As I explained in my last post, I’ve always been someone who struggled to easily connect with others—I’ve never had a ton of friends. I’ve spent much of my life trying to be what I thought others wanted me to be, always seeking approval, desperate to not feel rejected or different.
I know now that my struggle to connect was really a form of seeking external validation for my existence. And, most importantly, that this tension disconnected me from my true self.
My recent arrival back in Bali came right before three big occasions: my birthday, Christmas, and the New Year. As I thought about what kind of celebrations these days might hold, I found myself overcome with worry about not having any plans or invites, and pictured myself spending the holidays alone, feeling like a rejected loser.
Thankfully, the practices I’ve cultivated over the years allowed me to slow down and relate to these feelings with curiosity and kind attention. I began to break out of the trance full of fear and loneliness and step into feelings of freedom. I realized I had the autonomy to spend my time exactly how I wanted, which replaced my downward spiral with lightness and liberation.
These new feelings, however, were challenged when I told a friend of mine that I planned to take two solo trips, one to a neighboring island for Christmas and another on a silent retreat to ring in the New Year. She said, with skepticism, “Are you sure you want to do all that alone?”
I had a moment of self-doubt. I thought, “What if she’s right? Am I making a mistake? What if I am lonely, depressed, and end up having a miserable time?” Again, I quickly caught myself in a spiral and realized that those fears are simply thoughts and emotions. I know how to be with all of me—the light and the joyful moments, but also the dark, intense and challenging moments. I have learned and practiced being impartial to both, accepting darkness as part of life and leaning into the richness and depth it provides. In that, I have become free to do as I please, no longer afraid of anything that may arise inside of me.
With this approach, I have learned how to be my own best friend. I have learned how to be with myself, to be alone without feeling rejected and, in doing so, have strengthened my love for myself. I am overflowing with freedom, aliveness, and unconditional, unattached love to share with others. Now, I have more amazing, deep, inspiring people in my life than I can make time for and my problem is a different one—I don’t have the time to keep up with them all. I learned that the foundation of close connections to like-minded people is actually first learning to live in alignment with our true selves. Getting here takes some work, but below are a few strategies that might help you if you’re walking this same path:
Notice and challenge judgments that come up when you are alone, as well as any feelings of loneliness or shame about it. Are you judging others to make yourself feel better for not being included? Are you judging yourself or feeling unworthy for not having plans? See if you can replace your judgmental thoughts with facts or feelings. For example, you might replace the thought “If anyone liked me, I wouldn’t be home alone with nothing to do on Friday night” with “I am home alone on Friday night and despite wanting something to do, I don’t have plans. I am feeling ashamed and thinking I am a loser right now.” Feelings aren’t judgments, and acknowledging feelings can help create some distance from them.
Be selective about who you do spend your time with. When you can find contentment in being with yourself, you don’t need to fill your time with anyone who doesn’t enrich or enhance your experience in some way. Birds of a feather flock together, and we need to be careful of the company we keep. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
Be patient in your search for connection. Finding quality relationships can take time, and it’s easy to let the spiraling thoughts get the best of us while we wait. I can attest—as can many of my clients—that it’s worth the investment. Try your best to focus on the practices and tools that bring you closer to your authentic self, while you let the relationships that are meant for you come along.