How To Deal With Post Break Up Loneliness
After a painful breakup, it almost impossible not to be broadsided with powerful feelings of loneliness.
You have may have spent so much time with this person, that now you feel there is a lot of empty time left now since that person is no longer in your life.
You might feel real anxious by yourself now that your ex isn’t around, and if you are thinking about her all the time it might feel like nothing is fulfilling without that person around.
First of all you it’s very possible you are going to continue to feel lonely for a while, whether you are finding comfort with your friends or not.
There are several things going on here at the same time, which might make the loneliness you are feeling right now particularly intense.
What Is Loneliness?
When I began to really look into how different men and women handle breakups one thing popped out at me. At first it seemed trivial, but now I see how important it really was.
Men, in general, have less close ties to their family and friends, so often right after a break up the void left behind is actually bigger and more painful for men. Yeah, I know, surprising to me too.
Women are far more social creatures than we are in general. It has been shown that women pick up on social cues better than men do and are more capable of empathic behavior than men are.
When going through a breakup women usually have a bigger group of confidents and friends to fall back on, helping to ease the pain of loneliness.
For us guys on the other hand it seems like a lot of us are attached to this idea of rugged individualism and we tend to keep the pain to ourselves.
If you were really struck by loneliness after your break up it might also be because when you were in the relationship you stopped making new friends or you let existing friendships go stale.
Your Ancestors Were Never Lonely
Pretend you were at the zoo and you saw two exhibits side by side; one of a Bengal tiger in a habitat by itself and another one with an Emperor penguin also by itself. I’m going to guess that something should strike you as odd about one of them.
If you have grown up watching the average 2-4 hours of television per weeknight that is common in most English speaking countries, the exhibit with the penguin should strike you as strange because it’s all by itself.
In fact, if you were a penguin expert, you would probably notice that the penguin was acting strange. He would seem to have no interest in food and sex, have trouble sleeping, and seem confused and nervous.
He would probably seem like he was having the bird equivalent of a depression.
In fact, if the zookeepers kept him like that, there is very good chance he would die.
The same pretty much goes for humans. It isn’t a coincidence that solitary confinement is used as punishment in prisons.
The more research that is done on the human mind, the more we are seeing that we are hard-wired for social interaction. And not just social interaction, but meaningful emotional connections to others.
Because you can still feel lonely if you are around people with whom you don’t have meaningful connection with… In fact many people in the modern world live this way. People often still fill isolated at their jobs and even if they are surrounded by people all day long.
Although it is universal emotion, people often assume that it means bad things about themselves if they are feeling it. As it turns out, like jealousy, loneliness is a basic feeling that all humans have for a very good reason.
If you stop and think about it, there is no word for the opposite of loneliness. Just like there is no word for “not in pain”.
That’s because “not in pain” is how things normally are, and when you feel pain it’s your body telling you there is something wrong.
When we don’t have enough of those kinds of connections, our emotional mind starts signaling to us that something is wrong.
That’s because in a very real way, something is wrong. At least in for your ancestors there would have been.
Let’s go back to our ancestors on the plains of Africa a few hundred thousands of years ago.
Imagine what it was like living in a tribe of roughly 150-200 people your whole life, from birth to death.
Well, first of all, your standing in the group was often fixed for a very long time, if not your entire lifetime. You not only knew everything about everybody, but everyone knew everything about you. Everyday involved you being around people who really know you inside and out, since birth.
Being well established in the group was the norm and one thing you would have never seen very often was a lonely human. That’s because in those times, most often a lonely human was a dead one.
If for some reason you were ostracized from your tribe, that meant something was very wrong. Without the support of your group you were very likely to die of starvation or get eaten by a predator.
The feeling of loneliness is our minds way of signaling to us that we are in dangerous place and that we need to get back with the group.
It’s a different kind of signal than pain. It’s mostly a subtle kind of anxiety that can flare up here and there, even though we may not know what’s going on.
A Very Specific Kind Of Loneliness
Feeling lonely is not just about being alone, it’s about the level of trust, comfort and connection you have with the people you are with. Just imagine the difference in how you feel at a Thanksgiving party with family vs. a party with a room full of people you don’t know.
So chances are the relationship between you and your girlfriend was far more intimate than the 90% of the other relationships you have, if not all them.
What happens during romance really is powerful, and the bond that forms most of the time isn’t something you can go immediately get somewhere else.
Now that you have broken up with your ex, you don’t have that level of connection, or it’s seriously degraded, so now it’s as if you went from having a level 10 of intimacy in your life to a level 3.
It’s pretty hard not to feel that difference, and this is precisely why an intense kind of loneliness doesn’t necessarily go away when you are around close friends and family right after you and your ex girlfriend separated.
How Loneliness Distorts The Mind
Feeling lonely doesn’t just feel bad though. It actually changes the way that we look at the world and at the people around us.
In recent studies they have show that people who feel lonely on a chronic basis are often more afraid of social situations, are less trustful of other people, are more negative and have less self control.
Now, just reading that one may think that those people don’t sound like that much fun to be around so it makes sense that they would be lonely right?
Well here is the kicker. It’s more of a catch 22. People who often feel lonely, first of all don’t know that they are lonely, and they often want and need social interaction as much as anyone else.
People become more mistrustful and more negative because they are lonely… they aren’t lonely because they are unpleasant to be around.
This becomes a feedback loop as well. Relief from loneliness requires being around other people and developing close connections, though ironically if we are lonely, this becomes harder to do.
Now that you are newly single, this is an important part of your life to start really focusing on. It’s very tempting to jump into another relationship to alleviate the loneliness you are feeling.
Female friends are great for this time. Sex is great for this time, but getting into another relationship at this point would be like competing in a sporting event without having the training you need.
So chances are if you are heartbroken or getting over an ex, you aren’t at your best and so you probably aren’t going to attract the best.