What Do We Do When We're Lonely?

If I was friends with myself, I would call the police.

Or at the very least I would call in some reinforcements for an intervention. I would never speak to anyone the way I speak to myself. I am mean, harsh, and unkind. And that’s at my best. At my worst I’m emotionally and verbally abusive. The string of lies I spew at myself in the mirror or under pressure are lies, and I know that, but they’re so quick to roll off my tongue.

If I spoke to another human being the way I spoke to myself I wouldn’t have a single friend in the world. And I suppose that’s how I felt for so many years. To be quite honest, I wasn’t friends with myself.

If there’s ever been a recipe for loneliness and shame, it’s a lack of friendship with ourselves.

I’m so quick to impress others. For so long I’ve clawed and clung to the approval of strangers and acquaintances. I would wine and dine and say the kindest of things for even the slightest nod of affirmation. I wanted anybody and everybody to love me and enjoy my presence. And in the name of currently giving myself grace I want to say there’s nothing wrong with wanting people to like you. We were made to live in community and to enjoy others.

But there is something wrong when you want other people to like you because you don’t like yourself.

When we don’t like ourselves and look to others to like ourselves for ourselves we will eventually drain the relationship dry. We will look to the people around us for the love and affection we’re starving from ourselves.

We become like the people we spend the most time with. For some reason we believe we’re these strong, independent creatures completely immune from influence. But I’m learning that whoever I’m surrounded by will profoundly shape the person I’m becoming. Whether you’re single, married, or in a family of five, the person you spend the most time with is you. If the person you’re spending the most time with doesn’t love or affirm you, then you'll naturally spend most of your time feeling unlovable.

It’s a vicious cycle. We starve ourselves of affection, ask others to provide it, thereby starving them of affection, which affirms all the worst lies about ourselves, and thus prove ourselves right- we were never worth loving in the first place. It’s all those times we look in the mirror and whisper in defeat, “I knew it.”

Anxiety and loneliness are often intertwined. When I started suffering from overwhelming  anxiety I did some detective work to figure out where it could possibly be coming from. I don’t know if I’ll ever uncover all the layers to anxiety, it’s such a complex beast of burden, but as of now I’ve realized the root of my anxiety is my loneliness.

I was lonely because I wasn’t friends with myself.

In order to get healthy I had to learn to be my own best friend. Which feels like the dumbest possible solution. If I wanted to ease my anxiety and start living in the context of healthy relationships then I was going to have to mend my relationship with myself.

So how do we become friends with ourselves?

I suppose there’s a lot of different ways. Thankfully there’s no formula to friendship. The key to befriending yourself is starting small. You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and ask them to dive into the most intimate details of their lives. That’s false intimacy and it’s cheap. No, if you want to create a genuine and lasting relationship it’s going to be slow and evolve over time.

We are meant to be discovered not devoured.

As silly as it sounds, I started taking myself out. The only way to get to know myself was to be by myself. The only way to ease my loneliness was to be okay with being alone. So I would take myself to get coffee and cupcakes or go to the movies alone. I slowly started discovering who I was, what I enjoyed, who I wanted to be. I went on a lot of walks by myself and gosh, I know I’m about to sound crazy, but I would talk to myself in my head. I would ask myself questions like, “where do you see yourself in five years?” or “who do you have a crush on right now?” Really elementary stuff here but it was so, so good. The more time I spent with myself the less I hated myself.

It’s hard to hate something or someone you genuinely know.

And once I was okay with being by myself I started investing in myself. Sort of like the way you would invest in a good friend.

It turns out we’re worth investing in whether we want to believe it or not. When we love someone we’re willing to take a risk for them. We’re willing to really go out on a limb to express ourselves or to buy them a gift we know they’ll love. At first it felt selfish, but I started investing in myself. I signed up for a writing class and went to a conference I’ve been dying to attend. I bought a new vest. I am consequently very poor from pursuing myself but that’s beside the point.

Lastly I started speaking kindly to myself. Not false ego-inflating and fake BS to pump myself up in the morning. But really kind things that I would say to anyone else in need of a good word. My favorite thing to tell myself is, “I’m proud of you. You did the best you could with information you had. But now you have new information to make better decisions. I’m so very proud of you.”

My friend Ally says when we don’t know ourselves we’re divorced from ourselves. How can we expect anyone to be in a committed relationship with us when we can’t even commit to ourselves?

I want you to know that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’m proud of you. You’ve done the best you possibly could. But you’re a little older and a little wiser now. You can make new decisions. You can be friends with yourself. You’re worth investing in. You’re worth choosing.

I hope today you start befriending yourself. And I pray the two of you stay friends for a very, very long time.