Learning to Be with Yourself
“Learn to be alone and to like it. There is nothing more empowering or freeing than learning to like your own company.” ~Mandy Hale
I was recently sitting at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand waiting to board my flight and across from me were 3 young Australian men (probably in their mid-twenties) traveling together. As we sat there waiting for our flight to board, I could not help but notice that these 3 young men were doing something unheard of…they were all reading a book. An actual hardcover book! You don’t have to be traveling the world like I am to just look around and notice that 99.9% of the people in public, anywhere you go, have their faces in their phones. This has been something I have really become conscious of during my travels. I have seen couples, groups of friends, and employees with their noses in their phones, not talking, not interacting with each other, but rather interacting with their media devices.
I recently read an article in Psychology Today about the decline in emotional intelligence in the younger generations. A total of 70 studies were done on 17,000 college-age participants between 2001 and 2019. The results of the studies showed that access to technology was associated with a decrease in overall well-being, emotionality, and self-control (Fugere, M.A., 2021). There are many benefits to technology such as the ability to be connected to family far away, access to information at our fingertips, and for someone like me who is missing the “direction gene,” a beautiful app called “Waze” that tells me where to go when my internal compass fails me (which is often!). But these benefits come with a flip side. We have learned to use our phones to distract ourselves from reality. We have learned to create an alternate reality which we live through our phones on social media and other platforms. This has kept us from the human/human and heart/heart interactions that when experienced face to face, have a far different feel and outcome than when experienced through direct messaging on Instagram.
I have a theory. My theory is that we have become uncomfortable and unsure of how to be with ourselves. In other words, how to be alone with no distractions and no one else around. Just you. Alone. Just reading that sent some people into a panic. I remember when I first realized that my marriage of 16 years was over. I knew I had to leave but what kept me from leaving was terror, and I mean I was terrified of being alone. The fear of being alone drives many behaviors and keeps us from doing things that are for our highest good.
Traveling alone brings up some interesting “stuff” … the kind of stuff that makes you squirm and want to distract yourself. This “stuff” can range from a fear of being by yourself with no one else around to memories of experiences we would rather forget that creep up into our consciousness when we are not distracted by daily life. I have had 14 years of practice being alone but traveling alone is a whole different ball game. This has been one of my biggest struggles on my journey. I do not have the same distractions around me as when I am in my own home. There is nothing to clean, no shopping to do, and no errands to run…it is just me, myself, the local tourist attractions, Netflix, and books to read. And I have to say, even in the amazing places I have been, these all get old after a while on the road.
I was forced to sit down with myself and really look at why I become so anxious about being alone. This sounds easy but it is not! We have been conditioned to NOT feel and bury our feelings deep down with food, alcohol, social media, sex, and many other coping mechanisms that temporarily keep us from facing the inevitable. I put my coaching hat on and asked myself, “If a coaching client were to have this anxiety, how would I help that client?” I often encourage my clients to do two main things…identify and name the exact feeling they are feeling at the moment and look for patterns in their behavior. We have to know where we are starting from before we can get to where we want to go. So that is what I did. I realized I wasn’t feeling anxious per se, but I was actually scared. Scared of what? I didn’t know. So, I tried to see if I could identify any patterns. Did I feel scared in certain places, with certain people, in certain situations, at the same time or day every week, at night in bed, etc? When we can identify the feeling and the pattern, then we have the beginning of a road map to the solution.
What I have found so far (and, by the way, this is still an ongoing journey for me) is that I become anxious about the unknowns. I also become anxious when I think too far ahead and I play the “what if” game with myself. I realized that we will never have the answers to the “what if” questions no matter how hard we think about them so the exercise of being anxious about them is futile.
Now when I start to feel anxious about being alone, instead of distracting myself with my phone and scrolling through social media, I have learned to feed my brain and soul with the things that make me feel good. Everything is about how you feel! Going for a walk, writing, reading quotes I have saved over the years, calling a friend whose thinking I trust to talk to, and listening to my favorite music (I actually made a ‘traveling playlist before I left on this trip!”). I have also been practicing just sitting and staring at the beautiful sunset or sunrise, meditating, or feeding my body with nourishing fresh foods from the local market.
Learning to be alone with only yourself is a work in progress and it is not easy. One day it will feel easy and the next day it will be very hard. I have learned to practice “radical acceptance.” Instead of pushing against how I feel on a bad day, I just let myself feel the feeling. I cry if I need to, scream if I need to, and sleep it off if I need to. And I don’t beat myself up for doing these things. I consider it the highest form of self-care.
As I sit here in Melbourne, Australia looking at the beautiful lights outside my apartment window on the 18th floor, I do not have the TV on or music playing…I am just writing in silence and appreciating the quiet, beautiful gift of being alive.
All by myself,
Why Emotional Intelligence is on the Decline: https://www-psychologytoday-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dating-and-mating/202111/why-emotional-intelligence-is-in-decline?amp