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What To Do for Loneliness

23 Jan

Question:

Dear Belleruth,

I have listened to your guided imageries, Ease Grief, Relieve Stress, and Healing Trauma when I moved to a new and very different (and in many ways less good) place, was extremely lonely, and then had a rejection by someone I got involved with. The imageries helped me a lot – really a lot. Thank you!

I write to ask you about dealing with loneliness. In the new place I moved to, I finally have friends, so I am much less “friends-lonely”. However, I live in a world in which friends come and friends go:  They move away, get into relationships that consume a lot of their time, have babies, get sucked into work projects, etc. and they regularly evaporate. So I can still wind up quite “friends-lonely”.

And I am also very “partner-lonely”, meaning that I long for someone to be special to and vice versa, someone to be able to kiss and to be intimate with in all of the different ways we are intimate. I have not been in a relationship for 3 years.

I am “partner-lonely” to the point that it saps my energy. There are many things that I want to do, but I am very challenged to do them because of my energy-sapped state, which I attribute to being partner-lonely. I get out to places where I might meet people who are partner material, but I don’t find anyone. Frequently I feel that I will never find someone and that I will always be alone.

Sometimes I think this might be something that descends on women my age (late 40s), perhaps those who opted for career instead of family or both – that it is a social phenomenon, and not unique to me.

From what I know, there is a certain amount of being with this difficulty and cultivating self-love and compassion. And there is also trying to find joy, despite this difficulty. But I am guessing there may be additional approaches that I don’t know about.

Do you have any suggestions – guided imageries or otherwise – regarding how to deal with this (loneliness)?

Thank you!

With admiration and gratitude,

Katelyn

Answer:

Dear Katelyn,

I do have some thoughts about this.  Let me start with your idea that you’re “energy-sapped” because of your loneliness for a partner.  Loneliness can lead to lots of things - sadness or grief or hunger for social contact, or even circular thinking from talking to yourself too much. But none of these things would sap your energy like this.   

That feeling of being drained and fatigued, to the extent that you don’t feel motivated to do anything, (assuming it’s not physiologically-based from a health problem), is more like depression, which is, in effect, a state of tamped-down energy, laced with low self-esteem and a lot of self-criticism. I would suggest that you might be dealing with depression, and that’s a thing entirely apart from loneliness, although it may be set off or exacerbated by loneliness.  

Depression might be your default reaction, based on your family history and the biochemistry you inherited.  Let me go out on a limb here, because I realize I don’t know you. But if you’re depressed, maybe your internal dialogue goes something like this:

I’m sad and lonely. There must be something wrong with me, that I don’t have a partner.  Other people have partners.  I’m not loveable.  I’m too needy. I could never keep a partner. So-and-so left me. It didn’t last with so-and-so either, or so-and-so before that.  I’m too fat (or too thin, or too short or too tall or too smart or too dumb.) I don’t know how to talk to people.  People don’t want to spend time with me. I’ll always be alone, just like Mother (or Father, or ex-partner etc etc) said. I probably deserve to be alone.

I’m guessing that if you heard an actual person at the next table in a restaurant talking to his companion like this, you’d be horrified and righteously indignant on her behalf!

So, maybe if you address the depression, you’ll be able to get some energy back. Is your sleep disrupted too? Any overuse of substances going on?  Are you able to concentrate at work?  These are a few of the questions a good doc or therapist would be asking to evaluate how depressed you are.  You might need a boost with anti-depressants for a while, until your energy can get back into gear. You could also  try the imagery for Depression, which addresses this physical and psychological difficulty; and the other guided imagery I’d recommend is the new one on Heartbreak, Abandonment and Betrayal. In fact, I’d kind of like to see you brainwash yourself with that one - listen to it over and over again - because it’s got within it the psychological antidote to misery from loneliness.

And you’re right: there are other ways to sit with this loneliness - to just be with it without judging, and showing compassion for yourself.  Mindfulness meditation can get you there.  It would be a great practice for you to take up at this time in your life.  This makes it just loneliness – nothing more, nothing less.  It doesn’t have to mean anything about you.

I’d start with Tara Brach’s Meditations for Emotional Healing, because it targets the issues you’re struggling with and aims for self-acceptance, compassion, clarity and awareness, producing greater comfort with yourself and all those strong emotions.  

And finally, I’d put a temporary moratorium on “getting out to places where [you] might meet people who are partner material” because until that heavy veil of depression is lifted, you’re not going to feel like “partner material” yourself.
 
Instead, I’d suggest you volunteer your time in a soup kitchen or a free clinic or with an organization that helps elderly or kids or adults in need.  It doesn’t have to be much time at first – maybe a couple of hours a week, if that’s all the energy you have for it.  But it will take you out of your own feelings of neediness and you’ll start to perceive yourself as someone who is needed – because you will be.
 
So those are my ideas.
 
I wish you much good luck with this.  Please write in a month or two, to report on how you’re doing!

All best,

Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award