Before trying to combat loneliness as a symptom of one’s life post-breakup, it is important to first try and understand what loneliness is exactly. Loneliness is not simply being alone. Being alone could be a condition in which one feels lonely but it is not a requirement. There is often this idea of people being lonely when they are sitting by themselves. However, it is just as possible to feel completely alone while surrounded by other people, including friends and family. The reason that this simple fact is so important to understand, is so that we don’t fall into the trap of trying to help make ourselves feel better by tackling a symptom of loneliness (being alone), while ignoring the true root causes of the actual feelings.
One more point that I would like to make about loneliness, is that, it is not really a singular emotion in itself. Rather, loneliness is kind of an amalgam of various emotions such as anger, sadness, etc. I began to understand this idea in a real visceral sort of way during a severe bout of depression.
This was the last brush with depression that I’ve ever had up to this point in time, and it hit me that if loneliness is a mixture of emotional states, I could feasibly overcome it. After all, emotions can be changed, many times quite rapidly. For instance, being really upset about something and then seeing something else, which made you start laughing hysterically.
What happened is that your emotional state changed. In fact, your entire body language changed as well. If loneliness does indeed have its foundations in emotional moods or states, then there should be a clear way of moving past these feelings.
Loneliness and the Post-Breakup World
OK, so, our triggering event is a break up from one’s ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and the aftermath of losing that intimate relationship. It is perfectly ok and natural to experience a roller-coaster of emotions following a break up, as one is losing something that has been a major part of their lives.
For this reason, I think that this sort of loneliness can in certain instances, take a longer period of time to unwrap and overcome. It is different from say, feeling alone because one lacks friends or whatever other potential situation, you could come up with.
Relationships are a beautiful thing when executed correctly, however, they can also be an example of classic behavioral conditioning. In many ways, research has shown, love is like a drug addiction (not to the same extremity in most cases). Though, it activates many similar places of the brain and can cause a behavioral and physical addiction.
Relationships can create massive feedback loops, which can create feelings of emptiness or loneliness, when the expectations of these feedback loops are not fulfilled.
For example, there are certain instances where you are used to your partner appearing at a specific time of day. You may be used to calling them on the phone about something that happened in your life and receiving a positive emotional response in return.
When these expectations are not met, it can feel like something is missing from your life, and lead to feedback seeking behaviors. This can include sending a text to your ex and rationalizing that it is just you ‘checking up on them’ (see: No Contact Rule with your Ex). No, the reality is that the relationship as it once stood is now over, and the faster one can stop expecting these things to happen the faster one can move on with their lives.
Past Experiences of Feeling Alone
I feel pretty confident in saying that all of us (me and the collective ‘you’ reading this post), have dealt with being alone or at least being scared of being alone, before. In fact, many of you reading this have gone through a break up before, and know for a fact that moving on is possible.
If this so happens to be your first relationship which has ended, trust me when I say, that break ups are just a fact of dating. You will have to learn to work your way through them, in order to find better partners. The fear of the loss cannot stop you from living, as the lost feeling, is telling us that it was indeed something significant we experienced. However, not everything that is significant in our lives, is permanent. Things come and go.
When I broke up with girlfriends that I had in college, there was a period of time afterwards, where I felt lonely. I would either want to talk to them or actually attempt to contact them. Now, I have no such feelings for those same ex-girlfriends.
Why? Enough time passed, I have had other relationships, and I no longer expect or even desire such contact from these girls. We are now different people. We’re always changing, each moment our senses take in new information, it’s just a glacial pace of change. This is why you’re not the same person you were at age 12, 25, or 40.
That conditioned behavior I had developed with these past girlfriends, was broken by the more time I spent away from them, and pursued other things in my life. (How to Get Over Your Ex) I actually, can barely remember why I was tripping over them in the first place. Time heals these wounds, if you let it.
This is not an invitation to simply replace one feedback cycle for another and trying to push away those negative emotions. People often try to just find another person to date or people to sleep with or meet new friends.. They think it will ‘cure’ the loneliness. This does not help get rid of loneliness, it simply masks its existence, by shifting conditioned positive expectations on to other groups of people.
Now, it isn’t a bad idea to meet new people after a break up, I actually recommend doing that to help gather new life experiences. However, creating new dependencies, sets oneself up for experiencing even more loneliness later on, if these new found relationships fail or fall by the wayside.
A positive mind state needs to be created from within or else one will always be dependent on others to make themselves feel good about themselves and that can be a precarious place to be in.
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I have found that reducing loneliness to its very base has only come about through the exploration of my ‘self’. I do still experience feelings of loneliness from time to time, but they are fleeting at best.
Those limited feelings come about from craving human interaction because it is still a basic need that I have as a human being. For instance, if I have been working a lot and neglecting my social life, these feelings may arise. When they do, I take them as a sign that I should spend some time being social to help keep a balance in my life.
Reading different books by the Stoic philosophers and psychology texts, helped me to realize that I need to take control of my internal state first. Then, have other people in my life to enhance my experience and well-being, not to be the only source of it. It’s just like that old adage: that you cannot truly love someone else, until you love yourself.
On Being Alone, But Never Lonely
Being alone is not a negative state of being, in itself.
It is simply a state which you may find yourself in at any given point in time. Being alone is not deprivation of good feelings. I have watched many comedy movies or shows by myself and enjoyed those experiences immensely. I was ‘alone’, but not deprived of any positive emotions.
