What feelings do the words lonely and alone stir up for you? My guess would be sadness with a side of desperation. Let’s dig beneath the gut reaction. Alone simply means you’re by yourself. Lonely means you feel a certain way about being by yourself. Or it’s possible you feel lonely, even in a crowd of people. Being alone isn’t a bad thing. We all have to be alone at times. It’s feeling lonely that is so uncomfortable! Since I was a little girl, I’ve believed that I experience more loneliness than other people in my life. From the outside, I appear socially connected and surrounded by a strong community of close, supportive friends. But on the inside, feelings of loneliness persist. How do you bridge the gap between feeling lonely and enjoying solitude? This has been one of my primary journeys in life, and here’s what I’ve discovered… When I feel lonely, I’m longing for what is Other. I create a story that some person I don’t have in my life would make me feel better, more complete. I believe that having this mythical person with me would cure my heavy heart. When I’m alone and enjoying my solitude, there’s no thing or person I need. I am what I need! I’m complete as I am, alone. There is no Other. To put it another way: Loneliness comes from a place of lack. Being peacefully alone comes from a sense of completeness.

A Healthy Relationship with Loneliness

The first step to a healthy relationship with loneliness is to stop judging yourself for feeling lonely or needy. Your longing for attention, love, affection, sex, and adoration is absolutely 100 percent natural and human. Criticizing your desire for connection is like telling a baby she’s WRONG when she cries for mother’s milk. It’s ridiculous! There’s nothing wrong with feeling lonely, just like there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of your feelings. Where it can go wrong is what you choose to do based on the feeling of loneliness.

When Loneliness Goes Wrong: The Needy Monster

While loneliness is natural and part of being human, many of us use unhealthy behavior to cope with it. Enter the Needy Monster. She’s hungry for your attention–for anyone’s attention. She has desperately seeking eyes, clawing hands, and a shrill whine that speak of her insatiable appetite. She feels empty, lonely, ugly, and unlovable. She aches for connection and is willing to compromise her integrity in exchange for affection, validation, and sex. Though her hunger for attention is quite natural, her sole dependency on the attention of others to feel fulfilled always leaves her unsatisfied. The Needy Monster mistakenly believes that looking outside of herself for connection will help her feel more beautiful and lovable. The truth is what she really needs is inside her.

Proper Diet for Your Needy Monster

Here’s the grub…when Needy Monsters are fed a well-balanced diet, they miraculously transform from feeling empty and lonely into remarkably calm and centered beings. The key ingredient often missing from the Needy Monster’s diet is this: The practice of turning your attention inward and spending quality time with yourself. Initially, the Needy Monster will protest, like a child facing a plate full of Brussel sprouts. She’ll scowl at the unfamiliar bitterness, a taste for which her palate has not yet developed. Similarly, learning how to be alone with yourself in a nourishing way is a bit of an acquired taste. This practice of turning your attention inward takes time to get comfortable with. But as with any commitment to create a healthier way of living, its benefits become undeniable. Like reaping the benefits of eating regular servings of green leafy vegetables, finding fulfilling ways to spend time with yourself feeds the Needy Monster by reducing her dependence on others to feel whole, connected, and lovable. When the Needy Monster learns to be her own resource for joy, validation, and connection, her sense of fullness grows and her neediness becomes less insatiable.

Well-Balance Diet for Taming the Needy Monster

3-4 Servings: Quality Time Alone (Your green leafy vegetables) Examples:
  • Journal
  • Meditate
  • Take a bath
  • Get crafty
  • Go for a walk
  • Plant a garden
  • Cook up something yummy
  • Cuddle up with a novel
  • Focus on a personal or professional project
2-3 Servings: Quality Time with Others (Protein and carbs) Examples:
  • Host a women’s circle or spa day
  • Schedule a skype date with an old friend across the country
  • Brunch with your besties
  • Take a hike and pack a picnic lunch with your boyfriend
  • Check out a MeetUp event
  • Host a clothing swap
  • Go dancing
  • Volunteer at a local charity organization
Foods to Avoid
  • Compulsively checking your smartphone for a dopamine hit of connection
  • Getting lost in a Facebook daze and other internet surfing
  • Numbing your feelings with sweets, alcohol, or compulsive spending
  • Late night trolling on OkCupid or Match.com in search of the ONE
  • Dating and hanging out with people you’re not really into just to have some company
  • Binge-watching Gossip Girl or Game of Thrones to numb the feelings
  • Overbooking your calendar to exterminate the possibility of feeling lonely

It’s OK to Be Alone–Really

The great divide between alone and lonely is a matter of relationship. It sounds simple, but I’m going to say it anyway: We feel lonely when we we are not okay with being alone. The difference between alone and lonely is a matter of relationship. Lean into it, rather than running away. Practice enjoying your own company. This may sound like a paradox, but you’d be surprised how easy it can be to turn lonely into alone. It takes practice to adjust to a new habit and a new way of thinking about being alone. Give yourself the time and grace to explore the beauty of solitude. You may find that you crave it. Meditation is an incredible way to enjoy your alone time. If you haven’t already, click here to download 4 Free Guided Meditations that will help you relax and connect with yourself when you are feeling lonely.
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