I can recall with great detail the distress I used to experience when I needed to spend time alone. Most of the time, even an hour was difficult, let alone an entire day or evening. I didn’t understand at the time, but there was a lot going on that contributed to my inability to tolerate others going away, and of course, it was complex.
In the thick of my experience with borderline personality disorder symptoms, I was contending with some very specific inner experiences that contributed to the intolerance:
- a history of being abandoned by the people I counted on and loved and therefore a fear that this behavior would be repeated by others
- an absence of a sense of self
If you can relate to any of the above issues, read on…
So first we have the history of abandonment and rejection that became a part of how I navigated the world. I was living in fear that people I loved, if I allowed them to do things on their own or to spend time away from me, would stop loving me and would leave me. They’d “see the light,” I was sure, and not come back. This terrified me, and of course it was a distorted, extreme thought based on past, very painful experiences. I sat there and imagined how horrible it would feel if they left me.
The one and ONLY way I overcame this aspect of suffering was to actually experience, in increasing amounts of time, separation from loved ones. I needed to see that they would come back. In order to do that, I needed to give them the opportunity to go somewhere first. This was so difficult. At first I cried myself sick due to anxiety and distress. Nowadays, although it’s still difficult to part with loved ones, very short-term absences such as them going to work or being away for half a day are totally manageable. Them going away for longer periods of time is more challenging, but I handle it much more in stride. A few tears, then I am able to pull myself together and get on with things until they return. No more going into crisis and crying myself sick. I realized it did nothing to change the situation and only left me with more unnecessary suffering to react in this way. I learned to respond rather than react.
Secondly is the piece about identity. Although it wasn’t clear to me at the time, I behaved much like a chameleon. I morphed my mood, behavior, and personality, in fact, to those around me. With no one around me, I experienced a scary, empty feeling — almost as if I didn’t exist. It wasn’t until I learned Dialectical Behavior Therapy that I began to discover who I was aside from anyone else. As I grew in that confidence, this helped substantially with being able to tolerate being alone.
How about you? Is this an issue for you or was it at some time?
How are you/did you cope effectively?
My hope is that by reading this experience, you will be encouraged that you, too, can overcome the issue of being on your own. Perhaps, like me, you’ll even begin to enjoy some time all to yourself.
Thanks for reading.