In Dr. Paul Standal’s practice, he specializes in helping his clients deal with the experience of being single again due to the sudden termination of relationship, whether through divorce, breakup or widowhood.
Perhaps the most difficult feeling he helps clients manage as being newly single is their loneliness. Being or feeling alone isn’t being or feeling lonely. Loneliness is characterized by that deep sense of emptiness that comes from a collapse of a regard complex. It is akin to a psychological or relational black hole. It happens at those times when we feel no love and feel disconnected from others. It is in some ways a protest from our deeper self that needs to give and receive positive regard. Since we are built to connect through genuine positive regard, loneliness cannot be filled by frenetic social interactions or activities. The emptiness of loneliness is unfortunately only resolved by the process of finding and celebrating the internal “Golden Kernel” we have within us, and revitalizing our ability to give and receive the love that is around us. Part of Dr. Standal’s work is to help his clients find that deep sustenance within themselves, and to reconnect with the positive regard for self that all of us possess.
Living a lifestyle as a single person is no longer considered taboo. It has become a lifestyle choice for many in our modern culture. Being single has expanded beyond that short period of time between the parental home and marriage or the period of loss and grief or fear after a divorce, relationship termination or widowhood. It is a time of excitement, growth, pro-social interaction, and freedom to be fully oneself.
Our natural, evolutionary wiring certainly pulls us to connect with others. When we find ourselves newly alone after a relational loss, there is the deep fear and panic that can set in. We may have paradoxical feelings, both exhilarating in our freedom and independence, but also deeply depressed in our sense of emptiness, searching for a sense of ourselves that we have lost. Being single is both a blessing and a curse. Inevitably, we must face ourselves alone and vulnerable to regain a sense of personal meaning.
Certainly for those who are newly single there is more freedom of choice, but this freedom also brings on a lack of structure. We have to create structure in our lives in order to bring meaning. Without structure, we experience a sense of uncertainty that leads inevitably to increased anxiety. You may end up confused, and even paralyzed, by the number of choices and decisions that you face that may have been shared in the past with a significant other. Learning to be self-sufficient requires us to define what our priorities are, what our needs and wants are and to get them into our life in a satisfying manner through our own efforts. We become totally responsible for ourselves and finding within ourselves the resources to anticipate and get our needs met.
This self-responsibility is liberating because we are free to expand our spectrum of life experiences, choosing new life roles and exploring new options at our own pace without the judgments of others. This freedom is also burdensome because we can no longer blame or project our self-perceived limitations and life challenges onto someone other than ourselves. Particularly for the newly single, there can be tendency to get out of balance in one’s life, working too hard, playing too hard, and/or dealing with this transition through compulsive behaviors. Remaining mindful of our need for healthy balance, looking towards our healthy self interest is, in the long run, a tremendous source of growth and personal empowerment. We need to be mindful also, as we proceed through it, that it can become a sources of self-recrimination and self-sabotage and loss of self-esteem.
The transition into a single life is a hazardous one, because we deal with the grief and pain of our loss while having to learn or take on additional roles and tasks. Often you may find your social life turned asunder, especially if your primary support system or extended family, having been a source of connection, is no longer supportive. At the very time you feel overwhelmed, you may be running on emotional empty with few resources. The old ways of doing things have become inappropriate and our emotional condition gets in the way of developing new habits and new support systems.
It is important to remember that, though you are in a crisis, this will pass with the growth of new strengths and opportunities as you move through it. This is the time to remember to take care of yourself. As they say in the safety discourse given before you take off in an airplane: “Make sure you put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on anyone else.” At a time that you may be most self-critical or self judging, it is most important to be kind to yourself by letting yourself feel your grief, anger, and fear and by loving yourself in many ways. You can do this by eating nourishing food, resting, taking a long bath, and engaging in activities that you previously enjoyed whenever you had time to yourself. These are all ways of expressing self-love.
It is important to legislate and celebrate any wins in your life. It is common to feel helpless and hopeless in this rebirth to a new lifestyle. Feelings of ending the pain and thoughts of suicide are common. If you feel this way, it is a signal to get an outside reality check and to certainly contact Dr. Standal or bring this up in session. If things get really critical, you need to go to the emergency room for assistance.
What is Hell? Hell is oneself.
Hell is alone; the other figures are merely projections.
There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to.
One is always alone.
~ Thomas Elliot
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