Are you feeling lonely? Or do you want to help someone else to overcome loneliness? Here are nine ways I have been dealing with that feeling. Nine, since I’ve been experimenting quite a lot. Because what is most effective differs from moment to moment, and from person to person, of course. We’ll look at this horrible feeling with an eye on thoughts, emotions, and some old wisdom. I have dealt with loneliness quite a lot throughout my whole life. Amidst breakup it came back with a power that overthrew me. This article has my amalgam of psychology, spirituality, art and real life experience.
Let me start of with an experience of loneliness after my breakup.
We used to collect mushrooms together in the woods near our house. Then I would prepare them and she would love them. This is how easy and beautiful our life together often had been.
Now I strolled through the woods again. Plenty of mushrooms, I spoke to myself, and went back to our house. I ate the mushrooms on a piece of bread. My tears added some salt to them.
I describe this true scene for you, to let you feel how loneliness after a breakup felt for me. Loneliness is a common feeling. Yet it works out different for each of us. As an example: I was in a new environment where I did not have close old friends. Someone else may have close old friends around, but feel so much shame that he or she does not want to see a friend. We all are in a different situation.
Let me share with you the nine ways I dealt with loneliness. This is a long post. May you find inspiration to deal with your lonely heart, or share this with a friend who feels lonely. He or she might even get very much uplifted just by you thinking of them!
Is Loneliness After Breakup A Serious Issue At All?
People can be feeling lonely for a long time, hoping for the better, and suffering every day. To the point that some of them commit suicide.
Some people break up, because they have found “someone else”. You would think they don’t suffer loneliness feelings. Yet, the new love in their lives does not fill the “hole” at an instant.
The intensity of loneliness coïncides with the intensity of the relationship. The more your lives were “interwoven” the more you will feel alone. When people have a common home, offspring together, maybe work together or go to the same sports club to volunteer, when they go to concerts together, go on holidays together, look at the same TV shows, and so on – their lives are interwoven.
So when they part, together with the partner all of these commonalities are disturbed or evaporated. Not only do you lose a partner through a breakup, but much more. Your life together is over. And since so much of your live was lived together, a great part of your life is over. It’s not exaggerating to say: a part of you is dying. You can’t but experience the painful hole. This is a root cause of feelings of loneliness after a breakup.
One other factor is: fear for abandonment. I became fully aware of this fear shortly after the breakup had started. Its roots – as I found out – laid in traumatic childhood experiences that had hid in my unconscious mind for long. As Guy Winch puts it (1): “All of us have experienced some degree of abandonment, if only for a short time, and remember the painful and scary feeling that goes along with it.
Whenever we are reminded of this feeling or anticipate it in the future, we get a twinge of abandonment distress that we experience as loneliness. This can happen among a crowd of friends or even after making love. It can be pretty confusing and can put you off your game if you don’t know what’s going on.”
So, yes, loneliness after breakup can be a serious and real issue to deal with. No doubt about it. I have tried to deny and neglect it, but this would not work. These are the 7 other ways I tried since.
1 Put on the radio or TV
Let’s start of with the easiest one. When we hear conversations around us, our mind goes in the “I’m not alone, it is safe here”-mode. You may even be distracted by what they are talking about. You see, our minds are easily fooled. Why not use this feature to our advantage?!
It may sound funny, but at the time I had neither a radio nor a TV set. But I had the internet, which – of course – has great choice of online broadcasts, like here (2).
2 Meet or call people
Loneliness is a feeling, and thus an interpretation of your situation. If you change the situation, your feeling may change along. So the idea is: make yourself “un-alone”.
Meet (or call) a friend. You can have a normal conversation, enjoy some activity together, have lunch somewhere.
