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Only the Lonely

Loneliness is a universal human experience. We are all lonely from time to time, sometimes even when we are with people we know and care about. Loneliness is an opportunity to surrender into the "yearning for union with the lost self."
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rear view of overweight woman sitting on park bench near lake
rear view of overweight woman sitting on park bench near lake

"At the innermost core of all loneliness is a deep and powerful yearning for union with one's lost self." ~Brendan Francis

Forming positive attachments to others is regarded as a sign of psychological stability, health, and wellbeing. Being in partnership, as a primary attachment, is often viewed as the guardian from loneliness. When that attachment is severed through divorce or death of a spouse or partner, this creates a tremendous void in our psyche that pulls us into feelings of profound sadness. Not only is there loss, but a loneliness that is non-specific, a focus on being alone, feeling abandoned, and an aching for any kind of attachment. Even when the most acute pain of the loss has subsided, loneliness may take its place as a predominant form of suffering.

There is a stigma often placed on a widow or divorcee that views her as a dangerous, lonely, predatory creature that will devour people with her neediness or steal the spouses of her friends. While this carries with it a modicum truth about the loneliness, the notion of the widow's/divorcee's intentions to steal someone's husband is more about that person's personal or marital insecurities than anything else. However, this perception can be the source of a great deal of pain for you, the one who has been left behind in the aftermath of the death of your spouse, or your divorce.

It is important, first of all, to confront the reality of your loss and learn to adjust to it. This means allowing yourself to experience your pain - the sense of loss, loneliness, fear, anger, guilt, and sadness - to acknowledge your anguish, express and release it.

The attitude you have towards yourself while experiencing the vulnerability of loneliness has a lot to do with how much suffering you will assign to it. What do I mean by that?

If you look up the word "loneliness" in the dictionary, it means, "being alone, feeling alone, isolated, without companionship or support." So, take the first part, "being alone." That seems to be a neutral statement of fact. It's when you get into the "feeling alone, isolated, without companionship or support," where you start to go, "Oh, this what I can't accept." Not only that, it's only a short hop down the rabbit hole of conjuring up even more fear-based thoughts along that theme: "I'll never find someone else to love," "No one will want me," and "I'm going to be alone forever," etc.

While loneliness may become a long-term legacy of loss, it's helpful to move towards acceptance of "being alone." Being alone can be healing. It's a time for embracing a little protective social withdrawal, some solitude. It's a time to get to know yourself again and to reunite with your "lost self." Take a break from seeking attachments to others and learn to form a strong attachment to yourself. Claiming your wholeness unto yourself can circumvent pressure from your family and friends to "get out there and move on," before you are ready to do so.

There are ways of coping with loneliness that tend to distract you from it, i.e. to "fix" it. These are useful, and I usually do end up suggesting them to clients when they are seeking relief from feeling bad about their state of aloneness.

  • Positive distraction into the media: TV, newspapers, books, internet, etc.
  • Companionship and comfort: adopt/foster/get a pet
  • Personal enrichment: join a gym, take a class, attend meetings/gatherings, etc.
  • Social involvement: spend time with friends, make new friends, and dating (yes, this may seem daunting, but you'll know when you are ready)
  • Involvement with others: service/volunteering

The methods above represent an outside-in approach to coping with loneliness. I also want to talk about a few strategies for working with loneliness from the inside out. This is more about the "being alone" part of the process. The word solitude seems to fit better, as it can be a positive, uplifting, and self-affirming process, a vehicle for uniting or merging with your "lost self."

  • Journaling, writing: expressing yourself freely and openly
  • Meditation, yoga, other mindfulness pursuits
  • Prayer, turning your feelings over to God, attuning to Spirit's guidance and loving support
  • Creative self-expression: creating artwork, crafts, music, etc.

Immersion in a search for purpose, meaning, and direction for your life's next chapter is a powerful way to address the issue of loneliness. It's a matter of perspective. It's natural to feel lonely at a time when dealing with loss. It's also an opportunity to use this time of being alone to incubate, to nourish, to love yourself whole again by using both the outside-in and inside-out approaches in balance.

Loneliness is a universal human experience. We are all lonely from time to time, sometimes even when we are with people we know and care about. Loneliness is an opportunity to surrender into the "yearning for union with the lost self." This yearning can be satisfied through being compassionate and mindful with ourselves. Yes, even in our solitary grief, we can experience being held and comforted by the divinity within our selves.