Getting Through the Loneliness
“How do I get past the loneliness?”
This is a question my clients often ask me. Along with all the other emotions they feel after divorce, the feeling of being alone is the one they can’t seem to shake.
There is hope.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness is just a feeling-nothing more than a vibration in your body. It all starts in your brain when you think a thought like “I’m alone.” Your brain wants you to believe that “I’m alone” is a fact but it’s not…it’s only a thought. The truth is that you are not alone. I can hear kids playing outside across the street as I write this.
Now, most of the time when I tell clients their feelings are caused by their thoughts, they want to immediately change their thinking. This may work sometimes, but it usually only provides temporary relief. Before you work on finding new thoughts, it’s important to gain some awareness. If you want to feel better, it’s important to first become aware of what you’re feeling and take notice of the thoughts causing it. Don’t judge yourself about it…just notice, like an outside observer looking in.
Resisting, Reacting, Avoiding
Most of you probably haven’t been taught to truly feel your emotions. We’re often taught by our family, friends, and the media to escape our emotions by doing one of three things: resist, react or avoid it.
The overwhelming feeling of loneliness comes up and many of us resist it. We try to hide it…shove it down deep…run from it. Not only does this create no relief, but it actually exacerbates it. I like to use the analogy of a beach ball. When we try resisting our pain, it’s like trying to push down a giant spring. We can only hold the spring down for so long. The minute we let it go, it bounces back up with explosive force. Resisting our pain only creates more pain. It only intensifies it.
Another way we deal with our emotions is by reacting to them. Reacting to your feelings might look like yelling, screaming, crying or “keeping busy.” It might look like blaming others or hating on the universe because “it’s not fair.” You might lie about it or embellish it, or talk about someone behind their back. Sometimes reacting to your emotions may feel like you’re “feeling” your emotions. It may even give you temporary relief. But you’re often just acting them out and not truly processing or feeling them at all. Reacting can also be inaction, like withdrawing from others, isolating yourself, or giving someone the silent treatment.
“When we react from negative emotion, we almost always get a negative result.” -Brooke Castillo
Avoiding our emotions is probably the easiest and most socially acceptable, but these temporary solutions only prevent the process that needs to take place in order to let it go and heal.
“When we choose to avoid our pain, we are, in essence, lying to ourselves.”
It only causes our pain to fester and the more you avoid it, the more you have the need to avoid it. We avoid our undesired emotions by buffering-using external things to change how we feel. Buffering looks different for everyone. The most common ways we buffer are overeating, overdrinking, overworking, binge-watching Netflix, overspending, using drugs, overuse of social media…anything that we do in excess to avoid feeling. But avoiding our pain only adds additional layers of pain. You might eat a bag of cookies instead of feeling lonely…then you feel guilty because you ate a bag of cookies. Then you might obsess about your body because you’re gaining weight. Now, what started out as just loneliness has turned into guilt and shame. Do you see the negative compound effect?
Processing loneliness, like any other negative emotion, is choosing to just feel it. I know what you’re probably thinking…”Why on Earth would I WANT to feel lonely?”
“The best way out is always through” – Robert Frost
Here’s the thing…we tell ourselves that feeling lonely is a bad thing because it feels awful. But the truth is that when you just allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, all the way through, you gain the awareness that the emotion you’re feeling IS manageable and it can’t harm you in the long-run.
“OK, but how do I do that?”
Processing pain starts with first identifying and naming your emotion.
“This is loneliness. This is just part of the journey.”
Allow yourself to just feel the vibration in your body. Notice what the emotion feels like in your body. Where in your body do you feel the discomfort? What does it feel like? If you had to give it a color, what color would it be? This gets you away from the thoughts looping in your brain causing the loneliness and into your body instead. Let yourself feel it as long as it takes…just keep noticing what you notice. Just become an outside observer of what you are feeling.
I know…this seems very counterintuitive. When I first heard of this technique, I thought “Wouldn’t that only make it worse?” Trust me on this…it doesn’t. It actually eases the feeling and it eventually dissipates.
It’s so amazing to me how our brain works. When you start to realize that the worst emotion you can feel is just a vibration in your body, you begin to be willing to feel anything…and that’s where the true healing begins.
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