In my twenties I felt confident at my ability to stay focused and engaged in a project for weeks on end, with no need for others; powering past problems always focused on my objective. I’m older now, and I know better. People are not wired for a long term solo life; we are meant to be part of a tribe. When facing solitude for days or weeks it is critical to know how to cope with loneliness in isolation. In this post I explore ways to cope; ways that have worked for me and for others.
Not every period of solitude or alone-time is created equal. The time out, away from the noise and interruptions of others can be a great relief; essential “me” time to recharge and recapture focus. Alone-time can be an opportunity to sort things out and rework the big plan. But if it lasts long enough this solitude can be a lonely and painful exile from the community. It can lead to a spiral of depression and feelings of alienation, if we allow it to consume us.
The How and Why of your isolation
How and why you’re isolated is important in the path to dealing with it. If you start with hope and determination, finding ways to deal with the situation is relatively easy. If you impose your own isolation as a way to run from difficult problems rather than facing them, or as an escape from painful life events you can’t accept, the road ahead is likely to be steep and hard. No person or thing can be as challenging in your quest for satisfaction and personal peace than your own attitude and perspective. One man’s warm, cozy refuge is another man’s oppressive, smothering prison – much of this difference is in your hands…
Before we discuss options for defeating loneliness and finding joy, you must decide if that is something you want. If you actually want pain, we can’t help you find happiness. If you believe you deserve punishment, you won’t be good at finding rewards. If the only better future you can accept is one that is impossible, you’re not likely to be effective at exploring the great future that is actually available for you to enjoy. So, if life has sentenced you to endure hell, or if you have chosen that sentence, how long must you suffer there?
Is this IT for the rest of your life? Have you no future but suffering from now on? If so, please don’t bother reading the rest of this post, unless that is part of your sentence.
But if you can set a time limit on your punishment, or if you can accept that you’ve suffered enough already, please read on when you are ready to start the rewarding, happy chapter of your life. Fact is, there are opportunities for great things that await you in a much brighter future, if you are open to them. If you are willing and able to see benefit in a different positive future with new friends and win-win based relationships, you can move forward.
Ready? Write down five reasons why you deserve a happy, joyful productive life. Write down five reasons why the world will be a better place with you engaged, positive and contributing. Now read these aloud in a clear and confident voice. Read them again, and acknowledge that this is the truth!
Me time, Dream crafting mode or Lonely desolation
It may not seem like it right now, but the nature of this isolation is actually a choice YOU get to make. There are options for you to select. Loneliness is not actually a sentence someone can impose on you, unless that someone is you. Physical isolation can be imposed by circumstances, by disorders like agoraphobia or by a job or plan to which you are deeply committed. Now Let’s examine your options for dealing with that isolation without letting it turn your life upside down. While there are an almost unlimited number of good and bad options to cope with most forms of isolation and loneliness, we will lay out a few common ones and particularly powerful ones.
For starters, if you overestimate your ability to withstand isolation and push yourself too far, you may pay a high price – I learned this the hard way:
X- Grabbing ANY ticket out of isolation– after you’ve become so despondent that you’ve virtually surrendered to a life of misery and solitude, it is common to jump for the bad marriage, the military commitment or the high-risk job, even if you know that it is a terrible situation that cannot possibly last. This IS a fix, for the short term, but the consequences can be a huge, long term or life long problem. We suggest you take careful action before this starts to look tempting.
Of course every move in life has mixed consequences and the time in the Marines or a wedding to the wrong lover may have some positive surprises. But, if your better judgment says this is a BAD idea, rationalizing the problem away to escape from loneliness is likely to be a big mistake. I’ve made those mistakes and lived through them, but my journey would have been far better if I had made a few more sensible choices.
X- Withdrawing within yourself– if you have other options, avoid this. For some folks, this CAN work, but it is not for everyone, and I don’t recommend it. This kind of full removal from human contact and interaction usually requires long term changes and can mean permanent alienation or even psychosis in some cases. Human interaction is normal, and for most it is essential for long term mental health.
✔- Finding a way to share– and there are many ways you can connect to share feelings, regard, knowledge, excitement and other things that are of value to you and someone else. Since you are reading this blog, you clearly have web connectivity, and access to millions of other people, many of whom need and want a personal connection. If you struggle with how to start that conversation, join an online support group that is all about opening up channels of communication, or volunteer for a crisis line and help others with bigger problems than you. There are dozens of such options as close as your favorite search engine. If you have problems with shyness or lack of confidence, there are tools for improving your confidence and interactive skills; move on to the next point to address this common obstacle.
