Loneliness sounds simple, but it is complex and hard to shift. I have felt lonely at different points in my life and for different reasons. And I have learnt something.
Here are my seven truths about coping with loneliness.
1. Loneliness – what is it all about?
You may know what its is like, or someone else who does – dreading weekends, especially Sundays, and Bank Holidays, when there are feelings we cannot escape from with week day routines, places to go, things to do. Often it is down to feeling lonely. And it can be hard to shift.
Loneliness often comes with other emotions…
… like grief, sadness, self-loathing, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, anger and more. Often it is a combination of two or more, with one feeling fueling the other.
Loneliness can happen at different times in our lives.
We may be:
- Grieving and going through loss and bereavement: We are missing the other, everything is a reminder, and nothing the same.
- Single or alone. It’s not always easy to do things on our own.
- Ill, disabled, old, dying. These can be separate times in our lives. We can go through one without the other. But they all have in common a sense of loss. Too unwell, too old to do what we used to do, or to do what we would have liked to have done.
- In a relationship or home that is full of conflict and without love. Feeling alone, especially when we live with others, can hurt – a lot.
What is at the root of loneliness, is the difficulty of being alone with ourself.
Why? Because we may feel hopeless, without an answer.
What do we often do when we feel lonely? We avoid it.
It is not uncommon that we do what we can, to avoid the painful feeling of loneliness. How? We may …
- isolate ourselves;
- avoid people and going out;
- numb the feeling through eating, drinking, smoking etc, stuffing it down, deep down;
- stay in bed;
- not look after ourselves;
- occupy our minds in a way that avoids the painful reality of our lives;
- or we get all noisy and over-do things: a desperate act in a desperate effort to avoid the pain.
Sadly, the avoidance strategy has a limited shelf life and can make things a whole lot worse.
Avoidance can lead to a vicious circle, which is that much harder to escape from.
Instead of avoiding the feeling of loneliness and unhappiness, our behaviour is compounding it and making it worse.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Over time, we need more and more time to recover from what we do to ourselves. Mondays, Tuesday etc are affected by the weekend pain. On Thursdays and Fridays fear of the terror of it all starts setting in again. And on it goes.
What a life … !
There are only two ways this can play.
Face loneliness and do something about it or let loneliness destroy you. @KarinSieger (Click to Tweet!)
And I don’t mean to flippant. Because destroying us, any sense of hope, self-confidence and self-belief, it will – slowly or quickly.
I have struggled with loneliness a lot, at different stages of my life, often for different reasons: teenage angst, when relationships end, friends die, moving home, moving jobs, mid life crisis, illness, facing my mortality.
My father struggled with it in retirement. My mother struggles with it since my father’s death.
Loneliness is human and does not always have to be a big or long-term problem.
Looking back at times in my life when I did suffer with loneliness, I noticed a few things about it, which I would like to share with you. Perhaps you are familiar with some of this.
2. At least seven truths about facing our loneliness
Truth 1: Whenever I started facing up to my loneliness and tried doing something about it, it made it worse.
Because with facing the reality of my life, I started feeling the pain.
I give you an example. Come Sunday I would feel alone and lonely. Instead of locking myself away, I would push myself, hard, to go out. But instead of feeling alive, getting in touch with my self-confidence and hope, I felt uncomfortable and in even greater pain.
Truth 2: Don’t be disheartened. Keep going.
Because of this I often did not keep going. And there were times, when I knew I had to, because there was no other way to escape this vicious circle.
To keep going is the only way to weaken the vicious circle and the feeling of loneliness.
I started to create weekend and Bank Holiday routines: going out at certain times to certain places and I would stick to it. I would try and combine it with something I like. Food always works for me… In the summer I would walk somewhere for 2 hours to get an ice-cream or a coffee in the winter.
I still felt lonely, but less so. Those were the days without mobile phone and the internet. I did not like walkmans. With no distractions I started thinking, about the things that hurt, about me and my life.
On the long walks I started to befriend myself, to get to know myself and even liking myself.
I started to become too occupied with myself, to think what others may or may not make of me walking on may own.
Truth 3: We are not odd, neither are we alone.
Eventually, on those long walks I would notice others, also on their own. What did I think of them? What do you think?
“How brave … I wish I was like that. Walking confidently, on their own.”
Now, why would I think that of them, but think that everybody else was bound to think the opposite of me? I did not have loser written on my forehead. I did check!
No. We must give ourselves more credit and walk with our heads up high, even when it hurts and especially when it hurts. Because that hurt will get weaker, after a while.
Truth 4: And sometimes we wallow in self-pity and hopelessness and then nothing seems to work.
Yes, I had (and still have) those moments, too. When I would revert to the old pattern of avoidance and numbing. At least I had learnt not to beat myself up over it and so it would pass.
Truth 5: We need to build on our success.
Whatever I did on those difficult days, it was a fine line between not getting too much out of my comfort zone, while not ending up bored. Guided by my intuition, I changed my walks, my activities and over time became more busy and had created a new weekend routine.
Truth 6: When loneliness turns into solitude.
At some point, I started enjoying my own company. Loneliness turned into much loved solitude. That is how I like it. That’s who I am. Without it I would not be able to do the things I like best.
Truth 7: Loneliness does not really go away – fully.
I have accepted that, which does not mean I have given in and turned into a victim dominated by loneliness.
No. I have accepted it and understand it better. I am less frightened of loneliness, even though I do not like it. But I am better equipped and can face it and feel it – without loneliness destroying me. I am more at peace.
Every person and every story is different. What works for me does not necessarily work for you.
You too can find your own path, with a bit of courage, a bit of blind faith, a bit of determination.
Karin Sieger is a UK-based psychotherapist and writer specialising in personal transitions, endings, making peace and the emotional impact of cancer, for which Karin has been treated herself. She does her writing on her orange houseboat in London. Karin posts regularly on her website KarinSieger.com. You can sign up for her Newsletter, follow her on Twitter and Facebook or connect via LinkedIn.
Image courtesy of StockSnap.