Why I can’t stand me, myself and I

I delve into my past to uncover and unpack why I view being alone so negatively. If you want to hear about influential exes, life transitions and societal expectations, then this one’s for you!

I never know how to explain it to people. “Oh yeah, I love my own company, but only when I’m working or have tasks to get on with!”

“I love my own company, but only when it’s for less than 24 hours, otherwise I feel like I’ll never see anyone again!”

“I love my own company, but only when I’m exhausted and need a break from people all together!”

I’ve always wanted to be one of those bad b’s that doesn’t rely on anyone else to feel good, but unfortunately, I’ve fallen into negative habits of associating being alone, with being a loser. The idea of spending 24 hours without a meaningful social interaction fills me with complete and utter dread. Although I love my own company when I’m busy, the moment my life isn’t filled with a to-do list, I struggle to tolerate it.

Is it the pressure of everyone living it up on social media? Do I have a fear of abandonment? Is it the fact I did so much with my mum that I never spent time by myself? Trust me, I have tried to unpack the issue and challenge it, but the feeling of impending doom just won’t shift.

From the age of 18, I have always felt like I should be doing more with my social life. When I reflect back on the beginning of this feeling, it perfectly lines up with me getting into my first proper relationship, with a guy who literally couldn’t stand his own company. I remember at first, I thought he was silly for complaining about being alone and always filling his hours with friends, partying or work, but after a few months I felt his mindset rubbing off on me. 

I was constantly thinking of ways I could match his socialising. If he was out enjoying himself, I felt like I shouldn’t be deprived of the same experience. To make things worse, this guy was an absolute party animal, so I fell into the trap of drinking, festivals, fancy dinners and multiple holidays. I was on a constant chase to fit his expectations, and my bank account and sense of self was suffering for it. 

Before this point, I definitely would’ve classed myself as an introvert. I regularly declined plans to sit in the comfort of my own home, so I was genuinely surprised how far this social butterfly stint had gone. In the depths of it all, I really felt like I couldn’t make a decision for myself. I was left feeling insecure, lost and inadequate, especially because most of his ‘plans’ involved moving to Dubai, earning a shit ton of money or partying in Thailand for the summer.

Then came first year of University. We broke up and I gained a new group of besties who I could whole heartedly be myself around. We had a great time together and everything we did was for my own enjoyment, rather than trying to match the crazy lifestyle of someone else. But I still noticed that on a quiet day, behind closed doors, a sinking feeling would fill my stomach. The concept of 24 hours with no plans felt endless and empty, but I really couldn’t understand why.

Psychologist, Dr Deborah Gilman, explained that societal norms often emphasise social interaction and being busy, which can make solitude seem undesirable and unproductive. “People in their twenties often face unique challenges and are in the midst of life transitions that can make being alone uncomfortable. These pressures can lead to fear of missing out and a heightened desire for social validation and connection.

“The pervasive influence of social media can also amplify feelings of inadequacy or loneliness when comparing ourselves to others.” Deborah also emphasised that transitioning to a more independent environment, such as University, can cause feelings of loneliness. She said that anxiety can become more pronounced when without a distraction, and self-doubt may arise about life choices, relationships and changes.

So, it seems like all my circumstances created the perfect storm for struggling to sit in my own company. I not only feel the societal pressure to live my best life, but I’ve also adjusted to leaving home, meeting new people and ditching an ex who clearly had a huge influence on me. When I’ve spent so long convincing myself that I must live a certain way, trying to back track to my original mindset has proven difficult. 

The summer of 2023 was the first time I was truly forced to accept my own company since I was 18. I stayed working at my term-time job, but with all my friends going home or on their travels, I was left living alone. There was a lot of tears, anxiety and self-doubt, and I must’ve listened to almost every self-help podcast out there. I desperately entered my wellness era, starting hot yoga, reading, journaling and solo dating, to try and feel at one with my emotions. Although there was some improvement, I would still jump at the first chance of busyness, rather than sitting in my own thoughts. 

Deborah explained that solitude can actually be really beneficial and turn into a powerful catalyst for self-discovery and reflection. She recommends using alone time to set and review personal goals, engage in relaxing activities and challenge negative thoughts. “Focus on positive affirmations and keep a journal to track your achievements and growth. This can help shift your focus from comparison and onto personal progress.

“Regular mindfulness and meditation are also good for managing anxiety when alone. Techniques like deep breathing and guided imagery can calm the mind and allow for a deeper introspection.”

Now I’m 22, I have to admit, I’m no longer jealous of the unhinged club nights and drunken decisions. But my envy now lies with cinema dates, beach days and going for brunch, all of which I have tried on my own, but would enjoy more with someone beside me. I am still on a journey to feel less guilty about solidarity and learn to thrive in the peacefulness of it. I have spent so many years worrying about what other people think, that I’m now using those criticisms against myself. My own company is the only one I’ll never lose, so why should I hate it? 

Expert insight: Dr Deborah Gilman

Deborah is the Owner and Chief Licensed Psychologist at Fox Chapel Psychological service. She has worked with a wide range of people and is also a Mediator and Communications Coach who specialises in attachment.