Thursday, January 8, 2009

The BridgeMaker

The BridgeMaker

Kryptonite of Our Souls: 5 Ways to Cope with Loneliness

Posted: 07 Jan 2009 01:24 AM CST

"Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty." - Mother Teresa

Over the holidays, Mary Beth, Emily and I watched the movie Hancock with Will Smith. It is one of those movies that can be watched and processed on so many different levels.

Emily, our ten-year-old daughter, was entertained by the action scenes and was delighted when Hancock taught a young bully a very important lesson about respect. Mary Beth and I were intrigued by the complexity of Will Smith's character and the underlying messages the movie brought to light.

One theme contained in the movie centered on the impact loneliness can have in our lives. Yes, Hancock was a superhero, but the one thing that brought him to his knees was the loneliness in his life.

Without divulging any important parts of the plot, the movie advertises a homeless superhero that is prone to take to the bottle too often. Hancock shows no compassion for the victims he saves because he has very little compassion for himself. All of his strength and power is no match for the crippling effects his loneliness is costing him.

As I was watched the movie, I felt a tinge of hopelessness swell inside of me. If a person of unbelievable strength cannot cope with loneliness, how can we mortals expect to do so? The answers may lie in the choices we make.

Understanding Loneliness

Being by yourself is not a precursor for loneliness. In fact, solitude and loneliness are two different things. Solitude can be a healthy state of self-examination in which we are better able to connect with our personal feelings and thoughts.

Loneliness, on the other hand, can bring about stress and an unbearable feeling, or fear, of being alone. Loneliness can keep us from enjoying life. To feel lonely is to feel separated and disconnected from others in our lives.

Perhaps loneliness is the most debilitating emotion we encounter. Typically we are able to face almost any circumstance when we have someone to help us. But to live without the belief there is someone to share our happiness and struggles with can be frightening and it can be paralyzing. Life is meant to be shared. When it is not, we seemingly loose our strength.

How We Stay Stuck in Loneliness

During times of stress and anxiety in my life, I have retreated to loneliness. To be honest, there have been times when I preferred loneliness over companionship. Five years ago when Mary Beth and I were separated, I shut down completely from family and friends who wanted to help me through the ordeal. Looking back at this time, there were three major barriers that kept me in a state of loneliness.

Lack of Self Awareness. During this time in my life I didn't know what I needed. The pain of being away from my wife and children felt more acute when alone. In some ways, I felt deserving of the pain as if it were some type of punishment. Because I wasn't aware of what I needed, it was hard for me to be aware of what others needed. The result was loneliness.

Putting career and other choices over well-being. Internal loneliness doesn't happen overnight. While circumstantial loneliness can happen quickly, such as the loss of a job or a loved one, loneliness we create can begin to seep and fester slowly over time.

A primary contributor to my marital separation was the energy and focus I put into my career was disproportionate to the time I put into my family and marriage. Soon, I became comfortable with the emotional loneliness I felt. The problems in my marriage intensified when I chose not to change. I became stuck and my marriage became stuck. Even though I refused to change and grow, Mary Beth had different ideas and goals for herself, for me, and for our marriage. Thus, the conflict ensured.

A solitary mindset. For much of my life, I was of the opinion that if anything was to get done, or to get done right, by my standards, then I had to be the person to do it. Not only did this approach frustrate a lot of people in my life, it was also a barrier to asking for, or receiving, help.

This kept me from making lasting friendships and it damaged my relationship with my wife and children. For the most part, I was responsible for creating the loneliness in my life. If the loneliness was to go away, I had to be the person to do it. I had to find more positive ways to cope and, perhaps, eliminate the loneliness.

Five Ways to Cope with Loneliness

  1. Understand loneliness is an emotion. Our emotions can be powerful. Negative emotions can make us feel desperate and anxious. Because loneliness is more of an emotion than it is a reality, it can be replaced with a more positive and productive emotion. You can trade loneliness for hope or faith, for example.
  2. Reach out and connect. During times when you are feeling lonely, consider the fact all you need to do is to ask just one person for help. It can be a friend, a family member, or a co-worker. The point is there are people in your life who will come to your side when you make the choice to ask.
  3. Learn to be alone. When factors in life dictate periods of being alone, it can be the loneliness that is more painful than the alone-ness. In other words, alone-ness and loneliness are not the same things – ever though it may feel like they are the same. By learning to be alone, you are better able to control the negative emotions that loneliness can cause. Exercise, meditation, or journaling are all productive and therapeutic ways to adjust to being alone. These positive behaviors allow you better avenues to get in touch with what your soul needs to be nourished and sustained through difficult times.
  4. Volunteer your time and talent. You possess gifts one else does. Your experiences are unique and are valuable. Find a cause or a person you have energy for and spend whatever time you have to lend your support. In the process, something amazing will happen: The more you give; the more you will be filled up. There is a certain ebb and flow in life when we find the courage to share our hearts.
  5. Live your passion. Just as we each have unique talents, we also have a sole and singular purpose for our lives. When we better align our lives with our passions, we find people and things begin to appear. Their presence, companionship and grace are all effective antidotes to our loneliness.

Expect Good Things Will Happen in Your Life

The enemy of our soul tries to destroy our faith and attempts to take away our spirit by whispering the Lie directly into our hearts. Not even a superhero like Hancock can resist the temptation to listen and to believe it may true.

The Lie tells us we are not worthy to have good things in our lives. The enemy also tells us we deserve to be alone. We loose our passion and our ability to cope and function when we succumb to the Lie.

Loneliness has the power of Kryptonite to render our souls helpless. The closer loneliness gets; the weaker we become. The remedy to this Kryptonite, and the resulting effects it has on us, is the Truth.

The Truth tells us we are important and uniquely special. The Truth tells us good things will happen in our lives. The Truth tells us we are more than enough just the way we are.

Not all days will be trouble free, but if we keep our faith and keep believing in ourselves, the good will present itself. We don't need superhuman strength like Will Smith's character Hancock to conquer the evil that tries to take over our soul. We just need to remember that each one of us is a person of choice, and of value and we are all worthy to receive the Truth.

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