I was often lonely growing up, and still feel that way at times. I’m very introverted, don’t like parties, feel my energy drain in social situations, and have a difficult time trusting others or being vulnerable. During college, I was acutely aware of how alone I was. I’d been homeschooled growing up, so there wasn’t a lot of social interactions there (aside from church), and college was my first experience surrounded several days a week with others my age. Besides the fact I felt much more comfortable around adults than my own age group (this had been the case since I was little), I also felt ugly, alone, and unsure what to do about it. I hated small-talk and wouldn’t engage in what I considered petty conversations. As for small-talk, I didn’t like sharing my thoughts or opinions unless they really contributed to a conversation, which meant I enjoyed deep discussions and debates more than contributing to a talk about how much homework we had.
I experienced loneliness again when I left a job I had been in for years and lost my work family, but this time, I have a new outlook on loneliness:
I am choosing to be alone.
The way we think affects the way we act. I’ve realized the more I think, “They don’t care. They don’t miss me. I didn’t mean much to them,” the more I alienate myself from them. I stop texting my friends, trying to meet up, or even reaching out to new coworkers.
But suppose my thoughts were different? Suppose I assumed my friends did care but that meeting up outside of a daily work context can be tricky, especially since I seem to befriend fellow introverts. Suppose I reach out to the people who do show interest in getting together? I don’t need to choose to be alone. I don’t need to choose to feel hurt. I can choose to feel loved. And when I assume I am loved, and when I feel loved, it’s much easier to reach out to others, understand others in a more accurate light, and stay in contact both with old friends and new.
How do I do that? Well, I’ve had to realize that small-talk is much more valuable than it seems. Small-talk is the path to deep relationships. If you don’t want to engage in small-talk or assume it’s trivial or meaningless, you miss the point of human interactions. Small-talk doesn’t have to stay small-talk. But most people won’t just dive into a deep interaction. Just like you, they want to know who this new person is, what they are like, and how safe they are.
I no longer choose to be lonely. There are actions I can take to change that, and it starts with changing my assumptions about others’ actions, reaching out to people who are interested in hanging out (instead of pushing them away to indulge in the pain of being lonely), and engaging in small-talk.
Now, most of this post was a bit of tough-love. I hope it helps you, but if you feel your hackles rising, I understand. It may be that tough-love isn’t fitting for you at this point in your journey. In that case, I’ll tell you that you’re less alone than you think. There is love all around you, and you are worthy of tapping into it. I’d suggest you start with examining your thoughts about yourself. Before you change your thoughts about others or branch into small-talk or put yourself out there, you may need to change your thoughts about yourself. Thoughts like “I’m not worthy of friends. What if I say the wrong thing? I’m not lovable. I deserve to feel pain.” Loneliness may be what you’re used to, and giving that up can be scary. Accept the thoughts you have. Accept that they are there. Notice the actions you take because of your thoughts. Separate your thoughts from fact. Accept and notice. When you have done that, slowly begin to shift your thoughts, using new thoughts you believe in. Instead of “I’m not lovable,” try “I am human.” Instead of “I deserve pain,” try “I want love.” Your goal is to shift from a negative to a less-negative or neutral thought. Once that thought is firmly ingrained, repeat the procedure until you arrive at the thought you want to have (such as “I am loved”).
Challenge!: The first two days this week, practice noticing and accepting your thoughts. List them all out. Also notice and list the actions caused by those thoughts. Then begin to change those thoughts using the method above. If you’ve already done all of this, spend some time thinking about loneliness as a choice and look at the ways you choose loneliness. Pick one or two actions this week you will take every day to reach back out to those around you—to choose companionship.