If you trust yourself and the situation, be vulnerable. Share with them that you feel lonely. Everybody can relate to the feeling, since we all are lonely at some points in our lives. You can ask them to hug you, cuddle with you, massage you – whatever. Maybe you experience shame or discomfort. Prepare yourself, and put some extra courage in your “luggage”. A friend hugging you can relieve a lot of stress hormones that have risen with the loneliness feeling. This is most important for both your physical and emotional balance and health. Even a massage from a professional – not being a friend – will do some good. In the book I’ll write about my meetings and a one-time Chinese massage in Paris, of all places.
Meeting a friend may have a beautiful side-effect: you relieving his or her loneliness in that moment. You maybe didn’t think about it, but you might just as well be the solution to someone else’s problem.
Another way to meeting people, is to check social meetings and other events. Check whether meetup.com or the local newspaper shows a good opportunity near you. I went to a dance party that was organized by the local chapter of couchsurfing.com in a nearby city. I had intentions of cuddling with someone, which did not happen that evening. Nevertheless, I had a nice evening.
Sometimes, I would smile at people on the street or on the bus. Or say “hello” to them. In stead of focussing on myself, my attention was shifting to strangers. Give it a try. You oould well be amazed about the responses. Some people will look away, and some others will respond with a smile or a good word for you. I did this, and felt a deep connection with people looking back, smiling back at me. I became aware how many of them were also uplifted from their solitude, if even for a short moment. It was both gratifying and humbling.
Volunteer for a charity. Many co-volunteers will appear to be friendly people. They are glad with your help, and therefor with your company. Not only do you meet like-minded people, but they will give you back some self-esteem in most cases. You will be “seen”. Meanwhile, the act of sharing and giving (your time and effort), is very enriching and satisfying. Just google “volunteer work” plus your hometown, and you’re up to something good.
I myself have done some volunteer work with the choirs where I sang. Working together became a highlight of those lonely weeks.
In general: not being alone will lessen the feelings of loneliness. Yet, the feeling can get aggravated, once you are at your own again. Or even when you don’t dare to make contact while in a social situation. We need more mechanisms to deal with our loneliness than just changing the actual situation.
3 Do What You Would Do On Your Ideal Evening Alone
Be your own good company. For sure you have been alone, when your partner wasn’t there. Here’s a checklist of things you may enjoy:
> I watch a movie on TV
> I read a book
> I am active on internet or social media
> I play music, I draw, I write
> I do some concentrated work
> I spend hours on my hobby
> I have a work-out at home or outside
> I take a long walk till dark
> What else can you come up with? (I’ve left out contacts with people)
My favorite alone-time activity was: to dance to loud music. I was distracting myself, and the energy of dancing had good effects on my body and stress hormones. Apart from the fact that I was intensely connecting to the beauty of my favorite (classical) music, dancing added a lot of joy. Dancing is a way of expressing feelings – I don’t need anyone else for that. This took the sting of loneliness out of the alone-time.
4 Release The Negative Beliefs About Being Alone
I hung up a note in front of me: “You Are In Good Company: In Your Own, To Be Precise.” When I looked at it, I smiled. It made me aware of my good qualities, and of the beauty of the moment. Moments alone: I could cherish the silence, and look “inside”. I became aware of how I could relate to myself. I saw the many fears and beliefs about “being alone” and how “being together” was not a precondition of my existence.
The mental focus on “being alone” sometimes intensified the feeling of loneliness a bit. But my mind had been calmed. With this calm mind I aroused a kind feeling towards myself, my feelings and my situation. With my fingertips I stroke my face, and I let go of the stress and anxiety.
A person who has learned to be OK when alone, is a much better partner in his or her next relationship. There is a lot of personal growth to be obtained from alone time.
5 Tap On It
Possibly you have never heard of tapping, or Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). It’s an incredibly simple therapy, involving body and mind, including the unconscious parts of it. By tapping on specific meridian points on your head, face and upper body, you release a lot of old stress. Here is a 6 minute EFT introduction video on youtube(3).
Short question in between: Are you aware of fears about your future when you experience feelings of loneliness? I consider making a video on the subject, to specifically let go of these fears. Would you need or want that? Please let me know at email@example.com. When I have 5 “yesses”, I’ll go make that.
