“Last night I was all dressed up and waiting on my blind date to arrive. He never showed up. It made me feel ugly and unworthy and abandoned. I thought he may have seen me from a distance and bailed. All sorts of negative thoughts were running through my mind. Then, as I left the restaurant alone, I heard a little girl ask her mom if I was a princess. It made me smile and changed my mindset. I decided to walk the long way home, and I truly took it in – the fresh air, the peaceful solitude, the moonlight glistening off the sidewalk. And I realized being alone right now was exactly what I needed.”
Those are lines right out of an email I received this morning from Diane, a new course student of ours (I’m sharing this with permission). Her feelings of loneliness, and then her willingness to embrace being alone, is both inspiring and a wonderful reminder for all of us. Because sometimes being alone is exactly what we need, whether we realize it or not.
The truth, however, is that an astounding number of people in this world hate being alone. Perhaps all of us do at some point or another.
We fear being without friends, family, or a partner. We get anxious about traveling alone to strange places, and being lost without anyone to hold our hand. We fear taking on life without a shoulder to lean on, for fear that we’re not strong enough or good enough to stand on our own two feet.
This is natural – this resistance to being alone. We’ve all felt it deep down in our own way, though we often try desperately to ignore and deny it. And this is one of the greatest causes of our stress…
To avoid being alone we’ll socialize endlessly, online and offline. We’ll date, and even marry, someone who isn’t right for us, just to have someone to cling to – someone to fill up the empty space in our lives. We’ll watch hours of TV, or stuff our faces with junk food, or buy toys we don’t need, because these things are replacements for love… especially self-love.
The secret to turning things around? Awareness and acceptance.
We have to open our minds to the empowering nature of being alone.
We tend to see solitude as grim and imprisoning. But in fact the exact opposite can be true. Solitude can be seen as freeing, as an opportunity for exploration and growth – an opportunity to get to know and love yourself, deeply.
Like most of us, though, this is something I’ve learned the hard way. For many years I feared being alone, but I gradually strengthened my emotional self-sufficiency, and now I love it. The more I’ve experienced and explored my own feelings of loneliness and uncertainty, the more I’ve realized how necessary these feelings are. It’s good for us to spend time exploring unknowns by ourselves. It gives us an opportunity to discover who we really are and what life is all about.
Being alone is nothing to fear. Solitude is beautiful.
Here are some things that happen when you embrace it:
1. You develop strengths you need, and didn’t know you had inside you
Whenever I tell a coaching/course student that they need to embrace being alone, they usually say something like:
“But don’t you think the thought of being alone is scary… to go through life by yourself when you feel uncertain about things?”
Yes, it can be very scary. And that’s precisely the reason to learn to do it. Sometimes the scary things are the right things. Sometimes the situations we don’t want are the ones we need to grow. Embracing this may be painful at first, but nothing in life is as painful as staying endlessly stuck in situation you don’t belong simply because you are too scared to walk alone for awhile.
Likewise, it’s always better to learn to stand on your own two legs, rather than have someone carry you around your whole life. And once you are self-sufficient, then relying on someone else from time to time is an act of strength, not weakness.
Don’t know how to manage your finances and your life? – Start by educating yourself. Read one book on personal finance, one chapter at a time. Teach yourself life management skills, one at a time. Become self-sufficient, gradually.
Don’t know how to defend and protect yourself? – Learn to avoid dangerous situations. Learn to be aware of your surroundings. Learn the basics of self-defense. You’ll feel more and more confident walking alone with each passing day.
Regardless of what skill set you’re trying to strengthen in yourself, the key is to take small, consistent steps in the right direction, day in and day out.
Journeying through life alone is a learning process – you become stronger as you go. It’s like a kid who can’t find her way home when she’s alone – doing it the first few times is daunting and scary, but in the long run she’s safer and better off having learned the way.
2. Your relationships grow stronger, with less codependency and entitlement
Does learning to be comfortable with being alone mean you can’t be in a relationship?
Not at all. But if you aren’t comfortable with being alone – if you absolutely need another person to align with your every need – then you aren’t going to be comfortable in your relationship either.
