Whether your married friends are too busy raising a family to stay in touch, your own children are leaving home or a relentless work schedule means fewer social engagements, loneliness is an increasingly common phenomenon in the UK. But it’s not a state of being you have to accept, believes Teal Swan, spiritual leader and author of The Anatomy Loneliness (Watkins, £12.99). By facing her own feelings of isolation, Swan formulated a healing framework – the three pillars of loneliness – to help create a feeling within yourself of unconditional love.
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EMBRACE YOUR SHADOW
Swan’s first pillar of loneliness is separation’. In the womb, we are as one with our mother, but we quickly learn the notion of ‘acceptable’ vs ‘not acceptable’ some of our actions are met with smiles, love and approval, others are frowned upon. The result? We begin to separate off aspects of ourselves – this part of me ok, that is not. To reverse this process fragmentation, Swan suggests the following. Notice which negative traits you dislike in others, then ask yourself what your dislikes are protecting you from? If you get annoyed with a colleague for being competitive, for example, ask yourself if, as child, being assertive was discouraged. The aspects of others we dislike often reflect a part of ourselves we’ve rejected. Swan refers to the divided parts of ourselves as our ‘inner twins’, and bringing them into awareness can be very healing.
2. CULTIVATE COMPASSION
Poke a sea anemone with your finger and if instantly recoils in on itself. It’s the same with shame – something Swan describes as the mechanism of fragmentation, or the process by which we learn to cut off from ourself. When we feel shame, we blush, feel small, wish we were invisible or even physically retreat. Because shame comes from a preverbal era, when we took the cue to our sense of self from how others reacted to us rather than an innate knowledge of who we were, the key to healing in the second pillar of loneliness is to accept feelings of shame and cultivate self compassion. If this doesn’t come naturally, try empathising first with another’s suffering, suggests Swan. Sometimes, the simple act of recognising your compassion for another can open the door to more tender feelings towards yourself. Another tip is to collect items that make you feel better about yourself and store them in a special place – certificates, photographs of you doing something you enjoyed or were proud of, cards from loved ones, a list of your achievements and strengths. When you need reminding of your worth, open the box and take a look.
3. FACE YOUR FEARS
As with shame, fear – the third pillar of loneliness – cuts you off from yourself as well as from others. Instead of avoiding your fears, embrace them and give them a voice, because they have something to teach you. When Swan made her deepest fear a priority, learning what she most needed and meeting those needs consistently, her fear began to recede. What’s more, she felt less alone. As well as making self-care a priority, Swan advises accepting your anxieties. Instead of frying to banish them, be fully in the present moment, notice your bodily sensation and breathe. Then reaffirm your commitment to be present for yourself – voice your opinion; say, ‘no’ when you need to; be tender and caring towards yourself if that’s what you need most right now; and don’t be afraid to push yourself a little harder if need be. If you never abandon yourself, you can never really be lonely.
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