ENDURING FEELINGS OF BEING ALONE
To observe how uncomfortable we are with being alone, just watch any collection of individuals in a moment of time: at a train station, in an elevator, on the street – anywhere, really: We’re all checking our phones. It’s as if we need to confirm that we exist – someone is thinking about me/needs me/wants to plan something with me/needs to discuss something, and so on. Or it’s the zeal with which people check Facebook or Twitter or all other social media. We just can’t stand separation. It’s clearly a phenomenon.
And it plays out in feelings of anomie, depression, and chronic anxiety. Those who feel alone will counter with the fact that they actually enjoy doing certain activities on their own. And that’s usually accurate to the extent that it feels they’ve chosen to do that. But liking that doesn’t obviate the fact that aloneness can often cause them to be depressed or despairing – coming to fear that that will somehow be their destiny.
Aloneness can conjure up all sorts of uncomfortable feelings, and most people don’t really know why. Though helpful at times to know the origins, it’s not absolutely necessary. What is helpful is coming to identify what narratives are being played out and then learning to challenge and dispel the ‘scary’ thoughts. Because that’s what we do: We scare ourselves by making assumptions about what a certain feeling means. It’s a form of teleological thinking: “If I’m thinking this, it must be so”.
FOMO, fear of missing out, is related to this. What gets aroused is a sense that “I’ll be forgotten if I’m not around… I won’t be invited to other things….I won’t get to know all the new interesting people my friends are meeting….I might miss out on a potential girl/boyfriend, I’ll be seen as a loser if it appears II wasn’t invited”, and so on.
It’s about really basic stuff like, “Am I good enough”, “If I don’t matter to anyone, who am I? Do I even count?”. There are two bottom lines here: 1) realizing that you’ve developed a set of beliefs (schema) about yourself in the world that doesn’t necessarily match the reality and 2) that being alone or separate and the concomitant anxieties surrounding it have been present since birth and are part of the human condition.
From there, it’s learning to challenge the fears we’re generating:
– “Can I let myself feel alone now without badgering myself about how bad it is? And can I just learn to endure some of these feelings without having to drink/eat/drug them away?”
-”Emily/Tom/Tim/Gwen (or whoever) ended the relationship and that feels so damn bad; but it doesn’t mean that I am bad. I may have made mistakes, but I can learn more about them and make some changes. Feeling terrible is temporary; I don’t have to catastrophize that I’ll never feel good again, even though it seems that way”.
-”My feeling worthless just because she didn’t call may simply mean that I don’t know how to wait; that it’s more an anxiety problem than being about whether she likes me or me”
-”I’d like to have a new relationship, but I don’t have to find someone just to be ok”.
-”Being this separate from others makes me feel that my father was right about my being inadequate; but that’s just old thinking. I’m not the mess-up he portrayed me as, and it’s up to me to work to dispel that old belief”.
“Feeling alone doesn’t make me “a lonely person”; it’s what I say to myself about the aloneness that messes me up”
Being alone, or feeling existentially alone, sometimes causes the strongest of us to have difficulty figuring out our worth; there’s an ‘all-alone-in-the-world’ quality that almost defies a sense of self. I don’t think these are necessarily unusual feelings.. It’s more about what we do with them. Do take the leap of faith that you’ll feel differently later if you can learn to endure the sadness, pain and anxiety that accompany separation.