Mental Health Minute – (A)lone(ly)

By: Lisa Philippart
Can you be happy by yourself? Have you had periods in your life where you were by yourself, but wishing for the company of others? In both of these situations, you were alone, but you were most likely only lonely in one of them. Lonely and alone are both adjectives with very different meanings. Lonely describes a feeling of sadness stemming from isolation or abandonment. Alone describes a single person or object, separate from others. So, and stay with me, a person can be alone without feeling lonely, since alone is a state of being in separation or solitude, and lonely is an emotional response of feeling sad or abandoned. You can also feel lonely without being alone.

Why am I so concerned with the semantics of these two words? Because sometimes in my practice, clients confuse the terms, or more often they believe the words are interchangeable. I think it is important to understand how being alone is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I believe that we each need time alone every day to allow our thoughts to settle and to focus on the present moment. Women in particular, seem to have a more difficult time with aloneness than men. And it is generally for one of two reasons: (1)Either we are usually so busy with taking care of family and work and the home and others, that we don’t MAKE the time to ground ourselves. In fact, we multi-taskers often feel guilty spending time alone. There’s too much to do! We can’t waste time seeking alone-time! (2) Or we fear being alone because we might become lonely. And being lonely feels sad. I have counseled women who are terrified of being alone. The very thought sends them into a panic. These women have worked to ensure that they are never alone, to the point that their phone is never out of their hand. Their phone has become their constant connection to others.

I am going to suggest that fear and busyness are not effective ways to avoid being alone. The time will come when you will be alone. And when it happens, what will you do? Those are the moments when our minds take over and choose a path for us. One direction leads to loneliness, sadness, fear, or rejection. The other route leads to contentment, solitude, serenity, or mindfulness. So we are back to the skill of accepting ourselves, flaws and strengths, and appreciating our uniqueness and worth. Now is the time to practice being alone. You can learn to appreciate who you are and actually enjoy spending time with and by yourself. You need to be your own best friend. It’s being content in your own company, and for some that can be extremely difficult. “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillicd.

Until next time, spend a few moments each day taking pleasure in your tranquility.
By: Lisa Philippart
Licensed Professional Counselor