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S2 EP162 – Addictions and the Lessons of Loneliness

Episode Summary

Addictive behavior is often an attempt to avoid the deeply painful feeling of loneliness, heartbreak and helplessness concerning others and outcomes. Unmanaged feelings of loneliness can get you off track and into addictive behavior. You can learn to move beyond addictions and stay open hearted and connected with yourself, others and spirit by being open to learning the vital lessons of loneliness. 


Hi everyone. Dr. Margaret Paul here with the Inner Bonding podcast. Today I want to talk about loneliness and the many lessons we can learn from embracing our feeling of loneliness rather than avoid this feeling with our various addictions.

My experience from years of counseling individuals and couples is that most of the problems from which we suffer stem from how we handle the painful events of life, including loneliness, rather than the events themselves.

Certainly traumatic and tragic events such as loss of loved ones, financial loss, and health issues are extremely challenging. However, some people manage to move through these events with equanimity, while others remain stuck in fear, anxiety, anger, and depression. The difference is in how you handle deeply painful feelings.

As adults most people will do almost anything to avoid feeling the deeper core painful feelings of life, such as loneliness, heartbreak, grief, and helplessness over others and events. 

Loneliness can be triggered by numerous situations, such as:

  • Loss of a loved one.
  • Not having a partner, family, or friends with whom to share time and love.
  • Being around others but being closed off to them due to your own self-abandonment.
  • Being around others when they are closed off to you.

Other than a traumatic loss, being around others that are closed off to you is often the most challenging in everyday life, and this can occur throughout the day. For example, you walk into work happy and open. You greet your friend, and he or she barely responds to you. If you are truly open to your own feelings, you will feel a stab of loneliness. Yet most people are so closed off to this feeling that they immediately attempt to avoid the feeling with some kind of addictive behavior. They might grab a donut while shaming or blaming themselves or the other person – telling themselves that they must have done something wrong or that their friend is a jerk. These addictive behaviors are geared to protect against feeling the pain of the loneliness. And they work for the moment to appease the feeling, but the feeling doesn’t actually go away. It just goes deeper within and may eventually cause physical symptoms, such as back pain or some form of illness.

When you receive a cold response from your friend, not only do you have the stab of loneliness, but you also feel the pain of helplessness over your friend’s behavior. You cannot make him or her connect with you. However, because this is such a difficult feeling, you don’t want to know that you can’t have control over others or over the outcome of things. To avoid knowing about your lack of control, you may shame yourself: “It’s my fault. If I do things right, I can get others to like me.” Or you might blame your friend, attempting to get him or her to change. Both shame and blame are attempts to avoid accepting helplessness over others.

Once you turn to addictive behaviors such as food, alcohol, drugs, activities, shame, and blame, you have abandoned yourself. In attempting to avoid feeling the loneliness, heartbreak, and helplessness, you have created inner aloneness from your self-rejection and self-abandonment. Self-abandonment occurs when your intent is to avoid pain rather than lovingly attend to your authentic feelings. The combination of avoiding loneliness, and the aloneness that comes from inner abandonment, can lead to anxiety, depression, and despair. People then often turn to prescription drugs to further avoid their feelings.

When you embrace these feelings with much compassion rather than avoiding them with various addictions, you will be surprised about how quickly then will move through you. Then you can open to learning about the lessons of loneliness.

I experience moments of loneliness frequently – there is no way to avoid this feeling. Nor do I want to avoid it, as I have learned that this feeling has powerful information for me. It lets me know in an instant whether the person I am encountering is open hearted or closed-hearted. I have come to deeply value this feeling as a direct message from my soul – my inner source of guidance.

Your loneliness may be a message that you need to change something specific in your life. You will be motivated to make these changes only when you have the courage to feel your loneliness and see what it is telling you. While operating out of your addictions, you are not seeking to truly give and connect with others – you are just trying to take away your loneliness and aloneness. But if you feel your loneliness and learn the lessons of loneliness, it can motivate you to move out of your addictions so you can see the truth of what is happening within yourself and your relationships.

One of the major lessons of loneliness for me has been learning that I no longer have to protect myself against feeling lonely; it is a very manageable feeling when I am connected with my higher guidance so that I am not alone in my loneliness. Until Inner Bonding, I used my addictions to busyness, anger, judgments, worry, food, work, being a victim, caretaking and compliance, explaining, defending, and debating, and righteousness, to protect myself from feeling my loneliness. I couldn’t see that these were addictions until I was willing to feel the loneliness that they were covering. I now find that the addictions feel worse than the loneliness.

