Fighting off Loneliness
by Alissa Klugh, MS, LPC, CMHIMP
What does loneliness mean to you? Is it something you struggle with? When I put together what I have learned over the years in working with individuals, families, couples, children, and even in my personal life, I have found that one of the biggest driving factors of seeking support is loneliness: Either the fear of being lonely or being in a situation where you feel lonely, even if you are surrounded by other people or in a relationship with another.
I've discovered that, sometimes, the most lonely people are the ones who have tons of friends and supportive family. Other times, it's the people who are single and wishing and hoping to find someone to help fulfill the emptiness that they feel inside. And other times, such as what is happening in the world right now, we are being asked to stay at home, meaning that loneliness is on the rise. We know we're doing this for the sake of the greater good, sure, but at what cost to our mental health?
There are so many things to wade through with loneliness. There is a part of it that comes from feeling like we have no one who understands us, or maybe no one that "cares." In other cases, it comes from being in a relationship where we aren't "heard" and we are reminded of the times when we had someone in our lives who was a "good listener." On top of all of that, we could have the dreaded abandonment issues, which, I will tell you, are way more common than we're lead to believe.
But, how do we start to feel better? How do we become less lonely? I've come up with a few ideas that could be helpful to you.
- Surround Yourself with Truly Supportive People. This seems like a no-brainer, right? Actually, wrong. Finding people who are truly supportive is not always an easy thing to do. Oftentimes, we find ourselves in friendships, relationships, and in family ties that seem supportive, but aren't actually good for us. Think about this honestly: Who in your circle can you say actually knows you? Who are you not afraid to be vulnerable with? Are you afraid of rejection? Lack of acceptance? Being judged? Finding people who are supportive in these ways can make us feel less lonely, even if it is just one person.
- Be Your Own Friend. This sounds silly, right? Just about as much as "love yourself" seems so cliche. The thing is, figuring out a way to be your own friend is incredibly important. Being gentle with yourself, turning down the criticism, and turning up the affirmative voice is huge. If we are constantly walking around, saying negative things about ourselves, we are going to feel lonelier. Part of being your "own friend" means challenging the negativity that pops up in your head. Mad at yourself for the way you said (or didn't say) something? Instead of focusing on the fact that this makes you a "bad person," think about how you can grow from the experience. Think of it this way: Don't ever say something about yourself that you wouldn't say to a friend about their own behaviors. Be gentle with yourself.
- Get to Know What You Want: Self-exploration is huge. When we have the opportunity to be alone, we are able to either sit back and stay unmotivated, or take bits of the time we have to explore who and what you want to be and what and who you want in your life. Take a personal inventory of what works for you - make a list of what you want in your life and why. Next, make another list of what you don't want in your life and how each of those things makes you feel when they happen. If these situations don't work for you, begin to visualize how to make improvements in your life.
- Read and Listen. When you are on your own, there is no better time to sit down and read (or listen to a podcast that speaks to you). Reading and listening could be about anything that you find interesting (bonus points if you do some reading about self-growth). You can be your own support system if you are aware of what you like. Plus, reading and gaining information makes you a more interesting person because you know more. Knowledge is power, right?
- Try Something New (or Get Back to Something You Loved). Do you keep wanting to try out how to paint? How about learning how to sew or make something out of wood? Have you gotten away from an old hobby that you keep meaning to get back to? What better time than now? Dust off the old hobby or dive into a new one. Remember, it's all about life experiences. Making yourself a more interesting person by increasing your activities in your independent life will have you feeling better about what you have to offer others and improving how you feel about yourself.
- Find Validation in Yourself. Whether you are being forced to be alone right now, or it is by choice, it is still tough to be alone. Oftentimes, we find that we look for validation in others as a means to feel better about ourselves or to build our self-confidence. What if I said that you can validate your own life? Try looking at an old photo of you and saying 10 positive things about yourself. Start a gratitude journal where you write down everything you are grateful for each day. Write yourself sticky notes throughout the day every time you do something awesome! Give yourself some grace; we don't tend to be as kind to ourselves as we are to others. Let's practice being good to ourselves, first. It's not called being selfish. We cannot be selfless without being selfish, first.
Finding it within yourself to be open to new experiences is a big deal in combating loneliness. Give yourself some time to get adjusted and really feel what you're meant to feel without pushing it away. It'll give you the wherewithal to be strong, grow, and learn from your experiences.