Another way to deal with loneliness is to try to learn from the experience and use it to make positive changes. Loneliness might be a signal that we are missing something. Perhaps we’re missing an important, specific person, contact with people in general, or close relationships. Like other emotional experiences (e.g., fear might inform us about danger), loneliness might be telling us that we have a problem to solve. When the problem is that we miss a specific person who is no longer in our lives, it might be appropriate to work through the process of grieving. When the problem is that we have less contact with others than we would like to, the solution might involve finding ways to spend time around and with other people. Finally, if we are missing close relationships, perhaps the solution is to work over the long-run to establish such relationships or strengthen existing ones.
It can be challenging to make some of these changes in life. Many of these solutions to loneliness are long-term projects requiring some work. Loneliness might stick around while we’re working to make these longer term changes. Fortunately, some of the skills we teach in DBT can make it a little easier to tolerate loneliness in the short-term. These skills include the distress tolerance skills, such as distraction or self-soothing, and mindfulness skills, particularly mindfully attending to your emotional experiences. Also, if you’re trying to make connections or improve existing ones, it might be helpful to pay attention to how you relate to other people. It can be easy to remain lonely even around close loved ones if you (a) don’t mindfully attend to your connection to others, and (b) engage in behaviours that distance you from others. Consider ways to be mindful of the people you do have in your life. Attend to others, make time for them, and nurture your relationships.
If you’re working toward being with people or closer to people, there is an important pitfall to avoid. I think this pitfall is captured nicely by the quote, “If you are not capable of being alone, your relationship is false. It is just a trick to avoid your loneliness, nothing else.” Sometimes, people begin or stay in harmful relationships, because loneliness is frightening. It’s like staying in a burning building because you’re afraid the danger outside is worse. Avoid basing relationships on the avoidance of loneliness. The foundation of these relationships will be weak, and you might find yourself willing to allow your self-respect to take a hit in order to avoid being alone. ~Alexander L. Chapman, Ph.D., R.Psych.