This article is from Carol Mapp, LCSW, an Arlington-based therapist with Integrated Healthworks.
The life-altering changes that occur in relationships during a divorce can produce a variety of feelings. One common feeling that individuals who are divorcing experience is loneliness. There may be times during the transition of divorce in which individuals may feel lonely, even among others in a familiar setting, without really understanding why.
There are a few common misperceptions about loneliness. Some persons believe that loneliness is a sign of weakness or immaturity, or an indication that there’s something wrong. A person feeling lonely may believe that he or she is the only one feeling this way, or may report feeling depressed, angry, afraid, and misunderstood. Individuals going through a divorce may become highly critical, overly sensitive, or self-pitying, or may also become critical of others, or even blame external factors for their situation.
With the development of these feelings, lonely individuals may then begin to exhibit behavior and thought patterns that increase their loneliness. Some may become discouraged, losing their sense of desire and motivation to get involved in new situations, and some may isolate themselves from people and activities entirely.
Others may overcompensate for lonely feelings by absorbing themselves too quickly and too deeply with people and activities, without evaluating the consequences of their involvement. They may later find themselves in unsatisfying relationships, or over-committed to outside activities.
It is essential to recognize that loneliness is a feeling that can be resolved. Loneliness is a common human experience. Loneliness is neither a permanent state nor “bad.” More accurately, it is an indicator that a person has important needs that must be fulfilled.
People experiencing loneliness can take action to meet their own emotional needs. One can begin by identifying which needs are not being met in a specific situation. There may be needs to reconnect with friends, discover new interests, or rekindle former pursuits. Learning to do things for oneself, without friends, can also open new pathways for self-fulfillment.
There are a number of ways to begin this need identification process. Consider the following:
• Remind yourself that current feelings of loneliness will not last forever.
• Look for ways to get involved with people during your normal daily schedule.
• Engage in activities (such as sports, hobbies, or volunteering) in which you have genuine interest. In so doing, you will be likely to meet people with whom you share common interests.
• Make use of community resources. Examples of these include special interest clubs, church groups, adult classes, and volunteer-based organizations.
• Use your private time enjoying and developing yourself outside the home. Recognize that there are many creative ways to connect or reconnect with your interests. Browse a bookstore, take private lessons, or listen to new music.
• Keep your home environment equipped with activities that you can use for personal satisfaction. Set up a small aquarium, clear some table space for working puzzles, or create a cozy reading space.
• Explore the possibility of doing things alone that you usually do with other people, such as going to the movies or trying a new restaurant.
• Expect positive results from trying new activities. An open mind and a sense of humor go a long way towards an optimistic outlook.
No matter how bad you feel, loneliness will diminish when you focus attention and energy on identifying your own needs. Once defined, this self-knowledge gives you the tools you need to be self-fulfilled and equipped to combat feelings of loneliness.