Last week, I started to talk about the fear of aloneness that David Richo focuses on in this section of the book. This week, I want to talk about it a little more in depth and on a level that is more focused on personal growth. In addition to laying the foundation for the next section of the book, it seems like David Richo is spending time talking about this fear because it relates to one of the four truths of existence: We are ultimately alone. Being fearful of that aloneness (working against it) can tax our ability to fully engage in this life.
How do we know if we experience this fear? After understanding it further, I would say that we all experience it to some degree. Do you experience anxiety about handling something on your own? Do you get uncomfortable feeling the full strength of your feelings? What is it like when you are alone when there is nothing you have planned to do? What is it like when you are single and have no prospects? What is it like for you to tell someone what you really think, how you really feel, what you really want? I could probably come up with more questions, but if there is some discomfort in any of these areas, this fear is probably present to some degree. Look, right now, I’m not talking about debilitating fear. I am talking about really going to another level in your fully functioning life. This is about growth not crisis intervention.
How did that fear get there? David Richo talks about several different ways this could have happened. First is that our strengths were not mirrored in early life. I talked about a more extreme form of this in last week’s post Helicopter Parenting. Another way this fear could have developed is if you were told that your feelings did not matter. David Richo says that “this is a direct attack upon your lively energy” (p.71). I think he means that they are an important part of our nature and we need them in order to be fully functioning, healthy human beings. They are not an outdated body part like the appendix or wisdom teeth! Another way is if you were “continually sent away, even sent to your room, when you were ‘bad’” (p.71). Of course, parents are trying to manage behavior, I get it. But, it could have created a link in your mind between isolation and being “bad”, especially if there weren't other times where you spent time alone as a child. Finally, David Richo says that this fear is more likely to develop in children who experienced “long periods of boredom or lack of stimulation, when parents left [the child] to [their] own devices rather than providing an environment to enliven [their] powers and activate [their] potential” (p. 71).
What do we do with the fear or anxiety that comes with being alone? David Richo says that “to deal with aloneness, a good rule of thumb is to stay with yourself; do not abandon yourself” (p. 74). Do you notice a theme in all of his recommendations? Stay with it. Just for one minute longer than you can. A teacher from a meditation class once said that bringing your mind back from wandering during meditation is like doing a “mental push up”. Each time you do that, your focus and concentration gets stronger. Well, staying with your feelings for a minute longer than you think you can is like a “push up” for your internal strength. Pretty soon, you will start to see that you won’t need to push away your feelings, you can have them, let them pass by and survive! Yup, then you can actually utilize all of the internal programs you already have to deal with human life.
In the same way, being able to tolerate this fear of being alone and not filling everything up with attention outside of yourself, you will ultimately see that 1) you have everything you need to make it through any situation already inside you 2) there is no separateness, being separate is actually an illusion. David Richo says: “When you finally stand alone as yourself, a companion appears, spiritual or corporeal. An inner partnership begins to happen between yourself and the world” (p. 75). In this partnership, you get to create your life, you are not working to survive fear or subterranean, unconscious pain. Your internal resources are free to do so much more than survive.
I wish I could be more specific about the benefit of this practice, of confronting this fear of being alone. But, the outcome is different for everyone because everyone has something different that they want to create in this life. For now, just know that the “loneliness itself is actually the signal of a wound that is already healing” (p. 74). Stay with it one minute longer. David Richo says: “you do not leave but stay with a child who tells you his nightmare over and over. The work is just this tender” (p. 75).
*This post is written in response to a section in David Richo's book "When Love Meets Fear: Becoming Defense-Less and Resource-Full".