5 tips to being happy with your own company
Being alone can be a pleasure, a self-imposed state induced by social anxiety, or enough to cause a fear amounting to phobia (sometimes called monophobia) so bad that it drives people to do anything other than spend time alone. The person who is terrified of being alone feels fundamentally unsafe and unable to look after themselves. Other people are related to as surrogate parents rather than, say, romantic partners.
We all have a need to connect to other people, to feel a sense of togetherness. Some of us have a greater need to be with others, but we all share this basic human drive to some extent. And for some, the need to be around others - perhaps even around one specific 'safe' person - becomes overwhelming.
The fact is, if we feel we can't ever spend time alone then we become extremely dependent. This article is about helping you regain some independence and even, dare I say, start to enjoy or at least tolerate being on your own sometimes.
So how does phobia of being alone affect you?
Phobia of being alone messes with your life
"Being alone phobia", as Suzette called it, was messing with her life. "I hate to ever be alone! When it gets really bad I insist - and this is going to sound really crazy - that my husband come with me into the bathroom! He's going to be away a lot more on business and the thought of having to spend time alone is really freaking me out!"
It turned out Suzette had always had a difficult relationship with alone time. When she was a child, her parents would punish her by leaving the house for hours at a time. Sometimes she feared they'd left her for good. Consciously, as an adult, she knew that she was safe enough when alone, but her unconscious mind still felt the same way as when she'd been a powerless little girl. So, what else can cause people to fear being alone?
Other reasons for a fear of being alone
Different people have different reasons for fearing to be alone. Maybe, like Suzette, being alone had been used as a threat or punishment in childhood. Sometimes people equate being by themselves, even for a short while, with 'abandonment'. One woman even told me she felt like she "ceased to exist" when not around others. She could only define herself as a human being through her association with other people.
Some people have just never learned how to enjoy unstructured time by themselves. Many of us use 'artificial company' to mimic a sense of not being alone: TV, Internet surfing, listening to music. But for the being alone phobic, it's the reassurance of real company they crave.
Getting over the fear of the fear
And often it's the fear of the fear, the panic that we might panic, that drives people to seek out constant company. The thought of having a panic attack when no one else is around is just too much for some.
Of course the more fears we have, the less independent we become, and the more we position ourselves to be demanding and needy within our relationships. It's no surprise that Suzette's marriage was really suffering. If you fear being alone, then follow these tips to build up your confidence, strengthen your relationships, and enhance your independence.
1) Wean yourself off constant company
Constantly eating takes the edge off the enjoyment of eating. But when we eat after we have given ourselves a chance to get a little peckish, the experience of eating means more and is more enjoyable. So too with socializing; when we take time out to be by ourselves sometimes, the quality of interaction when we do see others improves.
Yet, like any overwhelming need, craving constant company can start to feel addictive. One young woman I helped overcome her fear of being alone started, at my request, to take walks around the block with her mother. Halfway around, she would walk home and her mother would continue the walk. She would wait 5 minutes for her mother and we increased that time to the point where, eventually, her mother could go out for days at a time.
Start off small and gently increase your periods of 'independence time'. Take a fifteen-minute walk and sit in a park, ask people to leave you for ten minutes. Bit by bit, you'll find you can increase the time span and thereby increase your confidence and self-reliance.
2) Overcome fear of being alone through distraction
As well as plenty of positive hypnotic rehearsal with Suzette, I also got her to start off small and gradually increase her tolerance for alone time. I asked her what she would like to do, perhaps something she'd always wanted to do. She told me that she'd always loved Charles Dickens's novels but had only seen them depicted in movies. She wanted to actually read them. I suggested to her that reading was easier when alone because you can avoid interruptions.
After a while, she didn't always have to "fill her time" when alone or plan what to do ahead of time when she knew her husband would be out of town. But she did read all the great Dickens classics eventually and pretty soon found she even looked forward to a bit of solitary refinement. Ah, that reminds me; I also encouraged her to become less black-and-white in the way she thought about being alone.
3) Be alone sometimes to really make connections
"They call us lonely when we're really just alone" (Aztec Camera from the song "Oblivious").
Now, being alone is just a physical description of a temporary state, whereas being lonely describes how we might feel. People can feel connected to others when they're alone and at other times feel lonely in the company of other people. I enjoy my own company sometimes because it gives me a chance to recharge my energy, read, and connect to the thoughts and ideas of writers (some of whom may have been dead for hundreds of years). I don't feel alone in these times.
If I'm watching a good movie or reading a page-turning thriller, I become involved with the characters and feel connected to them. When you dream at night, you may be alone on one level, but if your dreams are vividly populated with other people, you won't feel alone. The point is, being alone is more a state of mind than anything else. I'm certainly not suggesting that we don't need other people, but what I am saying is that an evening on your own now and then can be a time of deep connection in some ways. Suzette found this idea new, startling, and useful.
4) Use hypnosis to rehearse being comfortable alone
I mentioned that I used hypnosis with Suzette and it's certainly a great way to rapidly calm down and increase confidence at the prospect and actual experience of taking time alone. Find some space to relax and focus on extending your out-breath a few times to let your body begin to relax. Then close your eyes and begin to visualize yourself taking an evening to yourself, alone and relaxed. Notice in your mind watching the kinds of things you can do or the way you just are relaxed, comfortable, and contented. The more you do this, the more you train your mind and body to automatically and naturally notice how much calmer you become about being alone sometimes.
For a taste of this kind of exercise, click on the free audio below.
5) Work on your social life
Like many people who recover from being alone phobia, Suzette discovered that when she became relaxed about spending time on her own, not only did her relationship with her husband dramatically improve, her overall social life did as well. If you are not desperate to be with others, you can start to really enjoy the times when you are. Other people stopped feeling pressured to always be around and because she was enjoying time alone (and becoming even more of a Charles Dickens aficionado into the bargain), she really started to love her social life.
As you recover from 'monophobia', make efforts to arrange social events, call friends up, and really enjoy the time you spend with others. We can enjoy not eating sometimes when we eat well regularly and you can enjoy alone time when you've had quality and regular together time. And without all that fear and desperation, you can enjoy yourself confidently.