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THE EXPERIENCE OF BEING ALONE

A question was submitted to me asking me to make a recommendation on how to handle the feeling of loneliness.

Feeling alone is not unique to any age.  When we are children, we often feel that other children do not like us or want to be around us.  We feel rejected.  We feel sad.  We feel helpless.  We feel alone.

I am reminded of a study that was done with adults.  Twelve people were asked to stand in a circle and to throw a ball to a person in the circle.  After doing this for a while, each person was asked what the experience was like.  The ones who received the ball often felt good and enjoyed the game.  The ones who never got the ball felt left out.  As the interviews continued, many remembered having a similar experience in childhood.  To have the ball thrown to you was to be acknowledged.  To not receive the ball was to be ignored and not included.

This was the purpose of the exercise.  We have experiences as children which can lead to a feeling of loneliness.  Clients have told me stories of not being invited to a birthday party or not getting Valentine’s Day cards at school. They feel sad.

With children, I recommend that a parent ask a teacher to identify another child who tends to be alone or not included.  These children can often be identified at lunch or during recess.  I encourage that these children be brought together in an activity at school or by the parents outside of school.

I would like to recommend to schools that this issue be discussed by students and that a place can be designated where a child can go when feeling alone.  The other students would be encouraged to go to these children and invite them to participate in something or talk to them.

As we age, loneliness can result when we end a relationship with a partner or a friend.  When I ran a discussion group on aging at the Mastick Center, many participants talked about loneliness.  Some had moved to a new area.  Some were no longer working and did not know what to do during the day.  We can make a decision that seems to be a good one at the time, and not realize the full ramifications until it is too late.  Moving leaves people behind; retirement means leaving people and activity behind.

The Mastick Center is a great resource for those over 50 years of age.  Classes and groups are available all day.  The subjects are varied and always changing. It is a place to be around people with similar interests. Friendships do form there.

For all ages, it is usually wise to participate in an activity of interest when looking to establish a relationship.  It might be a political group, a sport, a book group, or a religious facility. At school, it may be the school newspaper, drama group, or band.

Finding a friend is not easy.  It can be done.

TIME TO OURSELVES

It is not unusual for people to recognize that spending time alone is desirable and important.  Recently more have been exploring this desire and seeking ways to experience it.

We spend much of our life and training as we grow up learning how to be with other people, how to share, how to maintain friendship, and how to form and keep a partnership, personally and professionally.

We rarely talk about our time alone.

There are different ways to spend this time.  More people are working virtually.  Time is spent at home or perhaps in a location such as a coffee house where others are around, there is minimal interference.  Reading.  Watching television.  Writing.  Contemplating.  Being creative.  Taking a walk.  Biking.  Going to the library.  Shopping.  Vacationing.  Cleaning.  Cooking.  Eating in a restaurant.

I prefer to make phone calls when no one is around.  I like the assurance of no interruptions or being overheard.

For many, being with someone is so important, it can be a problem when the partner wants time alone.  This prompted a question I received from someone who described herself as feeling smothered.  She said that when she cooks, her partner or children enter the kitchen, ask questions or offer opinions.  She is very desirous of having her own space more often and is concerned about hurting the feelings of these people.  She does not want them to feel rejected.

A good approach would be to have an honest confrontation with her family.  Rather than focus on what her partner and children are doing, it is wise to begin by expressing her own want.  By letting people know who we are and what our preferences are, we are introducing a topic without placing blame.  Too often we begin by telling people what they are doing that bothers us or makes us angry.  That can create resentment and defensiveness on the part of the listener.

To say, “I have a desire to work by myself at times and to not be interrupted.  It gives me a time to think and to create my own agenda.  I will come to you when I am ready to interact, and then I won’t be preoccupied.”

This statement blames no one.  It is simply a description of a preference.

If one becomes aware of having time alone, it is invaluable to tell those who are around how much it is appreciated to be alone.  To credit a person for leaving us alone is very important for two reasons.  First, it clarifies our preference, and second, it is an act of appreciation which is invaluable to people.  Too often we are seen as critics.  It is nice to be experienced as a person who can acknowledge what we want and not just what we don’t want.

Have a question?  Please visit drnataliegelman.com and send a message.