As I was thinking about perfectionism the other day I started thinking about the fear that causes the need to be perfect. If a major part of perfectionism is the need to please others then the potential outcome of not pleasing someone is that they don't approve of you. Blown way out of proportion, there is a fear that they won't love you anymore. If someone doesn't love you anymore then they will leave you and you will be alone. While these outcomes aren't typical, they could be subconscious fears that encourage the need to please others.
If being alone seems scary, it isn't the actual act of being alone. I love to be alone. I could watch movies all day by myself, bake up a storm or spend hours writing songs or reading a book. The idea of being alone sounds heavenly most days. After all, I am a mother of two. It's that other word that we instinctively think of when we hear the word alone: lonely. Being lonely is one of the worst feelings on earth. If you've ever felt truly lonely, there is a good chance you've either lost someone, been bullied or left out at school, gotten divorced, had a difficult break up or suffered from depression. I've experienced all of those but nothing has brought me to my knees like the loss of love. I remember the first time my heart was broken and I never thought I would be able to love again. He broke up with me right before we were both about to perform in a college play together. He played my abusive husband and I was a battered housewife. The tears and devastation were real that day. I either gave the performance of a lifetime or was such a mess that it was difficult to watch. I'm not sure which but I'd like to think my suffering served a purpose. Besides the method acting that day, I remember vividly what I felt during that breakup: lonely. I felt so lonely because I didn't think anyone could make me feel that way every again. I felt empty and alone.
Fast forward to when I divorced my first husband. You would think that I would have experienced loneliness but, overall, I didn't feel lonely. I was living with my parents and my baby son and, thanks to their support, I was able to still see friends and I would often be able to go out with them after my son went to sleep. He was a great sleeper so he didn't miss me. They also allowed me to go back to school for viticulture and enology which is where I met a lot of friends and started my new career in wine.
Then I got re-married to the love of my life. We had a whirlwind romance and had moved in together after 6-months, married 4 months later and had a baby 7 months after that. We were madly in love but it wasn't easy for us to transition from dating lovebirds to domesticity with a 5-year old and newborn son. The baby wasn't easy to handle, either. He cried ALL of the time and never seemed to want to sleep. Those first few years are a blur and neither of us remember many details. By the time we moved to a house in the country a couple years later, things had changed. My husband was distant and I started putting up walls and feeling resentment. During that time I had never felt so lonely and, honestly, desperate. Parenthood is overwhelming. True loneliness brings on desperation. No one, even those who love to be alone, wants to feel lonely.
It was then that I realized that loneliness is often the worst when you are surrounded by people. Thinking back to high school and college when I suffered from a deep depression, I now know that the worst part of depression is feeling alone, no matter how many people you see or talk to each day. Loneliness is dangerous. It feels so hopeless with no solution.
Loneliness leads to nothing good, only detachment. And sometimes the people who most need to reach out are the people least capable of it. -Joss Whedon
That's where community comes in. If we could focus on others more than ourselves then we should be able to lessen the number of people who feel lonely. Being of service to others can also pull us away from loneliness.
Dr. Heidi Halvorson says that lonely people don't sleep as well, experience severe depression and anxiety, have reduced immune and cardiovascular functioning, and exhibit signs of early cognitive decline that can progress in severity over time. According to Halvorson, there are four ways to help eradicate loneliness: (1) improve interpersonal skills such as conversational, communication and non-verbal skills (2) provide group and individual support with therapy or support groups (3) increase opportunities to meet other people and (4) change negative thinking that makes socialization more difficult. (source: Psychology Today)
The solution for loneliness can be found inside myself.
That last tip resonates with me because I can get into a bad cycle of self-pity or low self-esteem when I feel like no one is going to want to spend time with me. This often happens when I'm facing a lot of challenges and I don't have a lot of positive news to share. Fortunately, after a year-and-a-half of therapy and attending group therapy, I have discovered that the solution for loneliness can be found inside myself. This sounds like new age self-help talk, and it is, but the truth is that loneliness happens when we aren't comfortable with ourselves. Self-doubt, fear of failure and emotions with nowhere to go can all lead to loneliness.
That hardest part of being lonely is asking for help. Just like depression, when you're in the midst of feeling lonely, you don't want to burden anyone else with the way that you feel. One thing I've learned is that people can sense when someone is sad or lonely and it is a hell of a lot more uncomfortable for them to be around you if you pretend it doesn't exist than if you're honest about the way you feel. They don't need to know all the details but knowing how you feel will go a long way and will likely lead to connection. I'll save what I have learned about over-sharing for another day. For today, let's reach out and connect with someone else and say goodbye to loneliness.
If your loneliness is too much to bear, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text CONNECT to 741741 from anywhere in the USA, anytime, about any type of crisis.