Coronavirus has put a lot of extraverts in an uncomfortable place: cut off from their social circles. And even before the coronavirus, I didn’t like to be alone. Ever since I became a full-time homemaker or stay at home mom, I would get very lonely. I wished that I had more friends that wanted to hang out during the day. I longed for company. I longed for someone to talk to. But over the last year, I have gotten a lot more comfortable being alone. It all had to do with what was going on in my own brain.
I learned that the three keys to becoming more comfortable being alone were: 1) Learning to be kind to yourself, 2) Learning to like yourself, and 3) Learning how to control your thoughts about yourself.
First, Why I felt so lonely
I didn’t like to be alone mostly because of my thoughts. I didn’t like to be alone with my own brain. My brain would constantly bring up all the negative things about myself. It would attack and criticize everything that I did with my kids. Thoughts like “You shouldn’t have done that…” or “Look, it’s all your fault…” would bombard me all day long.
On the flip side, when I had someone else over or was with friends, my thoughts turned outward to them. I would ask how they were doing, I would hear about their life, I would laugh at myself, and have a good time. Thus, I craved having friends come over or going to their houses. I would get really mad when all of my friends were busy and no one wanted to hang out with me and my kids.
I also wanted to be around my friends because my friends usually validated my struggles. I didn’t validate my own struggles at all. I kept wondering “Why are you having such a hard time with this, Sage?” But my friends would show me that I was okay – my challenges were difficult and they were struggling too.
With all of this, I didn’t realize that I was the one creating my misery when I was alone and that I could change that by myself. Having friends come over or having them invite us over was out of my control. And so if my happiness was based on having friends come over, then my happiness was out of my control! When I realized this, I slowly started to change things.
Learning to be kinder to myself
The first thing that I had to learn was to be kind to myself. I had to treat myself like I treated my friends! I had to be kind. I had to never criticize myself (because I wouldn’t do that to my friends! I would never say unkind things to my friends and yet that was exactly what I was doing to myself! No wonder I didn’t want to be around me.) I had to start giving myself the benefit of the doubt. I had to encourage myself just like I would my friends.
Basically, I had to be like a friend to myself. I liked being around friends because they made me feel good about me. I had to do the same for myself. Validation was probably the biggest thing I would get from my friends. Now I had to learn how to give myself validation.
Learning to like myself
After learning to be kind to myself, the next logical step was to try to like myself more. This is hard when you know ALL of your bad points, ALL the ways that you mess up, and ALL the parts of your person or personality that you feel should be improved. What helped me get past this was realizing that everyone feels this way (unless you are narcissistic). Most people do not like parts of themselves. And everyone makes mistakes. So if making mistakes and having weakness is part of being human, then it is no reason to hate myself. Once I made peace with my imperfections, it was a lot easier to like myself. And once I actually liked myself, it was a lot easier to be alone.
Learning to control my thoughts about myself
With all of this, I had to learn greater control over my thoughts. Having control over my thoughts is really hard for me. The Self-coaching model by Brooke Castillo helped with this (see Lesson #3 under the Stay Sane in Your Relationships Class Blog Post). Yoga and meditation also helped. But even now, I have greater control over my thoughts in the morning and less control over them at night. So I’m still working on this.
Perhaps it is obvious, but if you have great control over your thoughts, then you can choose to only think kind things about yourself. This allows you to really enjoy your own company and feel comfortable being alone.
Our brains also tend to look out for problems. So if the mind is left to itself, it will naturally search for problems and make you miserable. If you can learn to control your thoughts and choose to think positively, you will feel much more comfortable with yourself.
I still like being with friends, but I don’t crave it like before. I don’t get all depressed because I can’t be with friends. I don’t spend my time ruminating over why they don’t want to spend more time with me etc. I enjoy them when they come, but I don’t need them to be happy. It is a good feeling.