Because you will become codependent and entitled. When your actions and thoughts revolve around another person to the complete disregard of your own individuality, that’s codependency. When you believe another person inherently owes you something, that’s entitlement. Both of these relationship traits are viciously harmful.
What you need to remember is that a healthy relationship never limits you… it doesn’t restrict you… it doesn’t try to change you… it doesn’t entitle you, or anyone, to anything.
People are sometimes led to have a sense of entitlement because they mistakenly believe they are owed something based solely on the social role they have chosen. For example, if someone has accepted the role of being a person’s friend, girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, or husband, they feel entitled to get certain ‘favors’ from this person. If someone has accepted the role of being a parent, they feel entitled to being respected by their children. If someone has accepted the role of being a customer, they feel entitled to be served to their unique needs.
But, as it turns out, there are no hard-wired entitlements in life. And this is especially true of the love present in a healthy relationship.
Too often we associate love with limitations…
“If he loves me, he will change.”
“If she loves me, she will do what I say.”
But that’s not real, healthy love. Not even close.
That’s the breeding ground for codependency and entitlement.
What we need instead is a healthy dose of self-sufficiency.
As Jim Rohn once said, “The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, ‘If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.’ Now I say, ‘I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.’”
3. You learn that aloneness does not mean loneliness
That’s right, being alone does not mean you are lonely, and being lonely does not mean you are alone.
One can be truly lonely in the midst of a crowded room. Wouldn’t you agree?
Thus, the trouble is not always in being alone – it’s being lonely in the presence of others.
So keep this in mind and choose your relationships wisely. It’s always better to be alone than to be in bad company. And when you do decide to come back for someone, do so because you’re truly better off with this person. Don’t do it just for the sake not being alone.
4. You find the intellectual space to support your own decisions
Everyone you care about does NOT need to support every decision you make. When you are surrounded by others 24/7, this truth can be hard to embrace.
Friends and family won’t always support your goals, but you must pursue them anyway. Follow your intuition. Following your intuition means doing what feels right, even if it doesn’t look or sound right to others. Only time will tell, but our human instincts are rarely wrong. Even if things don’t turn out as you anticipated, at least you will learn what you needed to learn, and you won’t have to spend the rest of your life wondering what could have been.
Ultimately, you know you’re on the right track in life when you become uninterested in looking back, and eager to take the next step, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
5. You get to mindfully experience more of YOUR life
One of the hardest challenges we face is to simply live in our own skin – to just be right here, right now, regardless of where we are. Too often we needlessly distract ourselves with anything and everything: food, booze, shopping, television, tabloid news, online social networks, video games, iPhones, iPads, etc. – basically anything to keep us from being fully present in the current moment.
We use compulsive work, compulsive exercise, compulsive love affairs, and the like, to escape from ourselves and the realities of living. In fact, many of us will go to great lengths to avoid the feeling of being alone in an undistracted environment. So we succumb to hanging-out with just about anybody to avoid the feeling of solitude. For being alone means dealing with our true feelings: fear, anxiety, excitement, uncertainty, anger, joy, resentment, disappointment, anticipation, sadness, and so on and so forth.
And it doesn’t really matter if our feelings are positive or negative – they are overwhelming and exhausting, and so we prefer to numb ourselves to them.
The bottom line is that every one of us is an addict, and what we are addicted to is avoiding ourselves. Acknowledging this addiction is the first step to healing it. So begin again right now by just breathing, alone, and noticing with curiosity, and without judgment, all of the little ways you can simply BE in your own skin, right here, right now, in this present moment we call life.
Solitude can be a scary thing, but it can also be a joyful thing.
You CAN learn to enjoy (and grow from) the times when you’re alone…
You can get to know yourself. You can do things that rely on very little external influence – reading, writing, walking in the woods, playing guitar, singing in the shower, dancing in your bedroom, learning something new, etc. You can discover hidden parts of yourself and the world around you without needing to instantly share it or get someone else’s approval to enjoy it.
Be alone and be at peace.
You deserve it.