We can all too often, get caught up in the stories that we tell ourselves. We replay the past, in our minds, as a series of idealized moments and then lament that these moments in our lives have now gone away. Narrative is a very powerful thing, it’s why we’re so attracted to movies and novels, but narratives can get out of control when we mistake them for total reality.
If this is what occurs in a person’s head after a break up, it is only natural that they will begin to feel extremely lonely. The narrative that they are now being deprived of what they love, is being played on a constant loop inside their brain. At some point, the same message gets replayed so often that it becomes gospel, and is accepted as just a part of who you are… I am lonely.
This narrative is not who you are, it is merely a manifestation of temporary feelings of loss, and a fear of a changing future. It is not an identity, so don’t identify with it. Our minds seek answers and then stack its own theories on top of one another. We remember things that quite didn’t happen the way we think, beat ourselves up, and can get caught up in the doom and gloom that we create for ourselves.
If one is not careful, this type of negativity can consume your thoughts, and hence, the actions you then take in your life. This can often cause seeking behavior to take a hold of your actions. Meaning, seeking anything to help one forget or mask the feelings of loneliness. People turn to drugs, lots of sex with many partners, and other temporary highs; which just end up having really bad consequences.
Stopping The Seeking
Loneliness sucks, because it forces a lot of people to feel like they only have two options, either mask the pain or to simply languish in self-pity for long periods of time. Not facing loneliness in a positive way and taking action to help rid oneself of it, will having one chasing external solutions constantly.
Except that, these external solutions never actually satisfy the emptiness that you feel inside. If one were to instead try to focus on their own internal development, then conditions could be created in which loneliness is mostly a passing thought.
I can tell you that, I too have tried to satisfy loneliness by searching some external source of positive feelings. I wanted to help cover up my own internal sense of lacking. I needed to make a shift towards making myself content first, and to stop idealizing all of the people and past experiences, that I had already lived through.
I noticed that after a break up, I usually had a ton of free time, because the relationship no longer consumed such a large chunk of my life. I began to not view the break up as a negative and to try to simply accept it as a change. My life is always and has always changed and if I do not accept that as a fact, I will always be longing for the past to come back.
There is this idea in Stoic philosophy, that time is like a river, and you cannot set foot in the same river twice. Why? The water is always moving. So, chasing the past just becomes an absurd hunt, with no ending.
Changing my interpretation of situations helped me to feel great about exploring new possibilities in my life. I could meet new people, pick up new hobbies, and thoroughly enjoy my life just as I had found ways to do in the past.
In the immediate aftermath of a break up, this change of interpretation was done incrementally. For instance, instead of wallowing all day long, I would take an hour out of the day to try and make myself feel positive. This was often done through reading, taking long walks while listening to motivational speakers, or watching shows that made me laugh. These are small baby steps, but they helped me to feel positive emotions again, which I could build off of in order to begin to cultivate greater internal strength.
This method helps to flip loneliness on its head and to challenge oneself to take action. As I wrote above, there is now a missing feedback loop in life, and this should also be taken care of while learning to be content within yourself. I like to create positive feedback by taking on new projects, pursuing fun hobbies, and meeting new people (but not depending on them to make me feel good constantly).
I want to help flood my brain with positive emotions, so that, I can help it heal and learn how to be without that missing relationship. I take it as a dual plan of action, handling my internal well-being but also trying to make my interactions with the external world as enjoyable as possible. This helps to create new positive feedback loops but does not allow me to be exclusively dependent on them for my happiness.
Gathering new positive experiences and emotions doesn’t cure loneliness alone, but, it is a great tool to use to help move forward from a broken relationship. There are always going to be moments, when there is nothing going on to distract you. You’re sitting alone and it’s quiet.
In these situations, there also has to be a level of acceptance. Whether you feel good, bad, or neutral doesn’t matter. Accept that moment, as it is. What’s wrong with the moment? Anything, other than it can make you feel uncomfortable? Is that so bad or is it a mental illusion? Are the negative thoughts you’re having real or just a temporary blip on your mental radar?
I have found that these moments that I spend alone, have now become when I’m most appreciative in my life. Sure, they aren’t as glamorous or physically tantalizing as other experiences, but I exist. That’s how far I break things down to, existence, and just how utterly crazy it is that I’m here at all.
Not ‘feeling’ particularly well all of the time, is the price that I have to pay, to experience all of the good? Fine by me. I freakin’ exist, and that excites the hell out of me, now that I don’t let negative thought patterns consume my every waking hour.
Loneliness is something that can spiral out of control if one lets it. It becomes a situation in which the negative thoughts in your head slowly become more believable until they pretty much take control of all thinking and actions taken in life. One must deal with these emotions head on.
Explore the self, what it is you want and life, and what your values as a person are independent of anyone else. Loneliness becomes conditioned, if you don’t truly know who you are, and/or if you rely on external sources of positive emotions as sort of a dependency.
This should be a call for action to get in touch with who you really are. To face life with a new found sense of confidence and inner strength. Allowing oneself to be a shut in, and to stop trying to forge new relationships and bonds with others, is the worst thing you can do.
External actors cannot be controlled, the only thing one can control is the self, and to create an internal sense of well-being that is based on yourself alone. Relationships can indeed enhance life experiences, but are doomed from the start, if neither person is truly happy with themselves. That only creates a dynamic in which a strong external dependency is built on a weak internal foundation. Collapse in such a scenario, is inevitable.
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