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What is loneliness? Loneliness isn't simply the condition of being alone; we can be alone and be happy. Perhaps loneliness per se doesn't exist; the word refers to any emotion we feel while alone. Understand the feelings beneath your loneliness -- perhaps fear, sexual desire, disappointment, a craving for human touch, a threatened self-esteem, a sense of social failure, or something else; then you can confront those problems rather than the vague "loneliness."
The benefits of aloneness and loneliness.
- Aloneness is a time to be ourselves, with the freedom, dreams, enjoyments, and casual simplicity that recharge us and return us to our roots. It's a chance to review and plan, to introspect and create, to become self-reliant and re-defined. It is an assertion of our precious identity whenever we have lost ourselves in a world that is full of people and bustle.
- Loneliness makes our eventual relationships more appreciated and more intense. Perhaps it is only to the depths that we feel our ultimate aloneness that we can really be with another person. After we have reconciled with that extreme, and seen the same predicament in other people, we might be more compassionate and helpful when they reach to us, knowing that the gap can never be closed but that a loving friendship can create a bridge there.
Techniques for managing loneliness.
- Reject society's insistence that we must be social all of the time. When alone, be selfish and undisciplined for a while, to counterbalance the pressure of maintaining your impeccable social persona. And recreate your world on the undemanding blank canvas of the silence and stillness.
- Find meaningful activities while alone. In solitude, some people rattle around nervously, needing someone upon whom to focus their attention. But this period of time can be, instead, an opportunity to indulge in the sweet luxury of our hobbies and special activities. When our attention is absorbed in a private adventure, we find comfort and a self-generated warmth which equals that from a companion. In your home, encourage coziness by adding personal items like momentos, your artwork or handicrafts -- or anything else that is the psychological equivalent of Linus' blanket.
- Learn to rely on yourself for more things. Sometimes we seek from others the things that can best be secured from ourselves; for example, those who lack self-love seek love compulsively and hopelessly from strangers. See whether self-respect and self-acceptance are what you need, independent from the capricious respect and acceptance that come and go from your social contacts while satisfying you for a time but always threatening to leave you dry. And while discovering whether self-love is satisfying, see whether your need for love can be satisfied also through devotion to creative arts, a charitable cause, religious activities, or humanity in general. We all need people, but perhaps not as much as we might suppose -- for love and our other needs.
- Take action to make contact. When we decide to end our aloneness, we need to make the first move rather than waiting for someone to rescue us, and we must accept the risks and effort that are required. Action means more than just "going out"; we also make an effort to gain the skills that are lacking in many lonely people. These are the learnable skills of conversation, socializing, and etiquette. And we can develop psychological qualities that will make us more likeable; those qualities include self-confidence, happiness, and assertiveness. For the general skills of dating and friendship, see the books on those subjects at a library. While taking these actions, know that you can find friends now; don't wait until you have reached any particular goal of self-improvement.
- Find the right kind of contact. Loneliness retreats when our contacts meet our needs; we will be lonely still if (1) those people want a different level of intensity (and we have disregarded a potential friend who was, however, not gratifying our quest for intimacy or marriage), or (2) if we aspire to an idealized partner (in a world of merely marvelous mortals), or (3) if we stumble on a different obstacle in the labyrinth of "relationship". Even when we find people who quench our loneliness, we can accept gracefully the fact that portions of our spirit are forever alone.
- Accept the fact that you are ultimately alone. In the process of maturing, we allow the knowledge that we are individuals; no one else has our thoughts, feelings, situations, or personal history. We leave the protective world that our parents provided, and face our days with only a faraway guidance from them and from current friends. This step can be so frightening that we spend our adult lives looking for substitute "parents" to take care of us, or perhaps we bury our identity into that of a social group (such as a club, a corporation, or a family of our own) -- or, contrarily, we might find the step liberating, exciting, and empowering.
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