Loneliness is a feeling that is uncomfortable.
Here is a definition I found of loneliness I found on the internet:
Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself or feeling disconnected from the world around you. It may be felt more over a long period of time. It is also possible to feel lonely, even when surrounded by people. Isolation is being separated from other people and your environment. (Source Listed below)
Many expats experience loneliness when they are living away from their family support network and friends. When I was living abroad I experienced this and then I experienced it even more intensely when I lived interstate (Queensland). My family and friends were a two hour plane ride away and we saw each other several times a year. I felt lonelier than when I lived in South Korea without regular trips and visitors. How is that possible? Because the distance and availability of family and friends doesn’t actually have a bearing on our experience of loneliness. In fact the most intense feeling of loneliness I remember was as a child sitting in a classroom full of people. I vividly remember the feeling and I was scared by its power. From that day onward I tried to avoid negative emotions. But now I understand what created that feeling of loneliness. I know some tools to relieve some of that emotional discomfort and I have learned how to move forward when I feel lonely. I’m going to teach you these things today.
What causes loneliness? It’s what causes all our feelings – our thoughts. So when we arrive in a new city and a new country we might think about how far our family and friends are from us and that makes us feel sad and isolated. We might think we don’t fit in and that we are different from the people around us and that makes us feel disconnected. And from that place of isolation, sadness and disconnection it’s hard to find the self confidence to take action. In fact we often end up in a spiral of thoughts that are not helpful. I know that when I was living interstate I started to be more self critical, I felt unworthy which culminated in a feeling of shame.
So when we are in that negative spiral of thoughts, what can we do? I want to walk you through the three step process of dealing with loneliness.
- The first thing we can do is process our feelings. Most of us don’t know how to do this and it’s an empowering skill. When we don’t process our feelings properly, they usually emerge more intensely in the form of anger or anxiety later down the track or we just hide from them by yelling or eating chocolate. I have soooo much to teach you about emotions but today I want to give you some basics. Try and identify the feeling and then explore the feeling without resistance. A feeling is a vibration in your body, so explore the physical sensations. You can ask yourself some questions like, where is the feeling in my body? Is the vibration fast or slow? What colour would I put to this? How does it feel? What does it make me want to do? The feeling is going to come and go, the intensity will increase and wane and eventually dissipate and disappear. You just allow the feeling to be there, watch the feeling, knowing it can’t hurt you. It’s just a feeling. Just by watching the feeling and then releasing your resistance to it, you are going to take away a layer of unnecessary discomfort. So instead of being scared and anxious that you are feeling lonely, you just let it be there.
- Then we can try and identify the thoughts creating those feeling. It’s really valuable for you to shine a light on the thoughts that are causing the feeling of loneliness. It can be challenging to do this, but getting conscious about what is going on in your mind is incredibly powerful because we can totally control our thoughts. This is GREAT NEWS! We mostly operate in default mode by nature, but we have an opportunity to manage our own minds, so that we can create the feelings of our choice. But it’s important to process the feelings and shining a light on the thoughts you are currently thinking first! Some of the thoughts I was thinking when I was living in Queensland were – I’m different, they don’t get me, I don’t get them and I don’t fit in.
- Finally we can decide if those thoughts are helping. We are going to feel negative emotions half our lives and that’s a good thing, because the contrast of emotions allows us to feel the really good ones. We can’t know happy without sad! So when loneliness comes up, we don’t need to fight it we can process it, and then we can ask ourselves if that feeling is useful. We can know if a feeling is useful by figuring out what action we take when we feel lonely and what result that has in our life. (Did you know our feelings are what drive ALL the actions we take in life?) For me, when I felt lonely, I found it really hard to connect with other people, I would be looking out for evidence of why I was so different from the people around me and I’d act in crazy ways that I thought other people would think was acceptable. I wanted people to like me, but I wasn’t being me. I was being ingenuine and people probably picked up on the fact I was uncomfortable and didn’t feel a sense of belonging. The result was, I found it hard to make genuine friendships. I didn’t have these tools at the time, but I want you to have them! Next you can question the validity of your thoughts and decide what you wanted to think. In my case, I could have chosen to think these thoughts instead – I am different and that’s actually pretty cool. Everyone is different. I can learn more about the culture here. It’s possible that I could enjoy the differences. If I don’t fit in, that’s OK. I can authentically be me and see what happens. At least then I end up liking me! Those thoughts are opening up new possibilities; they are thoughts I truly believe – not crazy positive affirmations that don’t resonate. And if they create the feeling of openness and acceptance, those feelings would fuel me to be more open to others, to be true to myself and the result for me would to feel comfortable in my own skin. I wouldn’t have control over whether I made new friends and developed meaningful relationships but I’m guessing that it would be easier from that emotional place.
If this resonates with you I’d love to hear from you. Pop a comment in my comments section below.
Definition found here: https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/topics/loneliness-isolation
Image Daniel Cheung, Unsplash