Now I welcome the feeling of loneliness because of the information it gives me about myself and others – about whether my heart is open or closed and whether others are open or closed.  The feeling of loneliness in my personal relationships lets me know that I might need to open to learning with the person, or lovingly disengage to do my own inner work – to either explore why my heart might be closed, or to compassionately embrace the loneliness and let my inner child know that she isn’t alone – that I’m here and that I understand what she’s feeling, and I’m bringing Divine love to her.

The feeling of loneliness with a client lets me know that they are closed and that I’m lonely with them because I can’t connect with them. This is vital information for me regarding my ability to help them. I can help them to explore the good reasons they are closed – the false beliefs they are operating from – which can help them to feel safe enough to open and do the healing work they want to do.

Before I was willing to feel my loneliness, I would close my heart in the face of others closing theirs and become irritated or judgmental. Now I am compassionate with myself and others when this happens. Embracing my own loneliness enables me to understand and feel compassion for the fears that drive people to close their hearts.

Another lesson loneliness can teach us is gratitude for our journey here on this planet. Since loneliness, heartbreak, grief, and helplessness concerning others and events are the most difficult feelings to feel, they provide us with the most profound opportunities to evolve our soul in our ability to love ourselves and others. When we embrace these painful existential feelings as challenging gifts – rather than something to be avoided – we can feel grateful for the opportunity to be here on this planet and learn the lessons of love we came here to learn.

Gratitude opens our heart, opening us to receiving a direct experience of our guidance. When we open to our guidance, we can then open to learning to love ourselves, which then opens the door to learning to have wonderful loving relationships with others. The more we learn to lovingly manage loneliness, grief, heartbreak, and helplessness concerning others, events, and outcomes, the more we will be able to stay open to learning with others, even in the face of fear. We will learn how to take loving care of ourselves rather than attempt to control others.

I did not always embrace my loneliness. In fact, I spent much of my life doing whatever I could to avoid the heartache and heartbreak of loneliness. As a very lonely only child, I learned to tune out my feelings with my many addictions. I also learned some relatively positive addictive ways of tuning out my feelings, such as becoming an avid reader and doing creative things. As a result of my various addictions, I didn’t even know I was lonely, which was likely lifesaving for me.

It wasn’t until I started to practice Inner Bonding that I began to understand the pain that I had been shutting out my whole life with my various addictions. As I began to open to my feelings for the first time in my life and to feel the deep loneliness that I had been avoiding, I had to come face to face with all these addictions.

It has taken me a long time to gradually let go of each of these addictions. Now I know that they were all cover-ups for the existential loneliness and helpless over others that will constantly be a part of my life. What has allowed me to move beyond my addictions is knowing how to manage and learn from the feelings of loneliness and helplessness.

Staying in Step 1 of Inner Bonding alerts me to the feelings before I go into an addiction. The moment I am aware of the heartache of loneliness, I acknowledge it – often out loud. I acknowledge that I am helpless over the other person being closed-hearted. I compassionately embrace my lonely child as a spiritually connected loving adult, thanking her for giving me this information. I get completely with her for a moment, just being with the feeling so that she knows she is not alone in her loneliness. I take a moment to feel the presence of love within me and all around me. Then I choose the willingness to release this feeling, asking spirit to take it and replace it with peace and acceptance. I feel it moving through me and out as I move back into inner peace.

All of this takes less than a minute. When I can’t do this, I go through the six steps of Inner Bonding until I can take this loving action.

This is the hope for moving beyond addictions, for staying open hearted and in connection with the love that is God and learning from loneliness rather than avoiding it. And this is essential for creating loving relationships.

In your relationships, do you accept the challenges that relationships provide, or do you avoid them and end up feeling lonely as a results of having no one with whom to share love?

In a session with my client, Karen, she said, “My inner child is lonely and wants to be in a relationship, but relationships are too hard. I feel like I don’t want to work that hard.”

“Are you ready to fully accept the loneliness of never being in a relationship?” I asked her.

“No,” she said, “that sounds too sad and awful. But why do relationships have to be so hard? I’ve worked on myself for years, yet even relationships with close friends are hard. It shouldn’t be that way.”

“Karen,” I said, “they are hard because most of us come from families where we did not see our parents or other caregivers being open to learning with each other, especially during conflict. We saw them get angry, give in, withdraw, resist, and turn to various addictions. So this is what most of us learned to do. Relationships challenge us to give up trying to control each other and instead open to learning with ourselves and each other, so we can share love. When two people are open to learning, relationships are not hard. What’s challenging is reaching the point where we can stay open to learning in the face of conflict. But why is this such a problem for you? Why don’t you want to do the deeper level of learning that relationships offer?

