Loneliness is one of the worst emotions that one can feel. Can you think of anyone who likes feeling lonely? So, what is it that we do when we are feeling lonely? We avoid it at all costs. And sometimes those costs can have extremely maladaptive consequences.
What are maladaptive consequences of loneliness? When we listen to the messages that loneliness is telling us, we find ways to fulfill ourselves and connect with others. We may engage in our work, sports, social networking, or creative activities. This is healthy (adaptive)
However, the problem lies in the avoidance of loneliness, at the cost of our wellbeing. Here is a typical example: one decides to stay in a harmful or abusive relationship because it is “better than being alone.” That may sound shocking to some, that a person would remain in an abusive relationship just to avoid the feelings of loneliness. That gives you an idea of the strength and power of this isolating emotion.
Another consequence of avoiding loneliness is substance use. When we have a reliable social support system in place (supportive family, friends, and coworkers), we are less likely to abuse substances, have behavioral addictions (gambling, sex, shopping), are less likely to become victims of abuse, and are at a lower risk of attempting or completing suicide. Excessive addictive behaviors are related to feelings of rejection, isolation, and abandonment.
What can be done to challenge and change your maladaptive consequences? Rather than avoiding loneliness at all costs, mindfully pay attention to your loneliness. What is your loneliness trying to tell you?
When I am feeling lonely, I feel my anxiety start to rise. I can feel my anxiety physically in my body, usually in my stomach. I immediately try to connect with a friend to alleviate the anxiety. That does not sound so bad, right? However, I over connect with friends (externalizing), preventing me from being productive. When I am not productive, I get depressed, and that gives me time to drink. When I drink, I feel like crap. Then I get more depressed. When I get depressed, I get anxious about being depressed because I am telling myself that I am wasting my life (low self-worth). Then I get even more depressed. Can you see how this is a vicious cycle and that it can quickly get out of hand?
Instead, (I) listen to the loneliness and find out what it means to you (me) specifically. Experience the loneliness. What does it feel like in your body? Does it make you anxious? What does the anxiety feel like? Learn to spend time with your loneliness and your anxiety. Where are these feelings originating from (prior experiences)? Consciously paying attention to being alone, with yourself, will empower you to make better choices, that is, you are finding out the source of your loneliness, what is driving it. (I also have developed a safe social support system, and a have a great outlook on myself worth!)
For more help with processing and experiencing emotions that are disrupting your life and preventing you from reaching your goals, please contact me and make an appointment today! Let’s process your emotions together!
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