Loneliness is one of the emotions over which many of my clients feel they have little control. Some feelings of loneliness do in fact emanate from our “wiring” as human beings, and in these cases feeling lonely is indeed "natural". But how long you stay stuck in feeling lonely is what’s quite controllable. By far the largest part of most people’s loneliness is a mental construct. While it may seem that being by oneself at a major holiday inevitably leads to feeling lonely, this need not be the case. In fact, how you “hold” in your mind the idea of being by yourself will in great part determine your experience. I was vividly reminded of this when, last week, a client with whom I've been working around the issue of chronic loneliness commented on how he was beginning to immerse himself in "the excitement of loneliness" (meaning the flexibility and opportunity created when one is acting solo).
This example demonstrates only one positive dimension of being solitary. “Alone,” the root of “lonely,” doesn't always have negative connotations. “I alone am capable of….” gives “alone” a sense of superiority. “I met the challenge alone” gives a sense of bravery. “I strolled along the beach alone” has the peaceful ring of solitude to it.
Take for example the thought “I am going to be alone at Christmas”. Because the culture we are embedded in portrays Christmas as a time of family, of gift-giving, and of companionship it is not easy to conceptualize a solitary Christmas as something other than abnormal and undesirable. Being alone at New Year’s feels almost worse. We are expected to be surrounded by friends and loved ones in effervescent celebration.
If you are facing the likelihood of being by yourself over a holiday, you can create an experience for yourself that is uniquely tailored to you. However, you won’t be able to engage in the creativity necessary to create that uniquely tailored holiday unless you are willing to give up the notion that alone = lonely, and are willing to entertain the possibility that you are not doomed to be the victim of loneliness just because you are alone.
There are two basic approaches to dealing with loneliness. One is the meaning you make of being alone, which I’ve discussed a bit above. The other is to engage in activities that shift your mood from lonely to something else more positive.
Some of the things you might plan to do by yourself:
1) Reach out to others. This could take the form of volunteering to deliver Christmas dinners to the needy, or phoning or writing e-mails to people with whom you’ve been out of touch for a while.
2) Pamper yourself. Declare the holiday as a time to treat yourself extra-kindly.
3) Make the holiday a time for introspection, reflection, or prayer. Taking stock as the year draws to a close makes eminent good sense, as does looking to the year to come and anticipating some of what it might hold. And for many people, God, Jesus, Buddha, or their higher power can provide a sense of connection to something larger than themselves that is a powerful antidote to loneliness.
Finally, take a look at how you generally cope with the unpleasant feeling of loneliness. Perhaps you turn to alcohol or drugs, or withdraw from interactions with others, or assume the role of a “poor victim”. These coping mechanisms will only wind up making you feel worse. Find healthier ways to deal with the unwanted emotion.
N.B. - Although I’m writing this post about the Thanksgiving / Hannukah / Christmas / Kwanzaa / New Year’s period, the thoughts herein are applicable to anytime loneliness creeps up on you.