A study conducted by a team at the University of Virginia found many people prefer electric shock to spending time alone with their thoughts. In fact, 67 percent of men, and 25 percent of women chose to shock themselves as a way to pass the time and avoid being alone with their thoughts. Many people crave solitude: they seek the opportunity for a break, a moment of silence, and time to just be. But this study suggests that people do not really enjoy being alone and that the idea of spending 10 minutes of solitude with their own thoughts is less pleasing than shock treatment. Additional studies have since been conducted, with one experiment that recruited individuals ranging from 18-77 years of age. Regardless of age, education, income, gender, or social media use the results consistently showed that people do not enjoy being alone with themselves.
The idea of being alone creates fear and causes worry for many people. It is often the reason that people settle for something less than they deserve because they feel like something is better than nothing. Based on the mentioned experiment, people are choosing unpleasant sensations instead of solitude. The short period of endured pain is more tolerable than mindfulness. Why do we avoid solitude? When did navigating our own thoughts become such a miserable task?
We need to stop avoiding our thoughts and feelings out of fear and engage in the process of self-discovery. Being alone is an opportunity to get to know yourself. If you want to find someone to love, you absolutely need to love yourself. Often we try to learn so much about others: their likes, dislikes, dreams, strengths, goals, yet we do not even know those answers regarding ourselves. We can often compose lists of what makes other people happy, but do not know what contributes to our own happiness. When we avoid being alone, we avoid our most important relationship: ourselves.
It is common for our fear of loneliness to contribute to unhealthy relationships. Our intent to avoid loneliness creates relationships that are filled with emptiness. So many people spend time chasing others, seeking attention, searching for false happiness, and demanding others’ attention. It might be awkward at first, but take the time on yourself. Chase your own dreams, chase your own goals, chase your own purpose. Give yourself the time and attention that you actually deserve, not out of fear but with intent.
Avoiding loneliness is ignoring the reality of who you really are and the person you are capable of becoming. Take the time on yourself to create a life with intention: the actions you take are intentional, the people you interact with are intentional, everything that you do has an underlying purpose. Understand yourself, understand your motives, and understand your why.
We have been conditioned to believe that social interaction is necessary to achieve happiness. That in order to be successful or happy we need to be with others. That our own worth is the result of others’ measures of who we are. That is not true. You cannot find someone before you find yourself. It is not possible to find the right person if you yourself are not the right person. Don’t try to be with someone who makes you happy, you need to be the someone who makes you happy. Choose to love yourself first, make yourself the priority and you will never feel alone again. We spend so much time building friendships, romantic relationships, and professional relationships yet we forget the most important relationship to build is with ourselves.
We need to be alone to discover our own worth. We need to learn who we are and what we are capable of becoming. Be alone, find your worth, and take a moment to find your value. If we do not know what we value, then we cannot find people who value the same. Being alone does not make you lonely. Being surrounded by the wrong people is lonely.
Once you love the person you are, you will no longer need others to fill the void in your life. Be around others, enjoy your friends, but spend time with yourself first. The goal is to get yourself to a position where you don’t need to be around others to feel complete. A position where you are able to enjoy quality interaction with others, but you also enjoy being alone. If you can develop comfort in being alone, you will have the ability to be at peace and be okay without depending on others. Enjoy other people, but enjoy yourself first.
Talk to yourself. When you are able to recognize your own emotions and understand your thoughts, you can become comfortable with being alone. Instead of using an escape or finding another romantic attachment, learn to be comfortable with yourself. Learn to be comfortable being alone and being with your thoughts. We should not be in a position where enduring physical pain is preferred over cognitive and emotional awareness. Learn to love, accept, and know yourself first so that you have the insight and awareness to develop healthy, more value-based relationships moving forward. Choose to love yourself first.
It is okay to be bored, it is okay to pause, take the time to think, to learn, to cry, to explore. It is okay to just be and not constantly do. Stop avoiding the fear; challenge, embrace, and overcome it. If we never learn to be alone then we will always feel lonely. The dependency on others we create reduces the dependency on and confidence in ourselves.
“You cannot be lonely if you like the person you are alone with.” Wayne Dryer
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311. For more information on Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, visit fishertitus.org/behavioral-health.