Why do we sometimes find it hard to be alone?
It’s a complex question, and no one reason is adequate. Just as relationship tastes are deeply personal, so our relationship with ourselves is a deeply personal thing, full of the contradictions and idiosyncrasies that characterise our experience of others. In that sense, we ourselves are just one other person we have to get along with, the only difference being that we are trapped inside our own bodies, and can’t easily ‘dump’ ourselves or run away from ourselves.
Whilst we can’t run away from ourselves, we can run away from a direct experience of ourselves. We can drink, smoke and take other drugs which manipulate our sense of ourselves, or make us forget ourselves. We can indulge in activities which focus our attention on something that is not us; for instance, we can binge on TV series, or immerse ourselves in social media or online gaming. Or we can rush back into the company of others, to escape the uncomfortable feeling of being alone.
Sooner or later, though, here we are, with only ourselves as company. Here are a few ways to look at being alone with ourselves, as food for thought.
#1 – CAN I LIKE MYSELF?
In an article in Psychology Today, Iskra Fileva talks about self-loathing. Negative self-evaluation, she suggests, makes us lonely in our own company . In other words, if we have a self-critical inner voice, then, when alone, we don’t hear very nice things. In this sense, we can be our own worst enemy.
If this is us, then one answer is to try to develop a more positive self-image. Counselling is a great place to start in this quest, but even using positive affirmations can be a good shortcut. When young, we may have had parents or carers who criticised us, or watched us to check we were performing correctly. As adults, we may carry the same voice inside us, policing ourselves, and feeling guilty. We may need to learn to be kinder to ourselves.
#2 – HAVE I GOT OUT OF THE HABIT OF BEING ALONE?
In an article on Healthline, Ann Pietrangelo suggests that, in this age of social media and easy access to distraction, we may have simply forgotten how to be alone. She suggests switching our phone off and taking ourselves out on a date with ourselves. We may need to reacclimatise ourselves to quietly doing what we like, without constantly dipping in to social websites.
If we have got out of the habit, then we can experiment by giving ourselves as little as five minutes of peace, stepping out of busy-ness. We can then increase the time as we choose. Exercise is a good transitional way to be alone, because our body has something to do while we are in our own company.
#3 – AM I LONELY?
In an article in Harvard Business Review, Ruchi Sinha refers to our emotional need for contact with others. Humans are social animals, after all. The COVID epidemic had a significant effect on the mental health of the population, restricting as it did people’s ability to socialise.
One way of combating loneliness, Sinha suggests, is to find a project that gives you creative control. In other words, if loneliness feels like an imposition, then we need to change the agential balance so that we feel we are impacting our environment proactively.
Obviously, loneliness may be telling us to get back in touch with others, and there’s nothing wrong with acting on that urge.
But if our aim is to feel more comfortable in our own company, then it may work to have one or two creative projects which occupy our attention, and help us to feel more in control. For my own part, I spent many happy days, through childhood, writing music, prose and poetry, and rarely felt lonely while doing it.
Which of the above is you?
- If you don’t like yourself or your inner voices, then perhaps try to develop a more affirmative inner self – it can be learned.
- If you are simply out of the habit of being alone, perhaps start with five minutes of peace without your phone, and work up to longer times. Also. maybe use exercise as a transitional activity.
- If you are lonely, then feel free to get back into the company of others. But if that’s not an option, then having one or two creative projects to be getting on with, is a great way to combat loneliness.