In the depths of loneliness, life can feel pretty empty and meaningless. It can be easy to get caught up thinking that you need to fill that void with another person. Many of us believe we won’t feel okay until we do. Women I work with often perceive their loneliness as the result of not yet finding “the one.” Once they find the right partner, their soulmate, everything should somehow be happier and easier. This is what is known as emotional loneliness, one of the two dimensions of loneliness identified by sociologist Robert S Weiss. The other is social loneliness, when relationships don’t match up with what we desire.
We tend to think of loneliness as something that happens only when we’re alone. But we can feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by people. For me, even though I had a life filled with family and clients, loneliness still consumed me most of the time. Somehow, I thought a 30-year marriage that left me feeling lonely, was better than being single and alone. But what I’ve learned after a long, difficult journey from the misery of loneliness to a détente with aloneness is this: the only way to overcome loneliness is to cultivate and embrace your own authenticity.
5 Obstacles to Overcoming Loneliness
Loneliness is multifaceted. It can be influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, personality traits, life experience and social and cultural settings. Some of us may be more prone to feeling lonely due to our temperament or attachment style, while others may experience loneliness as a result of life events such as loss, trauma or rejection.Simply put, loneliness is an emotional reaction to aloneness. It can be intense and easily keep you trapped in distorted ways of thinking. Click To Tweet
Simply put, loneliness is an emotional reaction to aloneness. It can be intense and easily keep you trapped in distorted ways of thinking. The following were my five main triggers, as well as the obstacles I encountered to overcoming my loneliness.
1. I was terrified of being alone.
Being alone is a common fear among the midlife women I know. Many of us settle for being with the wrong person because we’re afraid we’ll never find the right person. This can mean entering into an unsuitable partnership or sticking it out in one. As the old saying goes: “Better the devil you know. . .”
If we’ve been in a partnership for a long time, we may be out of touch with how to handle all the things that have been our partner’s responsibility, such as maintaining the house, auto repairs or managing finances.
For me, I had determined that living in a broken marriage was better than the uncertainty of living life alone. I couldn’t imagine how I could rebuild my life, or if it were even possible. In order to survive in the reality of this thinking, I couldn’t afford to face the unvarnished truth of my toxic marriage.
Being a wife and a mother was a huge part of my identity at this point in my life. My social circle was also tied to my husband’s wealth and notoriety.
If I left him, I assumed this identity would be stripped away, to say nothing of the disastrous impact I imagined a divorce would have on our children. And what if, in the end, I wound up making a huge mistake?
So, instead of recognizing my loneliness as a fear-based reaction, I became locked in perpetual cycles of distorted thinking. This made it impossible to see the truth beyond my perceptions.
I had become a prisoner in my own mind.
2. I kept busy to avoid facing reality.
When life got hard, I got really busy, hoping a full schedule would ameliorate my sadness and fear. If I kept busy, I couldn’t stop long enough to think about what I wanted for myself and in a relationship, or what it would take to create it.
It wasn’t until I finally hit a wall and stopped for a moment that I was able to see my life for what it really was rather than what I was desperately hoping it would become.
3. I was treating loneliness as an adversary.
I didn’t know it then, but loneliness wasn’t the enemy. It was a clear signal that the world I had spent years upholding wasn’t real or functional.
When I acknowledged and listened to it, my loneliness told me I needed to start being more honest , first with myself and then with others around me. That new level of honesty began with letting go of others’ expectations. Only then could I address the shame, blame and guilt that kept me trapped. Finally, I could begin to deal with my pain and start making necessary changes.
4. I conflated “alone” with “lonely.”
Not yet equipped to search for the safe harbor deep within me, I had fallen into the common pattern of conflating the neutral perception of “being alone” with the anxious, desperation of “feeling lonely.”
I wasn’t able to see the lies I’d been telling myself as distorted perceptions:
This is my fault.
I’ll be alone for the rest of my life.
There must be something wrong with me.
This might just be as good as it gets.
These thoughts were on constant replay with a generous dose of self-pity. Any one of them was sure to trigger an emotional reaction and keep loneliness washing over me.
It wasn’t until I was able to take time for myself, to just be, that I could see how my loneliness was rooted in my projections, not in facts or the truth. This helped me eventually let go of my tension and recognize these thoughts for what they were. It was then I realized…
5. I wasn’t in touch with my authentic self.
Studies show that people who are true to themselves enjoy spending time alone.
At that point in my life, I’m not sure I even knew what being true to myself meant, so I started exploring a new life by pursuing my interests.
I set out on a creative journey. To figure out what would help me reconnect with myself, I took classes at Esalen Institute, including dance, painting, sculpting, tai chi and qigong. I studied permaculture and tango and started writing poetry again. Creating a home and garden for myself that reflected my newfound freedom became my next pursuit.
As I found myself expanding creatively, I began to see how I could give to others joyfully, instead of feeling obligated.
I started enjoying myself. The life I was building soon became important enough to me that I got better about setting and maintaining boundaries against the things that would interfere with my inner peace and connection to the wisdom within me.
Over time, I learned what triggered my loneliness, as well as habits and mindsets that kept me stuck. Once I was conscious of what was causing and perpetuating this reaction, I was able to start taking steps to change it.
It wasn’t long before I was able to recognize the debilitating narrative I’d been telling myself: that it was too late, I have no choice and this is just the way things are.
When I accepted I actually did have a choice, I saw how my fear of being alone fed the narrative that was keeping me trapped. With time, I was eventually able to let the narrative go. Without the voice of regret and anxiety playing constantly in my head, I finally had the mental space I needed to discover a more authentic self, the self I was comfortable being alone with. Developing a connection to my own authenticity was the key to being able to distinguish between loneliness and being alone.
Of course, I still have to practice awareness. But when loneliness does come up, I take the time to examine my perceptions closely to make sure I can see the difference between alone and lonely.
I’m still working on building a life I love, one that makes me feel good and expresses who I really am. One Body is a distillation of what I have learned in the process, and I built it so other women who struggle might benefit and grow from it.
I’ve put together a free worksheet you can download and use to reflect on your own experience with loneliness. At the end of the worksheet, I walk you through a simple awareness exercise. You can come back to again and again as you’re working on overcoming your loneliness.DOWNLOAD THE LONELINESS WORKSHEET
I won’t say I’m never lonely because the feeling still sneaks in from time to time. But I no longer see it as a curse. These days when it happens, self-awareness allows me to use the feeling to respond by fostering inner peace. And this turns the experience of loneliness into a priceless gift!
Take good care : )