We’re Scared To Be Alone
But it’s not as horrifying as you might think.
Last night, I did something that my younger self would have never thought I’d voluntarily do without feeling at least a bit anxious on the inside. I ate dinner at my school’s dining hall alone.
Completely alone, without any company, because all of my friends have busy schedules and the majority live off-campus, while my roommate had already eaten dinner because she was just too hungry from the long day.
I have eaten at the dining hall alone countless times, but only for breakfast when it isn’t as crowded. But it can get quite packed towards the latter half of the day when everyone else is awake.
For the past few years, my greatest fear when eating alone in a public place is not being able to find a seat. If I walk into the dining hall alone and I find that nearly every single table and seat is occupied, I might experience an acute panic attack.
I would then be placed in a very awkward situation where I would have no choice but to wait until someone leaves their seat. Similar to driving into a full parking lot, where you could either wait or leave and not be able to park where you wanted to.
And with awkwardly waiting in front of everyone to find a seat to enjoy your food, comes the false sense of attention. That EVERYONE, regardless of what they are doing, is staring right at you, at that very moment when you realize that you cannot find a seat to yourself and blend in with the crowd.
This feeling, depending on how comfortable you are with attention suddenly brought to you without any warning, could just be a nuisance, or could even be so crippling that you’d avoid all public places completely.
Psychology Today describes this phenomenon, known as the spotlight effect, as “the tendency to think that more people notice something about you than they [actually] do”.
I first learned about this during high school freshman year, when I told one of my friends that walking across the cafeteria at lunchtime made me uncomfortable because I felt like everyone was staring at me, and that’s when she briefly told me about the spotlight effect.
Even today, I am still working on overcoming this crippling psychological phenomenon. For this reason, you will never see me walk into class or anywhere else late.
I am typically at the place I need to be at, at least 10 minutes before the class starts, to dodge the spotlight effect (since most people usually make it near or right on the dot), and to guarantee myself a seat once I arrive.
This is just a microcosm of what all of us experience in our everyday lives, particularly when we are of schooling age and expected to be constantly surrounded by company.
Whether it is all your best friends huddled together about to watch the newest release at the movie theater, or you and your significant other having a romantic night out at the restaurant that everyone is hyped about, we are socially expected to always be in touch with others, but never with ourselves.
And even if we are alone for just a short period of time, the vast majority of us are still virtually with other people, whether it be through numerous social media apps, messaging platforms, or just playing mindless mobile or computer games by ourselves.
All of these contemporary technological activities that everyone engages in at least to some degree throughout their day is in an effort to distract and detach ourselves from being completely alone with our thoughts.
Contrary to what society thinks about being alone, that being alone implies that you are some sort of social outcast that no one wants to talk to or befriend, it might be the best thing that you could do for yourself.
Yes, making lasting connections with others is important and is crucial to our development, especially our interpersonal skills, but being alone and LIKING your own company, who you are, and what you are capable of is a complete game-changer for anyone willing to put in the time and will to do so.
To like yourself is to accept the main person in your life: you. Your family and friends are not going to be with you 24/7, and sometimes life gets so busy that you might even temporarily lose touch with them. You are the only person who you will always be with, no matter what stage you are in the great realm of life.
So why not take some time to do some of the things that you love to do, alone? Step away from all those electronic devices, or if you really can’t, step away from any app that encourages mindless scrolling, communication, or mind-numbing entertainment.
Any social media, messaging, gaming, and online streaming app falls under this category. But really, take some time to temporarily cut yourself off from the world, and focus on yourself, even if it is just for a few minutes.
Look at the world differently through your lens without relying on others. And I promise you, if you keep doing this for a long period, you will definitely come to find out that being alone might not be easy at first, but it is probably the best investment that you will ever make in yourself.