“I don’t want to get hurt,” she replied.

“Of course you don’t,” I said. “But doesn’t the loneliness of not being in a relationship hurt?”

“Yes, it hurts a lot,” she said. “But I’m so afraid of feeling even more hurt – of feeling heartbroken in a relationship. I can hardly stand it when a friend pulls away or gets angry. How could I manage it if a partner pulled away or got angry?”

I have shared the following quote in a previous podcast, but I’m going to share it again here since it is so applicable. This is one of my favorite quotes. It’s from The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Yes, I explained to Karen, most relationships are very challenging. But the truth is that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t avoid the hell of not sharing love, of being endlessly lonely, without accepting the challenge of relationships. 

Perhaps it would help to see the ‘work’ of relationships in a different light.

I see relationships as incredible opportunities to learn many things, such as:

  • Learning to define your own worth, rather than making a partner responsible for that.
  • Learning to take responsibility for your own feelings in the face of a partner’s rejection, withdrawal, anger, blame, or resistance.
  • Learning to not take a partner’s behavior personally.
  • Learning to accept what you cannot control – which is them – and control what you can – which is you.
  • Learning the great joy of shared love, laughter, growth, play, and creativity.
  • Learning the difference between caring and caretaking.
  • Learning to speak your truth without blame or judgment.
  • Learning to open to learning in conflict.
  • Learning to lovingly disengage when that is what is loving to you.
  • Learning to give from the heart, with no agenda.
  • Learning to be vulnerable enough to love with your whole heart and soul, and to be able to see the true beauty in a loved one.
  • Learning to make your feelings as important as your partner’s, and your partner’s feelings as important as yours.
  • Learning to know your true essence, through loving yourself and your partner in many different situations.
  • Learning to connect with your source of guidance, to enable you to keep your heart open in the face of relationship challenges.
  • Learning to manage the loneliness that is a part of all relationships.

For me, all this learning is what life is all about, but of course, to commit to learning through our relationships, we have to be willing to feel hurt at times. But for me, the hurt that occurs in our relationships is well worth the learning and sharing of love that can occur and hurts less than the pain of loneliness that Karen was complaining about.

My client, Mia, and I were having a Zoom session.

“My supervisor is almost always angry at me,” she said. “I got along so well with my previous supervisor, but I can’t seem to do anything right enough for this woman. I don’t know what the problem is, but I think maybe I’m really messing up. I used to think I was doing a good job, but now I’m not so sure.”

“Mia,” I said, ”there must be a good reason you are shaming and blaming yourself for this situation. What would you be feeling if you didn’t judge yourself?”

Mia thought for a minute and then quietly said, “Lonely… and my heart hurts.”

“Tell me more about these feelings,” I said to her.

“I can’t connect with her because she is so closed, and whenever I can’t connect with someone, I feel lonely and my heart hurts. But I think there is something wrong with me for feeling this way,” she said.

“So you would rather shame and blame yourself than trust your feelings of loneliness and heartache?” I asked.

“Oh!…” she said. “You know, I think I’ve been doing this most of my life! I think I do the same thing with Noah.” (Her husband)

“How does your inner little girl feel when you shame and blame her rather than compassionately embrace and learn from her loneliness and heartache?” I asked.

“She feels alone and unimportant and bad about herself,” Mia said.

“Mia, right how, open to your guidance and invite in compassion for the loneliness and heartache you feel when you can’t connect with someone. Be very kind and caring with your little girl. She has very good reasons for feeling lonely. Let her know that there is nothing wrong with her for her feelings, and that you are grateful to her for letting you know, with her loneliness and heartache, when someone is closed and uncaring. Can you do this?”

“Yes!” she said. “And it feels so much better – such a relief!”

Many of us learned to use shaming, blaming, anger, or withdrawal to protect against the loneliness and heartbreak of disconnection.

It is very important to validate for yourself how painful it is when you can’t connect with someone, especially someone important to you. But when you shame and blame yourself and distrust your own feelings, you disconnect from yourself, creating emptiness, aloneness, and feelings of abandonment inside.

Authentic heart-connection with another is one of the most joyous experiences in life. This heart-connection with parents or caregivers is vital for children to thrive. But, too often, we didn’t experience the level of connection we needed to thrive, and we learned to shame ourselves rather than feel the profound loneliness and heartbreak of this lack of connection. We move into adulthood seeking the connection that we lacked as children, hoping a partner or someone will fill our vital need for connection. 

