What your loneliness can teach you

Posted by Michael Dale Kimmel in Columns 28 Feb 2015

manLoneliness is a topic that no one wants to talk about. My clients tell me stuff like: “It’s too depressing”. “It’s so intense.” and “There’s nothing I can do about it”.

I refuse to get all depressed and hopeless about loneliness. Yeah, I experience it myself, but, ironically, I think that loneliness – like any difficult emotion – has a lot to teach us.

“Like what?” you may be asking. Well, consider this:

·   Loneliness is a choice. One research study I read said that loneliness is a perception, not a reality. It has a lot to do with our self-talk: What do I tell myself when I am alone? Do I scare myself or comfort myself?

·   We can avoid it or run from loneliness, but only for a while. Even the most beautiful, popular people sometimes feel lonely. It’s a part of life, so why not learn how to make peace with it?

·   Other people aren’t the answer: There have been times where I’ve felt more lonely in the company of others than I have when I was alone. Imagine being at a party, surrounded by laughing, happy strangers and feeling lonely in the midst of it all. Ugh.

·   Staying busy or calling other people isn’t always helpful. When I did Internet research on this topic, one website told me to stay busy and connected, call other people, join social clubs…that quick-fix kind of stuff. This is only a temporary fix. You can do all that and still feel lonely.

·   No one else can take it away. Unfortunately, no other person – no matter how loving and wonderful – can be there for us 24/7.  Even if they could, no one else understands exactly what we’re going through at all times. Even the best partner/friend will – eventually – let us down.

·   Loneliness is almost always temporary. In 99.99% of all situations, it passes. The situation changes or we change how we feel about it. The real challenge is taking care of ourselves until it passes.

How can we work with loneliness so it doesn’t terrify us so much?

When I was younger, I felt very lonely at times. I didn’t know what to do about it, so I tried a lot of ways NOT to feel it. In the short run, it helps to find other things to do to get your mind “off” it. But a better strategy is to make peace with it. Tell yourself, “This is temporary, it will pass.” and sit down for a minute or two and just feel it. You may cry or feel angry or numb, but let yourself feel it.

Watch what you tell yourself: don’t make it worse. If your friends aren’t calling and you feel lonely, tell yourself things like: “This is temporary. I know people love me.” Affirm positive truths about yourself.

Be willing to accept things as they are. Loneliness tells us that things SHOULD be different than they are, e.g., “People should be inviting me to go out. What’s wrong with me?” This is a sure way to suffer. Instead, tell yourself, “I am willing to accept things just as they are, right now.” and see what happens. This is the essence of mindfulness, meditation, yoga and any kind of meaningful personal/spiritual growth.

Loneliness is a part of life for everyone, and it can be a great teacher.  Don’t fear it; hear it.