✔- Building confidence for communication and relationships– if you are fearful about engaging with a stranger, you are in good company. Most of us fear rejection so much that we miss thousands of opportunities for connection throughout our lives, but there is a cure. This awkward situation of approaching a stranger is a lot like mobility; you must learn to crawl before you can walk… Here is a relatively painless path for building the skill and confidence to approach folks who don’t already know you. This depends on you having or learning something that others need, for technical problem solving, education or to provide comfort. You should already have the knowledge or skill needed, or be ready to invest the effort to learn it well, so you have confidence in your ability to help. Then, build your interactive ability step by step as follows:
- Start with willing strangers in the lowest risk situation – do email support for people that have requested help. You can do this as a volunteer, a paid employee or as a business, and since it’s email, there is no time pressure to understand, communicate and reply. Be sure to get feedback from the people you interact with, or from evaluators or supervisors. Keep at it until you are confident and know the job well.
- Move on to real-time chat support for customers, members or patients that contact the chat line for support. This involves closer interaction, and a more interactive process, but is still very low stress work. Develop your skill and confidence at this until you are so capable that they have you training others – Now you should be ready to proceed further.
- Handle incoming phone line support calls – this should be assistance, not complaints, and it should be customers or members who call in for support for the first time, not those that were not helped enough by others and escalated. Like the others, these people are ready and eager for your help, so there is no cause for stress. Still, the pressure is higher, as this is true interaction on the phone. Do this until you have little or no hesitation or fear at it.
- Move on to making calls – this should be calling to a recent list (under 24 hours old) of people requesting information or support for products, services or personal help, not collections or cold calls. Since these folks asked for the info, rejection is far less likely, so confidence is warranted. Help them and feel good about it. Then help them more and keep at it until you are totally confident at this work. Now you should have the foundation of confidence to reach out in any way needed to deal with strangers that you can help or relate with. If so, skip past 5, but if you still require more confidence then move on to 5.
- Provide live video chat support – find an organization that needs customer service, crisis support, tech support or sales support by Skype or other video chat. This is as close as you can get to face to face interaction without leaving your isolated setting. Set up your camera, speakers/microphone or headset, and test them thoroughly with a coworker if possible, or with some other low-risk volunteer. Make sure you are confident both of your knowledge of the job, and of the AudioVisual setup before you proceed with the work. Do it, master it and gain the confidence you need to interact with anyone.
✔- Start building your own support group– by now you should have coworkers, friends, relatives or others that you’ve met and have “clicked” with. If so, you now have the skills and confidence to begin reaching out and building relationships with people who will value your support and offer theirs. Make a plan to build at least 3 solid relationships with folks who you can rely on for friendship and support at least half of the time (each). Find and build one relationship to start this process, and set a goal for when to add the others as you build your life in isolation.
✔- Build up your interactive world– everyone is different, but we all have interests and passions with potential. Find your interests, skills and passions, and choose ones that others across the web are likely to share. Pick one you can pursue with energy and passion, and use it as a platform for your interactive life, as follows:
- Find a Facebook group, charity, forum, on-line game community, career opportunity or business with the potential for you to contribute, have fun and interact with others passionate about this shared passion. Decide how you can add value or provide support for the organization, the members, staff and others, and list out these services or other contributions. Research the option or options you are most excited about until you are confident of the fit.
- Join or start the relationship with the group or organization and build a role for yourself with an interactive aspect to it and a reason to collaborate or support staff, members, customers or all of the above. Nurture and build your role and relationships within the organization, and be sure to find close friends or colleagues you can deal with often.
- Invest the time, energy, passion and emotional commitment to grow the relationships and contribution within that community, and take it further. If it isn’t enough, then add another organization or business.
Resolve the root cause
You now should have the tools and confidence to conquer loneliness and deal with the outside world. This may not be enough, however, if there is a lingering anxiety about an unresolved issue or impending disaster. If your isolation is a choice you are comfortable with, then embrace it and move forward. If it is a refuge from legal, social or financial problems that still weigh heavily on you causing anxiety and stress, it is time you faced them and worked out a solution.
This post cannot address all the challenges that land people in hiding, solitude or prison, but we can offer a few options for progress you can make from an isolated refuge. The recent post on coping with agoraphobia and isolation includes useful ways to address several life challenges, including money. Check it out for more discussion of how you might tackle money, maintenance and logistics challenges, if your root cause issues fall in any of those categories.
If you have other questions or another kind of problem, leave us a comment below. We want to hear from you and add your input or request to the conversation, so please leave a comment.