Leaning into Loneliness
Loneliness is something that all of us feel at one time or another. It is one of those gut gripping sinking feelings that we all try our best to run away from. We look for distractions to avoid it, message a friend, work harder or even turn to addictions to try and block it out. If that loneliness becomes a chronic issue then it can lead to illness such as depression and heart disease.
Loneliness is a feeling that has visited me quite frequently over the last few months and it has given me the opportunity to explore this uncomfortable feeling. Until now I had lived with my parents, then my university mates and then my ex-partner for some 20 years. Although I was used to spending a lot of time alone during my relationship, when my partner left our home it was the first time in my life when I was really alone (aside from my cat companions)!
However, loneliness was not an unfamiliar feeling to me before I came to live alone. I had felt lonely on frequent occasions during the worst years of my illness. I spent a lot of time alone at home and eventually possibly the worst loneliness I felt was when my relationship with my ex-partner started to fall apart.
Acknowledging the feeling of loneliness
So there have been days when I felt all alone in the world, but it was only in more recent times when I really lived alone that I decided to look at this feeling. I decided rather than to distract myself or numb myself to loneliness, I would lean into it. What I mean by leaning in, is to be aware and mindful of the feelings arising and not avoid them but actually allow them to come up to see what I would learn.
Being mindful of your feelings without judgement or criticism allows you to embrace your feelings and notice how they come and go. Loneliness maybe a fleeting feeling or a black cloud that can hang over you for days, but by being mindful it allows you to look at the feeling and your situation. It may be that it is telling you that certain things in your life need to be reviewed or changed.
We can re-frame our thoughts on loneliness
When I started to be more mindful of loneliness, I started to look more closely at what I was thinking during those moments. Mostly, it was the feeling of being unloved, or that I had nobody to share things with anymore. So I decided to directly challenge that thought. Yes! I am loved and I know that. I have a loving family and some wonderful supportive friends, some of which I have had throughout my whole life. I knew that I could call on any of those people at any moment.
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy this would be classed as a cognitive distortion. That is we create or believe certain thoughts that when really examined and acknowledged are not necessarily accurate. Examining the accuracy of our thoughts can be applied to any emotions. Once I was aware of this distortion I began to tell myself how much I was loved. It is important not to judge yourself too harshly when you start to notice your thinking patterns which do not serve you. Be kind to yourself and start to look at how you can re-frame your thoughts.
By leaning into our loneliness we have a chance to learn more about our thinking patterns, our needs and ourselves. We can decide if changes need to be made in our lives and then action can be taken. You may decide to make new friends, address issues in a relationship or take up a new hobby, career or personal goal to help you out of loneliness. If the loneliness is attached to a bigger issue such as the grief of losing a loved one, then it might be worth speaking to a Psychotherapist to help you through those difficult times.