Alone Together: Eliminating the Stigma and Overcoming Loneliness
Feelings of loneliness can strike at any time, whether you’re physically alone by yourself, or among a crowd of people. It can even occur when you’re with your partner or close friends. So what is loneliness exactly, and how can you overcome it?
Do you remember when Eric Carmen released the hit song “All by Myself” in 1976? No, probably not, but I can still hear the romantic tune and the profound lyrics, “all by myself, don’t want to be all by myself” as a haunting chill rolls down my back.
Decades later, loneliness is still a battle we’re learning how to fight. With each passing day, more people report feeling lonely. Let’s face it, in this day and age it’s nearly impossible not to feel lonely sometimes.
Social media allows people to “interact” with others without actually interacting, and certainly without connection. Digital interaction is not a viable substitute for face-to-face relationships. We aren’t here to bash the digital era, but it can be difficult to cultivate meaningful relationships on platforms that only display the fanciful, curated experience. Perhaps some would argue that the whole point of social media is for connecting, and that’s sorta true… When we finally unplug, however, that feeling of connection dissipates.
So how can we extend this fleeting sense of connection? How can we alleviate our loneliness in a way that doesn’t perpetuate the cycle? It’s time to kick the loneliness stigma to the curb. In the famous words of Beyoncé, “Tell ‘em boy, bye.”
“The moment you feel lonely, you‘re not caring about yourself, nor loving yourself.”
What is Loneliness?
Let’s start with the basics: Loneliness involves the perception of loss or a poverty mindset — a sense of not belonging, disconnection, and ultimately, an absence of self-worth — in those moments of loneliness. Often it includes feeling uncared for or unlovable. And there’s some truth in that — the moment you feel lonely, you’re not caring about yourself, nor loving yourself.
When you’re in a rut and feeling lonely, it’s likely that your mind is focused on what you imagine other people are thinking and doing. You picture someone living a more fulfilling life than you, and while imagining how much better their life is, you essentially abandon yourself and surrender to the illusion. It’s like watching a movie in your head, and it can feel convincingly real. We’ve all been there before. Loneliness might be triggered by seeing a picture online of your friends at a social gathering that you weren’t invited to, or loneliness can be activated, strangely enough, by seeing people you don’t even know having fun without you. This can cause you to fail to appreciate what you do have now.
Get the Full Scoop: YouTube | Kurzgesagt
Everybody feels lonely sometimes. But only few of us are aware how important this feeling was for our ancestors – and that our modern world can turn it into something that really hurts us.
What Causes Loneliness?
The truth is, it’s your imagination that causes you to experience feelings of emptiness, not other people. So next time it’s Friday night and you catch yourself infinitely scrolling and allowing negative thoughts to creep into your headspace, bring yourself back to the present moment, challenge your inner critic, and practice self-compassion.
- False Expectations for Happiness — “If, then” thinking can be constructive, but in some contexts it can be toxic. “If X was here, then I’d be happier. If X was different, then things would be better.” The problem is, when you only focus on the unchangeable, exterior details of your life and make them the center of your dissatisfaction, you’re only running from yourself. For all you know, you wouldn’t be happier than you are now if X was sitting right beside you. Even if you got everything you think you need to feel happy, you would probably still, at times, feel unhappy. It’s just how we are hardwired. We are creatures motivated by desire.
- Approval-Seeking from Others — Do you ever catch yourself living your life from the third person perspective and assume what others think of you? This usually involves putting yourself down in some way, in the name of someone else (as if they actually think that about you). While doing so, you don’t give yourself credit for who you truly are. Instead, you live your life in that moment according to what you believe to be someone else’s standards, when actually all of it is your imagination. A real trick of the mind, right?
- Assuming Others’ Intentions — Have you ever met someone new and, in a frenzy of excitement, started running images of your future together through your mind, and you became attached to those images of the “future,” so much in fact that you started planning out how it’s all going to progress? I think we’ve all been guilty of attaching ourselves to our imaginations to a fault. All it takes is one unexpected comment or one idea from the other person to interfere with your fantasy. You are the gatekeeper to your own future and the more open-minded you are, the better the outcome is going to be.
Get the Full Scoop: Psychology Today | Caroline Beaton
The 2 Reasons Why So Many People Are Becoming Lonelier
The General Social Survey found that the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985. “Zero” is the most common number of confidants, reported by almost a quarter of those surveyed.
4 Steps to Overcome Loneliness
It doesn’t matter how you state it. Befriending loneliness, overcoming loneliness, coming to terms with loneliness: it’s going to take practice (you’re up against a lifetime of conditioned habitual reactions). I recommend these four steps:
1. Get in touch with the emotions you’re experiencing.
Sit with them; get still. Allow yourself to really feel them. Burying emotions can be a knee jerk reaction to ugly emotions. Commit yourself to getting to know you. Be aware of any habits that you use to avoid experiencing these emotions.
2. Notice what you were just thinking about.
Caught in a daze? Where does your mind wander off to? Were you imagining a painful future? Were you comparing your current life to nostalgic times? Did you catch yourself comparing your life to someone else’s? These comparisons are all imaginative, and not reality itself. Meditation can bring about these eye-opening, healthy revelations about yourself. Consider unplugging from constant access to technology for a designated period of time each day. Allow yourself to not be so fast-paced for once.
Did you know that feelings can also manifest themselves physically? Pay attention to your body by recognizing sensations you’re feeling. It could be as simple as listening to your heart beat, or noticing the lump in your throat. We have these cues for a reason.
Another valuable way to get in touch with yourself is by freewriting. Let your defenses down. Scribble or write whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t need to be organized. Unleash whatever our emotion-phobic culture has tricked you into believing is disgraceful or unnatural.
3. Invite yourself back to the present moment.
Notice where you are right now. Become aware of your immediate surroundings, focus on your breath, and notice the present moment. Describe that moment as you might describe a stranger you spot from a distance. For example, “Man sitting on couch,” or, “Woman standing on rug” You could add, “. . . daydreaming” or “. . . imagining a scary future,“ or “comparing herself to someone else.” Byron Katie says, “We do only three things in life: we sit, we stand, we lie horizontal. The rest is just a story.” Separate imagination from reality to see a strong vision of your story.
4. Express gratitude.
Find three things you can be grateful for in your life. Maybe you don’t have as many friends as you’d like, or you don’t have the perfect partner right now, or you can’t seem to meet someone who shares your interests. Remind yourself that it’s about quality, not quantity. Whether the social loneliness phantom only occasionally knocks at your door, or loneliness feels like a chronic and unshakable impediment always on your back, expressing gratitude for your life in its current condition is key in moving forward when you feel stuck.
Loneliness may be a state of mind, but it manifests itself in many forms. People tend to underestimate the importance of having social support systems. Remind yourself that positive thinking is just as contagious loneliness. Your psychological and social well-being are just as important as your annual physical checkup. It’s OK to acknowledge that you are lonely, you are part of a generation who is figuring it out, but know that you’re not the only one. And that in and of itself is a good start.
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