It is difficult to shake the feeling of being judged, especially if the only person physically around to depend on is ourselves.
A few years back, my family and I were out having lunch at a busy restaurant when I saw a woman sitting by herself.
I remember feeling a sense of pity for her and thinking she must be so lonely and have no family. I knew absolutely nothing about this woman, or her family situation, or her life, period. The only thing I did know was that it made me uncomfortable to see her be alone.
Here’s the thing: it is easy to project our own fears onto others without recognizing that the baggage is ours. That was my case.
In my past, I was the person with the perpetual need to be with someone in all social situations. It was like a clawing apprehension, an unattractive clinging that pulled me to others for support. I could run errands and do things I needed to do, but anything “social” was off-limits.
I depended on others to experience life, because it was unimaginable to go out on my own. Go by myself to see a band I’ve been dying to see? Yeah, right (insert sarcasm here).
What I did not recognize was that it was fear—fear of being alone and fear of being judged. Needless to say, I had a wavering sense of self and a lack of self-confidence.
Then, I had a life-changing experience when I learned the difference between being lonely and being alone. For years, I used them interchangeably, and normally as a synonym for “loser.” It is easy to distort the two and mistake one for the other, and although the two may intersect at different points and at random times, such as having coffee by ourselves and noticing the loving couple in front, they are two separate things.
Being lonely is a state of mind. It is a feeling of isolation—it feels as though something is missing, and, most importantly, it can submerge you even when surrounded by family or friends.
Being alone is a state of being. It is feeling comfortable being and doing things by and for yourself.
I did a lot of internal work to understand and work through the former, which increased my comfort level with the latter. I worked on having the confidence to go hiking alone, to go to the movies alone, to eat at restaurants alone, and, just recently, to travel alone. While I may still feel some uneasiness, I am at a point where I can push through it and, in turn, have reaped awesome benefits. I’ve learned to be self-reliant, I’ve learned to listen to myself, I’ve learned how to connect to others, I’ve learned independence, I’ve improved my self-confidence, and, most importantly, I’ve developed a sense of self.
It may sound unbelievable that simply doing things on our own would lead to such a life-changing experience. But, when we take the time to be with ourselves and do the things that we want to do, we are honoring and respecting ourselves. It gives us time to gather our thoughts, our feelings, and to enjoy our own company.
There is still a social stigma around doing things on our own—we are, after all, social beings and live in a society pressured by constant communication and interaction with others. Because of this, it is now even more essential to take time to know and take care of ourselves. Balance is key. Social stimulation is as important as solitude to recenter and refocus our mind.
Plus, there are benefits.
We get to do things we want to do. How many times have we missed out on a concert, or a show, or a movie because no one wanted to go? Imagine a life without limitations on what we do or when we do it—it is empowering and a huge step into freedom.
Doing things alone will also help build self-confidence, it is good for the soul, it builds self-awareness, and it starts to untangle the web of feeling self-conscious in public places and social situations. Of course, this all takes time and effort, but no success is achieved without trying.
If the thought of going out alone terrifies you, start small and go for a walk, take a short hike, or go sit at a coffeehouse. Once that is done, take the next step and go to a movie, a play, or even a short trip alone. It does get easier with each activity, and every time we challenge ourselves, it will build up that confidence level.
One last thing: it is normal to hear the negative script, such as, what will they think of me or what will they say? In my experience, I have found that most people are more concerned about themselves than they are about others. Even if they do, they may be thinking, wow, they are here alone, I wish I could do that!
A year ago, I was having dinner with a friend when I mentioned that I often hiked alone. She was so astonished as if I had said something unusual. And, her response made me feel grounded, comfortable, and independent.
I wish that for all of us.