Justin is about to graduate from college, and has accepted a job across the country. He is excited about the new challenge. Frank is a successful architect, but he is in the midst of a painful divorce. Marsha, a happily-married woman with grown children, has just been widowed.
What do these three people have in common? They are all relatively well-functioning individuals, yet each is petrified at the prospect of being alone. The fear of being alone seems universal. I would speculate that it’s primordial; that it speaks to an age-old instinct for safety and community.
What we don’t understand is that “aloneness” doesn’t necessarily mean “loneliness”.
Aloneness implies the state of being alone, without a pejorative connotation. Loneliness, on the other hand, suggests the unhappy feeling of disconnectedness that we can experience, even in a crowd. To further highlight the distinction, most of us can remember feeling intensely lonely, even while in relationships; ones that aren’t meeting our needs for connectedness.
The fear of being alone doesn’t remit until we’ve faced it head-on. I’m reminded of the child who is afraid that there’s a monster in the closet, until he or she is shown that there is no dreaded creature lurking there. In other words, all of the talking in the world won’t take away that fear; only experiencing and surviving aloneness, will.
The truth is that many unexpected gifts can come from facing the fear of being alone. By doing so you will:
• See that this fear is groundless
• Feel more confident knowing that you can survive (and maybe thrive) being alone
• Learn that time spent alone can be quite pleasant
• Feel refreshed and renewed by the experience
• Be more in touch with your own thoughts and feelings as a result
• Learn more about your interests and preferences
• Figure out how to constructively and happily use alone time, and look forward to it
• Understand that alone time is something to be embraced, not feared
If you’re finally facing your fear of being alone, here’s how to make the experience less overwhelming:
• At first, only spend small amounts of time completely alone, i.e. with no one else present.
• Initially plan to spend time with friends or loved ones for part of each day.
• If you are in a new place geographically, without friends or family, go to coffee shops, restaurants, book stores or libraries for part of each day, to feel the presence of others.
• Take a class, join a church, an activity group, or sports team, or find a volunteer activity. Such pursuits become especially important if you are not working or going to school.
• As you get used to experiencing brief periods of alone time, gradually extend the length of these times.
• Use the time to watch an old movie, start a new book, do a woodworking project, put those photos in an album, write a letter, or listen to music: The possibilities are endless.
• Rather than run from your feelings, explore them, and even write about them.
If you are an “alone-a-phobe”, maybe it’s time to look your fear in the eye. I think you will be pleasantly surprised about how you feel, once you’ve stepped beyond your comfort zone.