Loneliness Is A Gift That Can Lead To Great Things
Written By: Mark Smith
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How often to you actually get all alone? Does your busy life ever slow down enough for you to get in touch with the empty ache of loneliness? Do you avoid being all alone without distractions of any kind? I think that it is actually possible to be deeply lonely in your core even in the midst of a lot of people.
I’ve been intrigued with the concept of loneliness since last week when on the highly momentous (for me) first day of my part-time writing career rather than feeling a great deal of excitement and joy as I had expected, I ran into an absolutely crushing wall of deep sadness and loneliness. Taking time out to be all alone to write forced me to detox from all the busy distractions that typically take me away from myself – the warmth of my relationships with my therapy clients, my friends, my family, playing basketball, watching movies and losing myself in all of my gadgets. While it has been difficult it has also been wonderful. You can find out important things about yourself when you allow yourself to be alone.
In my work with couples I always teach them about the stages of relationships. Almost all relationships begin in the ‘Enmeshment’ stage. It is what all the love songs on the radio are about, it is the great sex and chemistry, falling in love, and becoming soul mates. It is filling your soul up with another and it feels great! However, it is an immature type of love. Anyone can do it – even the unhealthiest of us. And the problem with it is that it doesn’t ever last. By the time that I see couples they have graduated to the next stage of ‘Emotional Cutoff’. This is where there is a big empty hole where the other was filling you up. It is a dangerous place because the very real temptation to fill that empty hole in your heart with someone or something new. The goal with such couples is to move them toward the 3rd and healthiest possible relationship stage ‘Interdependence’. In this quite rare stage the individuals in the couple don’t have to fill themselves up with the other – they are whole, connected, healthy people with balanced lives. They can love, be needy and be intimate but they aren’t overly dependent or addicted to each other. They have an individuated sense of self. In her book ‘Passages’, Gail Sheehy wrote “Each of us travels alone. No one else can always keep us safe.” While it is painful and difficult to face ones aloneness, doing so is a mark of maturity and true growth.
I understand that by now I might have lost some of my younger readers who started reading this column. This topic isn’t fun or sexy at all. Perhaps reflecting on the search for self and the challenge of aloneness is more of a mid life thing. So, with the remaining seasoned searchers that are still with me, let’s plug onward. To be alone in mid life and to thaw out ones emotions means to be forced to re-examine your whole life – your career, your relationship, your past, your goals, your hopes, your dreams, etc. That is deep and painful work. Jung wrote that “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.” Life is hard. I guess you knew that already. It requires adjustments along the way. It requires thoughtful presence. Without guidance from ones connected heart, the unfortunately very popular alternative is an addictively numbed existence marked by poor decisions, major mistakes and alienation from ones very self.
Let me encourage you to get alone. Go on a personal retreat, even if it is just for an afternoon. Don’t take a book or a PDA or a cell phone or an Ipod. Go take a walk in the woods. Check in with yourself. Let whatever feelings that have been trying to get your attention come up for you. Ask your heart to speak up and talk to you. Perhaps the first thing that you’ll learn is that you are physically exhausted and you just haven’t been paying attention to that. So fit a nap in too if you need to. Let me warn you that this exercise in aloneness will not be warm and fuzzy at first. You will find ways to avoid feeling the pain of your aloneness. In her paper ‘The Gift Of Aloneness’ Kelley Kelsey called the process of facing off with ones self in aloneness becoming ‘Unalone’. I like that. As you connect with yourself deeply you will be alone but decidedly not lonely. You will be in touch with your creativity, your compass, your center and with your God. That is well worth the price of detoxing from your heart ‘fillers’ I can assure you. Have that meeting with yourself all alone this week. That’s all I’ve got - until next week.
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