Sit with your loneliness

Sit with your loneliness

“Remember: the time you feel lonely is the time you most need to be by yourself. Life’s cruelest irony.” —Douglas Coupland

“When I get lonely these days, I think: So BE lonely… Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

There is an incredibly common and deeply personal experience described here: one of loneliness, of isolation, of feeling “other”, of feeling like an outsider and of feeling disconnected. And as the incredible Elizabeth Gilbert addresses, so many of us use others to distract ourselves from our own loneliness, but we eventually find that other people are a poor solution for that loneliness. So is alcohol. And workaholism, serial dating, compulsive travel, voracious reading, chronic dieting, binge-watching Netflix, excessive exercise, drugs, and – especially now, in the digital age – attention-seeking behaviour online.

There are two choices: sit with your loneliness and process it, or keep self-medicating with attention from others despite the fact that it never, ever works to fill the aching void.

While I don’t think that social media is creating “a new generation of narcissists,” I definitely think that it facilitates our cries for attention in a way that massively fertilises the narcissism in us. I’ve seen it countless times: people who are lonely put a version of themselves online that prompts others to tell them how hot/smart/inspiring/badass they are, and for a moment, their loneliness and insecurity are forgotten. Well, not forgotten, but buried. But loneliness never goes away with this approach.

There are two choices: sit with your loneliness and process it, or keep self-medicating with attention from others despite the fact that it never, ever works to fill the aching void.

How do I know these behaviours so well? Because I’ve done them myself. You might have, too.

Here’s a nuance to my More Social Less Media approach: connecting with other people only consistently improves the quality of your life if you’ve taken the time to be present and engaged with yourself first. And that’s an often overlooked step. More to come on this.

Photo: Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica. 2016.

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Dallas Hartwig is the co-creator of Whole9Life and the Whole30 program. New York Times bestselling author. Free-range human.