice, do not seek external activities, and friendships when coupled up. If the relationship ends, for one reason or another these people may find themselves isolated for a while, and may have a hard time getting out of it.
You may be surrounded by family and friends, but feel misunderstood, or unseen by the ones close to you.
You may suffer from an invisible sickness, and know that no one can truly understand.
Or when your mind works in a different way, and you relate to the world in a different way. It’s as if, you come from a completely different culture, if not planet. Finding someone to talk about your issues and pains, on the same level, is almost impossible.
Lonely at the Top
People at the top can lead very lonely lives. They may have an image they need to protect, of always being in control and knowing what to do. They may be doing this out of responsibility – not to let other people down, or because they have set overly high standards for themselves.
They may have no one with whom to open up about their fears and doubts, and few people, if any, with whom to discuss ideas and strategies, without the fear of backstabbing, People look for them in time of need, but rarely if ever, see their humanity, and that they, also, have their vulnerabilities, and need support and love.
Personality Type Led Loneliness
These may range from the personalities who look for connection, almost like an addiction; to those who avoid connection. Both extremes suffer loneliness.
The ones addicted to attachment can never get enough, and loss of any attachment, even an unhealthy one, will send them in an abyss of desperation. The Avoidant Personality type, on the other hand, may seem, as if they are alone by choice, and push others away, but they are anxious and long for connection They avoid it because they fear being criticised or rejected more.
The worst consequence of our fear of being alone is when we stay in destructive, or dead relationships, to avoid it.
Relationships are the worst remedy for the feeling of loneliness. Not only because we are using another person, to avoid our fears, and naming it love; but because relationships face us with our biggest fears, and growth needs, and whether it lasts or not, you are likely to be faced with, guess what, loneliness!!
The deepest feeling of loneliness is when someone who should care is near you but does not care. And that is exactly what you will feel in the wrong relationship. You will feel unseen, not understood, and not supported. And since the other person can, consciously or unconsciously, feel that your actions are coming from a place of need, rather than that of love, you will see and feel your partner pushing away.
Making Peace with Loneliness
Once someone told me, “Make friends with your emptiness”. Then he said something even funnier, he said, “We are all empty and it’s a good thing”.
What he meant, of course, was, that we are born with so many possibilities, and if we saw our emptiness, as an empty canvas, we could fill it with almost with anything we want. In an ideal world, we would stay basically empty, and every day, we would fill our canvas, with whatever the day brings, and we would truly savor it. In that way, we could be reborn each day.
While this may be difficult, or downright impossible, we tend to go to the other extreme – we give ourselves labels, and bind ourselves in agreements, to avoid the risk of emptiness and loneliness, in all possible ways.
If we accepted, that all these labels, and all the things we use to fill our emptiness, are transient, and can be lost, we realise that we need to make friends with the emptiness behind it all, because, it is the only thing, that will always be there.
So following my friend’s words, I made a mental note, to find the time to make friends with my loneliness. At that time in my life, loneliness was one of my greatest fears. I had just broken up from a 5 year and a half relationship. The loneliness felt like an echoing physical pain.
So that evening, when I was at home in pain, I tried releasing some of my resistance to it, and then a bit more. It was scary. It felt overwhelming. But I allowed myself to feel the feeling, and slowly, slowly, let it grow and expand.
It seemed to have no end. But the more it grew, the more it lost its power, and its intensity. The less I fought it, the less fearful it appeared. The fact that I saw no beginning, and no end to it, made it appear without an entity. It was just a state that trespassed me.
Try this exercise yourself, the next time you feel deep loneliness, or any other strong negative feeling.
- Sit down in a quiet place.
- Take a look inside. Where is the pain located? Just take a good long look at it, without judgment, of the feeling, or for yourself? What colour is it? How does it feel? Does it have boundaries? What is the texture/density?
- First try to just sit with this feeling, and releasing some of the resistance to it. Try not to control it, or push it down.
- Next let is expand and disperse. And as it disperses, it will lose its strength. It won’t disappear, but it will change and transform.
- Be with it, and try to calm your feelings about it. Talk to yourself if necessary, Be compassionate with yourself. Tell yourself that it is normal to resist this feeling, and/or to try to run away from it. It is ok that you are scared and hurt, but you are going to stay here, and make friends with it, whatever it takes.
You may need to redo this exercise a few times, but I assure you it will get easier and easier.
This exercise encompasses many of the Buddhist teachings. That if we stay in the moment, the swords can become flowers, and we can learn a lot from the journey of our lives, by being with the pain rather than avoiding it, or immediately turning to a solution.
Becoming Your Own Best Friend
Never approach making new friends with a raw aching lonely heart, you will just push people away; or at least you will push the right ones away. Healthy people are attracted to healthy people.
How can you be a good friend, partner, spouse, etc. if you cannot be your own best company? How can you be a good partner or friend, if you need that relationship to avoid loneliness? How can you enforce your boundaries in any relationship, if you are afraid of abandonment?
Start giving yourself, what you would want from others, This may feel weird at first, but it will get better, I promise. Do for yourself, what you would do for a friend in need – cook yourself a nice healthy meal; give yourself a warm bath or a massage; give yourself understanding and compassion; go for a walk in nature; and do all those things you would do, if you were not alone.
Take this opportunity of time alone, to get to know yourself – what you like and do not like; your goals and aims. Using a journal can help here.
The Pillars of life
Our life is made up of a number of things, and not all is lost without friends and/or a partner. Most psychologists would agree that a balanced life is made up of the below:
- Romance and/or Significant Other
- Fun and Adventure
- Family and Friends
- Health and Physical Appearance
- Physical Environment
It is normal, that some areas may be going better than others, at any one time, and that this, changes over time. But we must look at our life as the sum of these areas, and not just concentrate on what’s missing. If we wish to lead a balanced life, we need to ensure, that over time, we are investing an equal amount of time, on each of these.
How can this approach help us, in the case of loneliness?
As you can see, only two sectors, fully depend on others. So we have to be honest with ourselves, and stop making up excuses for not developing the other areas, because we are lonely. They may be more fulfilling when shared with others, but you can still experience and enjoy them, on your own.
Start looking at all those areas that need attention, and plan to do something about them. Later people may join you, but for now, you have to do, what you can, for yourself.
For example, if fun, for you, means traveling; while traveling with others, for some may be more normal and fun, try an adventure, and/or a short holiday on your own. If this is too daunting for you, try a day trip first, and then extend it to a weekend, where you will be busy with activities you like. Eventually, you will be able to travel on your own.
Join, or Create Your Own Tribe
Once you have done some of the activities above, and the loneliness does not feel desperate any more; you are ready to join or create your tribe.
Find out what you enjoy, and join groups or current events, but make sure, your main aim is enjoying yourself or improving a skill, whether or not you create new friendships.
Or be courageous, and create your own interest group. Again, your intention must be, more to give, than to receive. So your top interest here should be to create a real interest group of like-minded people, and new friendships will ensue.