Loneliness. A human experience most of us have or will face in our lifetime. Redundancy. Divorce. Leadership. Relocating. Outgrowing our friends. Outliving our families. All can leave us feeling lonely.
But a life change isn’t a prerequisite for loneliness. Many have experienced the pang loneliness even when on paper, life is good.
As discussed in Part 1, loneliness can either drive us to seek connection or distraction. The instant gratification of social media, food, alcohol, exercise, gambling, binge-watching Netflix derails many of us from what we seek most. Love and connection. But with no guarantee of finding either – the time and energy investment required could be a waste. So why do that when the neurotransmitter high we crave is just one click, one ‘like’ or one swipe away?
The result is, of course, the real connection we seek moves further and further away. While the negative impacts of social isolation, emotional isolation, addiction and distraction take their toll on our health.
So how do we deal with loneliness, and maintain our wellbeing?
As mentioned in Part 1, the first step is admission. After that, the following steps can help:
1) Loneliness Reality check
Whether we want to admit it or not, we all contribute to our loneliness. Through our decisions, actions and behaviours. Be brutally honest with yourself. How might you be contributing to your loneliness?
Do stay at home when invited out?
Do you socialise with people you can’t be yourself with, to avoid being alone?
Do you use food, social media, alcohol, drugs, obsessive exercise, books, personal development etc. as a distraction or source of connection? When you know deep down you could be out there meeting people?
Do you avoid difficult conversations or communicating your needs?
Do you isolate yourself?
Are you open when you meet people, or disinterested and aloof?
Do you focus more on the short-term pain of making new friends, being vulnerable with your partner etc.? Or on the long-term gain of deeper connection?
When you understand how you might be holding yourself back from connection, you become aware of what YOU can change.
2) Heal Your Loneliness Wounds
You might already be conscious of what you need to do. But you’re still choosing instant gratification or distraction instead of positive action. Why?
If you’re STUCK in loneliness. If you avoid social situations, relationships or prefer to keep people at a distance. If the idea of being vulnerable, intimate or letting people in makes you shudder. If you hide behind a wall of “self-image”. If you become needy or dependent in relationships. If you prefer instant gratification or distraction rather than real connection. Chances are you have a wound. A wound of fear.
The size of the wound is subjective, depending on how you coped at the time. But generally, at some point in your life, one or more of your key relationships didn’t feel safe, secure, constant, loving, supportive, free. Leave a particularly big wound unhealed, and you could stay stuck in a pattern of either dependency, avoidance or excuses. And ultimately, loneliness.
People who’ve had secure relationships of course still feel lonely.
But often with higher levels of self-esteem – a good relationship with themselves – they approach their loneliness in a healthy way. They find the balance between self-regulation and seeking connection with people they want to connect with. As opposed to connecting with anyone (or anything e.g. food) just to fill the void. Topping up their need for connection in a sustainable rather than dependent way.
There are no quick fixes for healing wounds. Forgiveness and self-compassion are key. And new patterns take time to master. If your wounds are deep, working with a professional could you get on the right track and move forward.
Claim Your Power – Mastinn Kipp (Step by step guide to healing your wounds and taking control of your life. If you don’t believe in God or the universe, ignore his references to “your creator” and focus on the rest of the content.)
3) Love yourself
The quality of your relationship with yourself will determine the quality of your relationships with others. If you have a poor self-image. If you beat yourself up mercilessly when you make a mistake. If you constantly see yourself as not “enough”. This could either cause you to distance yourself from others to avoid being “seen”. Or to lose yourself in someone else in the hope they will validate your existence.
If the voice inside your head is particularly negative and self-loathing – it can make spending time alone even more painful. Driving us to distraction even further. Distractions provide temporary relief. But none solve the underlying issue: lack of love and connection. With ourselves and others.
Until you face your character “defects”. Your wrong-doings of the past. Until you forgive yourself for everything you’ve done. Until you learn to love yourself for who you are, and how to fill up your love bucket from the inside. There will always be a void. And in that void – loneliness.
4) Reconnect with YOURSELF
How many of us were taught, “You need to be ‘X’ to be loved and respected?”. How many of us complied? And how much of ourselves did we lose sight of in the process?
As we grow older, we lock our true selves out in the cold. Too scared to let them in case of what we’ll see. If you’re feeling lonely – it’s time to open that door. To discover who you are. What you like. What you don’t like. What you’re good at. What you’re not. What you want to be good at. What’s important to you. Your character strengths and perceived character defects. And build a relationship with them all. Acknowledging and bringing to life the parts of you you’ve been suppressing all this time.
The Untethered Soul – Michael Singer (How to manage our thoughts which stop us from being who we really are)
5) Face your fears
One thing that kept me stuck was the thought of meeting new people. Or more specifically the pain of meeting new people. The small talk. The energy required to get out of the house. The vulnerability. The length of time and effort required to build relationships. The pain of not finding anyone you connect with. Potentially being rejected. All must be faced if you want to have meaningful relationships with people.
But as I said in a previous post – yes intimacy requires risk. But intimacy cannot happen from behind a wall. Persist with your connection goals. It will be worth it in the end.
Daring Greatly – Brené Brown (For anyone afraid of being vulnerable)
6) Reach out and/or communicate your needs
We stay safe by not reaching out or communicating our needs. Putting ourselves out there or wearing our hearts on our sleeves is scary. But the most loving and respectful thing we can do for ourselves is to face our fears. Nothing will change if we don’t. We must value ourselves, prioritise our needs and take steps towards what we want. Even a baby step is better than no step at all.
We are human beings with human needs and human emotions. Needs that can only be met by others if communicated. And emotions that need to be processed and worked through to maintain forward momentum.
Sometimes we might need help in understanding our emotions and working through them. Or maybe help in communicating our needs. If you’re feeling lonely, honour your loneliness, and VALUE YOURSELF. Find someone who can help you work through it. Be brave enough to communicate your needs to those around you. We are a social species. You are not meant to, nor should you have to, suffer alone and feel lonely.
7) Find your tribe
Sitting down and asking yourself, “Who do I want to surround myself with?” is a key question. I thought about all the people I’ve been really close to in my life. Generally, they’ve all had similar interests. Personal development, health, relationships, nature and growth. As people, they’ve all been kind, caring and loving. Fun or funny with an adventurous side. People of substance – perhaps intellectual – who enjoy meaningful and sometimes deep conversations. I tapped into my existing network, and explored other ways I could meet these people. Workshops. Retreats. Social events. I spent time getting to know some of the members of my LinkedIn family too. Sometimes it went well. Sometimes it was a dead end. But eventually, I met people who I genuinely wanted to invest more time and energy into getting to know. And that’s how any tribe begins.
The key, as with all relationship building, is having the courage to be you.
Are you a senior-level professional looking for more balance in your life? Contact me to find out how my coaching programme can help www.zetayarwood.com/contact
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About the Author
Zeta Yarwood is recognised as a leading Career Coach and NLP Life Coach in Dubai, helping individuals across the world to achieve success in all areas of their lives. With a degree in Psychology and over 10 years’ experience in coaching, management and recruitment – working for multinational companies and award-winning recruitment firms – Zeta is an expert in unlocking human potential. Passionate about helping people discover their strengths, talents and motivation, Zeta lives to inspire others to dream big and create the life and career they really want.