This is the new normal. We’re suddenly alone with ourselves. What are you thinking about? What are you feeling? How are you coping? What’s bubbling up to the surface of your awareness?
If you’re uncomfortable, you’re not alone. At least, you’re not symbolically alone. You are probably literally alone. And that’s part of the problem. When was the last time you spent 5 weeks and counting without a face-to-face with another person? Normally, our lives are complex, multi-layered, busy, various, and most of all, distracting. Distracting in the sense that we have, at our fingertips, a myriad of options for engagement—from socializing, to working, from family, to friends and colleagues, from shopping and traveling, to hanging out in Starbucks—so we can distract ourselves from the challenges of being alone.
But I’m not talking about the “extrovert.” Yes, I know you extroverts are struggling. You need lots of socializing and engagement with others to energize you, and to help you feel alive and motivated. Being alone can deplete you. Make you feel isolated. Your mood might dip. But I’m not talking about you, exactly.
I’m talking about the person who behaves like an extrovert, but who runs around much of the time in order to avoid being alone. This person has negative feelings about himself that rise to the surface during quiet moments alone. The feelings are too uncomfortable to tolerate. Other people and activities are sought to distract the self away from these feelings. In truth, this person is not engaged with others like the extrovert, in order to derive needed energy and motivation in order to perform optimally in daily life. This is different. This is a running away from yourself.
So . . .what happens when you’re alone? Do you grow sad? Self-punishing? Do you procrastinate, oversleep, grope around for too many excuses? So, what’s bubbling up to the surface? Can you tolerate it? Can you think the thoughts that are presenting? Can you feel the feelings that are presenting? Is it overwhelming?
Running away from yourself seems like a solution to avoid depression. Or to avoid feeling bad. Perhaps you rationalize that running away from yourself isn’t like binge-drinking or cutting or other more immediately harmful self-destructive behaviors. True. But like those other short-term solutions, running away doesn’t work either. It’s more like kicking the can down the road. We acknowledge that individual pain is real and it’s serious, and it doesn’t go away just because we are temporarily outrunning it. It infiltrates our lives, infecting our work and our relationships and ultimately, our well-being.
The solution? There’s no magic bullet. But there’s the important work of healing the injured parts of yourself. There’s much to be gained from starting at the beginning, and sorting through the injury, the trauma, and the disappointment. Usually, with the help of a trained and compassionate clinician. Because remnants from these earlier events are what percolate to the surface when you can’t out-run them anymore. And eventually, they’re likely to catch up.