Zen Habits : The Fear of Being Alone
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‘All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.’ ~Blaise Pascal
A surprising number of people fear being alone. Maybe just about all of us do to some extent.
We fear being without a partner, or friends and family. We fear traveling alone in strange places, lost without anyone to ask for help. We fear taking on life without help, for fear of failure.
This is natural, this fear of being alone. We’ve all felt it, deep within us, though we try desperately to avoid this fear.
And this is the cause of our misery: to avoid this fear of being alone, we will socialize endlessly, including on social networks and email. To avoid being alone, we’ll end up with someone who isn’t really good for us, just to have someone to cling to, someone to rely on. We’ll eat junk food or shop to comfort ourselves, because these things are replacements for love.
But here’s the secret: being alone is empowering. The quiet of being alone is joyful.
We tend to see aloneness as bleak, depressing, scary. But it can be seen as freeing, as an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to get to know yourself.
This is something I’ve been learning the hard way. I had the fear of aloneness for many years, but learning emotional self-sufficiency is one of the best things I’ve done.
Sit quietly for a minute, now, and turn inward. Who are you? What are you capable of? What do you think about?
Can you accept yourself, when you look closely at yourself?
Can you see the beauty in yourself, as you learn something new? As you contemplate life?
This is nothing to fear, but to celebrate. Aloneness is beauty.
Traveling Through Life Alone
But isn’t it scary to travel the world alone? To go through life alone if you feel unprepared?
Yes, it can be scary. That’s the reason to learn to do it.
Don’t know how to find your way in a strange city? Start with the place you live — get lost and find your way back. Learn to use Google Maps, then learn to find visual landmarks. Now branch out into nearby cities. Now take a trip armed with your new skills. Ask for directions. Learn to be OK with getting lost.
Don’t know how to pay bills and manage your life? Start with one bill. Teach yourself life management skills one at a time. Become self-sufficient. It’s better to learn to stand on your own two feet than to have to rely on someone else. If you can be self-sufficient, then relying on someone else is an act of strength, not of weakness.
Don’t know how to protect yourself? Learn to avoid bad situations. Learn to be aware of your surroundings. Learn how to get away. Learn how to defend yourself, at least enough to call for help. You’ll feel more confident in going places alone.
Traveling through life alone is a learning process, but you become stronger as you go. It’s like a child who can’t find his way home alone — doing it the first time is scary, but he’s safer and better off having learned the way.
Relationships and Aloneness
Does learning to be OK with being alone mean you can’t be in a relationship? Not at all — but if you aren’t OK with being alone, then being in a relationship is going to be fundamentally flawed.
Why? Because you become dependent. You need the other person, not only to pay bills and help you manage, not only to protect you and provide for you, but for emotional needs. You need the other person to pay attention to you, to give you validation and comfort and love. Now, all of those things are nice, but needing someone else for them means you become needy, desperate, and those aren’t attractive qualities. Who wants to be in a relationship with a needy, desperate person?
Much more attractive is confidence. And self-sufficiency. And strength.
So learn to be OK with being alone. Learn to provide for all of your emotional needs. Learn that you are OK, just as you are, without anyone else to “complete you”.
What if you’re already in a relationship? This is what I’ve been dealing with myself — it’s still doable. It means noticing when you’re being needy, and backing off. Taking care of your needs yourself. This is a slow process, but it works.
Once you’ve got that down, you are in a much better place to be in a relationship. You’re now two whole people, coming together for the benefit of the both of you.
The Joy of Being Alone
Aloneness can be a scary thing, but it can also be a joyful thing.
You can celebrate the times when you’re alone. Get to know yourself. Do things that rely on very little — reading a good book, writing, playing music, dancing alone, sketching, learning a new skill. Go for hikes, discover the world without needing to instantly share it online.
Be alone and be happy with yourself.
You deserve it.