As adults, we need to connect with our true soul self – our essence – and our spiritual source before we can authentically connect with another. When you abandon yourself, you will feel both alone and lonely.

And, it is only when you do connect with yourself and your source of love and truth that you can learn to manage the pain of disconnection with others without disconnecting from yourself with your addictive, self-abandoning behavior.

If you continue to feel badly about yourself, you might want to notice how often you shame yourself to protect against your feelings of loneliness, heartache and heartbreak, as well as over the very painful feeling of helplessness over others who are closed to connection with you.

You might want to start to notice that continuing to shame yourself creates the inner disconnection that leaves you feeling empty and abandoned. You might want to try embracing your loneliness, heartache, and helplessness with deep kindness toward yourself, and then notice how you feel. I guarantee you that you will start to feel much better about yourself, and you will find it easier to connect with others when you are willing to embrace your authentic feelings rather than continue to shame yourself. And you will receive the benefit of the important information that loneliness has for you about whether you are loving or abandoning yourself, and whether others are open or closed.

Take a moment to think back to your childhood and adolescence. How many times did you have experiences that led to you feeling rejected, betrayed, ridiculed or invisible? If you are like most people, you had many such experiences with parents, siblings, peers, teachers, professionals, or religious leaders.

When someone – especially someone who is important in a child’s life – behaves in a mean, rejecting, judgmental or dismissive way to that child, it’s devastating to the child. Until children develop their protections, they are very vulnerable to being hurt, and to the deep loneliness that results from others’ unloving behavior.

Becky was the first-born child to a powerful, successful, judgmental father. For the first two years of her life as an only child, Becky was daddy’s special little girl. But when her brother was born, Becky suddenly found herself being judged and dismissed by her father.

Becky was heartbroken. She could not understand why her father no longer loved her. She decided that there must be something wrong with her, so she went about learning how to be a perfect little girl to please her father. But she never again got his devoted love and attention.

As an adult, Becky found that she was constantly looking for a man who would treat her in the special way her father treated her before her brother was born. Becky felt happy only when she was being held in the tender way a loving father holds his daughter. She kept seeking a man who would heal her loneliness and heartbreak.

Becky found many men who would temporarily be the father to her that she was seeking, but each relationship ended leaving her feeling even more lonely and heartbroken. Eventually, the man would tire of her being a child and would move on. Each time a man left, Becky would feel depressed and desperate until she found another man to hold her.

Becky was deeply abandoning her own inner child in having sex to get the holding. Each time she betrayed herself by having sex to get held, she felt worse and worse about herself. Each time her boyfriend left, she had to take more and more prescription drugs to numb out the heartbreak and loneliness.

Becky was spending her life protecting against the loneliness of her childhood. Yet everything she did to protect against it brought it about.

In desperation, after being rejected one more time, Becky called me for help. In her work with me, she discovered the devastating heartbreak that happened with her father, which led to her addictive behavior with men. She wanted a healthy relationship and saw that she would never have one as long as she wanted her partner to be a father to her.

In doing her Inner Bonding work, Becky came to understand that, as an adult, it was her own behavior that was now causing her aloneness, loneliness, and heartbreak. Every time she gave her child away to a man, she was abandoning herself, just as her father had abandoned her. Her depression was no longer due to her father. It was being caused by her unloving, self-abandoning behavior toward herself.

Becky learned to imagine a very loving older man who would be with her, hold her, and deeply care about her. Each time she opened her heart to being tenderly loved by her guidance, she would feel the peace and joy that she had formerly felt only when being held by a man. Becky got a stuffed animal that represented her two-year old heartbroken lonely child and held her child while imagining herself being held by her guidance. Slowly, her deep aloneness, loneliness, and heartbreak got healed.

Until we each take on the responsibility of healing our childhood heartbreak, we will act out addictively in various ways to avoid the deep loneliness and heartbreak. We all have loneliness and heartbreak to heal, but it will never heal through addictive behavior. We can heal only by becoming a spiritually connected loving parent to our own inner child.

I invite you to join me for my 30-Day at-home Course: “Love Yourself: An Inner Bonding Experience to Heal Anxiety, Depression, Shame, Addictions and Relationships.”

And you can learn so much about loving yourself and creating loving relationships from my recent books:

And we have so much to offer you at our website at

I’m sending you my love and my blessings.

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