Loneliness Part 2

One way to work on thinking patterns related to loneliness is to check the facts. Checking the facts is a skill in the emotion regulation section of Dr. Marsha Linehan’s DBT Skills Training Manual, 2nd Edition (Linehan, 2015). The idea is that we sometimes feel strong emotions partly because of how we are thinking of or interpreting situations in our lives. Checking the facts involves objectively observing and describing these situations, identifying our interpretations or assumptions, considering alternatives, and asking ourselves questions about whether our situation is as horrible or catastrophic as it may seem. When it comes to loneliness, it can be helpful to first identify the experience of loneliness, the emotions, and the thoughts that go along with it. Then, checking the facts involves objectively observing and describing the situation that seems to be bringing up feelings of loneliness. You might, for example, be alone watching television in your home, feeling intense loneliness. You might say, “It’s Thursday evening, 7 PM, and I am in my apartment with no one else around watching TV. I feel sad and lonely.” Another step would be to identify thoughts related to the situation. For example: “I don’t have anyone to spend time with. All I have to look forward to are many evenings sitting around alone. I will always be alone. Nobody would notice if I were to drop off the face of the earth.” Once these thoughts are identified, it can be helpful to think of alternative thoughts about the situation. You don’t always have to immediately believe the alternatives. Simply coming up with alternatives is a way to practice flexibility in your thinking. Indeed, some cognitive behavioural therapists believe that the most important outcome of cognitive therapy is greater flexibility in thinking. Some alternatives to these thoughts could include, “I’m fortunate to have leisure time to watch my favourite show. I have close friends and loved ones who love and respect me even if I’m not with them right now. Although I don’t like being alone, this gives me an opportunity to learn how to simply be with myself. Just because I’m alone this evening doesn’t mean I  will always be alone. I can handle being alone this evening, and I’m going to try to make the most of it.” Many of these alternatives involve what we call reappraisal, or thinking about the difficulty of a situation in a different way. Reappraisal also can involve thinking differently about your ability to cope with a situation. If you struggle with loneliness, as we all do from time to time, see if it helps to first identify feelings and thoughts related to loneliness, and then observe and describe the situation, and try to use the skill of checking the facts to reappraise the situation. See if this takes the edge off the loneliness and maybe even opens up opportunities that you hadn’t noticed. ~Alexander L. Chapman