Many people say that they are lonely during the Christmas holidays. This complaint may seem strange to those of us who party, have good times with family members, and enjoy the crowds. But loneliness can be a painful, even debilitating, experience. I have a few suggestions on how to deal with it.
If you are lonely or actually alone during the holidays, one sure and fairly easy solution is to be with someone else who is lonely. There are many children aching for someone to be with them in the holidays. You can probably find them in your neighborhood, or you can be sure to be of service in a local hospital, where many people lie in the beds wishing they could be home or with friends. The big secret about serving your community is that you benefit from being involved and connected. Your loneliness may well diminish or go away entirely.
A second solution is to understand that emotions you have today usually have roots in the past. You can think about past holidays when something may have happened to upset you. It isn’t unusual at all for a previous disturbing experience to return at the same time of year to make you feel lonely and miserable. But the current feeling is connected to another time and place. That’s what makes some holiday loneliness strange and difficult to deal with. It would be best if you could tell someone you trust the story of what happened. Sometimes the mere telling helps clarify what is going on a diminish the power of the mood.
A third possibility is what I call, “going with the symptom.” If you are lonely or alone, maybe you could find a way to tweak that situation so you can get some benefit from it. You could use your solitary time to enjoy things that you like: listen to music, get yourself a gift, or eat the food you like. Turn your painful solitude into enjoyable solitude.
You may be particularly lonely at Christmas time because you see many other people having fun with each other. Or you may miss people who are no longer in your life. Or maybe you miss your old home or the place where you used to live. You may long for good times that you remember, but can’t be resurrected now.
This feeling might indicate that it’s time to make a new life and to be happy where you are. You might also look closely at those memories of former good times that upset you. Is there something about them, some quality that you can bring into your life today without the actual people and circumstances of long ago?
Avoiding the Abyss
Loneliness can also be largely internal. You may be lonely because there isn’t enough going on in your life in general, and that feeling of emptiness may become sharper during the highly social holiday season. You may need an inner social life: more variety of interests and ways of being. If all you do is work at your job, then you are setting yourself up for loneliness. Everyone needs a community of persons inside them, doing different things, enjoying life.
If you often get lonely during the Christmas holidays, you can prepare yourself. The alternative is to be passive and wallow in your emotion. You have to take an active role with all emotions, or else they will get the better of you.
It’s important not to be pulled down into the abyss of your emotion. Either resist strongly or go with it creatively. Your loneliness is painful, but it may contain a message or meaning that will enrich your life.
Sometimes psychological symptoms are signs of what you need. So you can pay attention to them, read them for hidden meanings, and talk about them for insight. You don’t develop psychologically without effort and understanding. The worst thing is to do nothing and let the emotion ruin your life.
Christmas is a dark time of year with the promise of light. There is message for you in your dark loneliness. It’s only natural that light will arrive and the darkness fade away. Be natural, be organic with your emotion. Be with it, but not swamped by it. Take it as a hint that you need to be in the darkness for a while, knowing that light will return.
Thomas Moore is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Care of the Soul and Soul Mates, as well as other books on deepening spirituality and cultivating soul in every aspect of life. He has been a monk, a musician, a university professor, and a psychotherapist, and today he lectures widely on holistic medicine, spirituality, and psychotherapy. He has PhD in religion from Syracuse University.