6 Meditate On Your Breath (and feel how loneliness dissipates)
From the reality and the psychology of “being alone” above, we now enter the spiritual domain. Meditation has a few interesting effects, even when you start doing it.
It calms your mind
It gives clarity on what is really going on inside you
It grows your wisdom
Here is my super shortest instruction for beginners:
1.Sit in a chair, feet on the floor, spine up, don’t lean. Chin slightly pointing downwards, which makes the top of your head point straight upwards.
2. Put one hand on your belly, one hand where it feels most comfortable: in your lap, on the other hand, on your chest – anywhere.
3. Once you’re familiar with the instructions: close your eyes or fix them vaguely on a point somewhere in front of you.
4. Focus on the feeling of the belly that goes up and down with your breath. Let your breath go as it wants to: fast or slow, high or low…
5. Now if something else attracts your attention, give it a little bit of attention. With your inner voice you kindly welcome it: “Hello thought”, “Hello fear”, “Hello sound”, or “Hello bodily sensation”. Mentally, put the thought, the fear or whatever comes up on the ground next to your chair. Just let it sit there. It has been seen, acknowledged and greeted. For now that is OK.
6. Go back to step 4 and 5 for as long as you want. First time, you could give this meditation just 1 minute.
How does this meditation lessen feelings of loneliness? Because if you no longer fight the feeling, you can let it leave your psyche. You don’t have to “solve” it, nor do you have to “not feel it”. Neither do you “identify” with it, or let it start a train of worrying thoughts. Maybe you will mention that your mind will still try to do either of these things. That’s not a problem either. Let me clarify that.
Let’s say, you mention that your mind comes up with a reason why you feel lonely. Something along these line: “I feel lonely because I am alone and I did not choose to be alone”. Can you see this reason is another thought coming up? You can welcome that thought, silently saying “Hello” to it, putting it next to you on the ground. Gently and kindly – after all, it was coming out of you, and it did not have a bad intention at all. Maybe it tried to warn you for neglecting your condition, but you don’t do that. You are just calming your mind.
In essence, with this meditation, you loosen your identification with what your mind comes up with. It is liberating. Most probably this process of de-identification meets some resistance from the mind. But because you simply welcome this resistance (“Hello resistance!”) as well, he mind will experience that resistance is futile. Your awareness doesn’t take it on. More and more, the mind will stop bringing it up. The feelings of loneliness will come up every now and then, but they no longer occupy your mind for a longer period of time. It may take some exercise, but it’s well worth it.
7 Take All Kinds Of Drugs (That Blur or Change Your Feelings)
I tried this with alcohol, and it worked. The sharp edge of loneliness in the evening got blurred out a bit. One more drink, and it blurred even a little more. And while it also tasted good and went well with a salty snack, I would take a third glass. By the time I went to bed, I was pretty careless about even brushing my teeth.
The problem with alcohol comes a little bit later than when you drink it. It inhibited my sleep, which cost me my energy and made me quite hazy the next day. Plus the loneliness feeling was being reinforced in two silly ways:
1. Alcohol consumption became a kind of gratifier for feelings of loneliness. Being alone and feeling my misery was the trigger, so a part of me became quite content with the misery. Which meant that throughout the day and evening, I became gradually more focused on loneliness. Not what I deeply wanted.
2. With alcohol, there is no emotional healing going on. You block your awareness of. You numb your emotions. But neither are healing any hurt or wound. At the moment that you see yourself sitting there with that bottle, you get the very embarrassing picture of “lonely you”, and you know you now have avoided healing. Prolonging feelings of loneliness makes those feelings “heavier” on the mind. (That is why a long period of feeling lonely is not good for your wellbeing, to the point of depression or suicide.)
So, I sincerely discourage you walk the way of alcohol or other drugs. Don’t condemn yourself if you went this alley, but find a way to turn around. You’ll deal with your breakup feelings a lot better within no time.
8 Talk To Yourself (in a camera, if you want)
I remember one time coming home from school, and hearing my mother speak to herself upstairs. She was doing household chores, and she had not heard me coming, obviously. When I made some noise to announce that I had come home, she greeted me and did not speak to herself any further that day. It left me wondering if she had gone nuts, or something. But I know better now. Talking to ourselves releases stress and discomfort.
Famous pop singer Beyonce – during her loneliest moments – talked to herself in the camera of her computer (4). Now, it is one thing to know that an incredibly successful person like Beyonce is feeling lonely at times.
The second thing is for us, the less famous, much more interesting. We can talk to ourselves, feel less lonely, release stress. Afterwards, we can listen well to someone who has good intentions with us. No, you are not nuts if you do. Or you must consider me, my mother and Beyonce are all nuts. That’s OK with me.
Best way of applying this: use the camera of your smartphone or computer, with the mic on. Push the record button and greet yourself kindly. Speak as like to someone you know well. “Hey Ton, I know you are feeling lonely today. Your eyes are sad. I think you have cried a few tears, I can see it. That is OK. You are in this situation…” You get the idea: speak with understanding. Be kind and talk a bit about the things that the “you” you are talking to has experienced or is experiencing at that moment. You may be amazed about two things:
1. At times you speak words of wisdom. They are somewhere in you, and they come up. Listening to them later, by someone who knows you intimately, is very powerful. The wisdom will sink in your heart when you listen back!
2. Seeing and hearing yourself is not some silly game. You are not the same person when you spoke those words as when you listen to them. And you can listen more than once, of course. You have in a most rigorous way ended your being alone. At the same time, you are developing your capacity to be with yourself and enjoy your company.
Enjoy your time with you. You could also greet yourself in the mirror: “Hello me!” And when you go to bed: “Have a nice sleep, me!” If you think you are fooling yourself, then I’d suggest another exercise: stand in front of the mirror and say friendly things to that mirror image for ten minutes. I did this, and I felt much more content with myself, and not like a fool. Besides, no one is looking.
9 Do “The Work”
The feeling of loneliness can only exist because our minds interprets our situation as both “alone” and “not blissful”. We have seen that aloneness has the benefit of freedom to dance around. This is the blissful freedom of an individual being on her or his own. And we have seen that we are a social being as well, who has the freedom to connect or not to connect with others.
It’s just how we relate to our situation whether we consider being alone a blessing or a curse. There can be bliss in being with others, as there can be in being alone. The “relationship” with our situation is built upon the beliefs that we hold. Once we question our beliefs, we can come to new and different insights about that situation.
This little introduction to the “relativity” of feeling alone, leads us to “The Work”, as developed by Byron Katie. This process starts of with answering four questions. With these, we investigate our underlying beliefs.
As an example, here is the thought with which I started doing The Work on Loneliness: I hate to be alone. The four questions to start of with, are:
Is it true?
Can I absolutely know this thought is true?
How do I react when I believe that thought?
Who would I be without that thought?
Another short question: Are you interested in dissecting your beliefs around loneliness? I consider making a video on the subject, to specifically apply The Work to this topic. Would you need or want that? Please let me know. When I have 5 “yesses”, I’ll go make that (as well).
A Bonus & A Joke
One thing that I did not do: take a dog. However, a dog owner told me the company of a dog, the warmth, the friendship and connection meant a lot to her shortly after her breakup. On a less serious note, here’s a cartoon on loneliness that I find funny:
If you experience loneliness, it’s up to you to see how to go about it. I would love to hear what you have tried for yourself, and how it worked out.
As for the book: the mushroom scene (from the start) may or may not make it to the final version of the book “Love by Breakup” for which you have signed up. Stay tuned!
[The photo was taken by my friend Marco Reeuwijk. Clearly I was not alone in the woods then, but later I was, and there was no-one to take a picture.]