Have you been ignoring the signs of a toxic relationship because you’re too scared of feeling lonely if you break up?
Has co-dependency on your toxic partner clouded your mind?
And if you do eventually break up, you find that you’re feeling lonely and can’t stop thinking about him.
Food has no flavor and every song sounds sad. You never have even a moment’s rest from the heaviness in your chest.
Sometimes, you wonder what you are even here for.
If this happens every time you break up with someone and you only feel better around other people, you may have been in a toxic relationship, which leads to a life of loneliness and codependency.
And I feel you.
I have no family, no husband, no significant other, and maybe one friend.
Feeling absolutely at sea, utterly unmoored and adrift, pining back into the past for more connected, better, happier times was me, pretty much one hundred percent, for most of the past five years.
Since I’ve been widowed, how to get my life to feel anything close to right again has been a major question for me. A brief flirtation with a married man didn’t help.
Well…no. I can’t quite say that. It’s sent me on a learning quest, during which I discovered the concept of pathological loneliness.
What is pathological loneliness?
It’s basically loneliness on steroids. It’s loneliness that says that unless and until you find the right sort of support in your life, you will never feel right, never feel happy again. Period.
Pathological loneliness is a feature of codependent relationships.
In fact, the wonderful codependency expert Jerry Wise defines the feeling of loneliness as a sense of, “I’m not worth being with”, as in, “I’m not worth being by myself with.”
Pathological loneliness is one reason those with codependency don’t leave when it is clear they are being abused or maltreated by a person who isn’t interested in changing.
This doesn’t only hold true when you’re in a toxic relationship with a toxic person, such as an alcoholic, a drug addict, someone who’s beating you, or someone just lying on the couch while you pay all the bills.
If your married lover isn’t leaving, for example, but is only using you to make his marriage bearable and you can’t bear the thought of being without him, this might include you, too.
Pathological loneliness often creates codependency and holds people in bad and unhealthy relationships long past the point when a healthier person would have left.
People feel so helpless, so depressed, and so scared of being alone that they reason that the miserable (or even dangerous) relationship they are in is better than no relationship at all.
According to codependency expert Ross Rosenberg, author Kathleen Dowling Singh, and my own observations, there are factors at work in your life that point to the fact that you may be pathologically lonely so you settle for toxic relationships.
With that said, here are the 13 signs of pathological loneliness and codependency due to your toxic relationship.
If you’re extroverted, you feel a lot worse when alone than introverted people do.
2. Constantly thinking of the past
Loneliness arises from a deeper situation or a past memory.
Some deeper situation is making it more than just being without human companionship. (This is me.)
3. Cognitive Distortions
You’re telling yourself something about the condition of being without fellow humans that simply isn’t true.
For example, you want to be in a relationship but you always tell yourself, “I’ll never meet anybody again.”
You haven’t found something you love doing when you’re alone.
These are activities that may actually be best done alone, such as painting or writing.
5. Surrounded by toxicity
You actually could develop closer friendships and social support, but you haven’t.
Not me, though, because anyone I’ve met over the past five years has either been a toxic or otherwise inappropriate person.
6. Failure to entertain yourself
You actually can go do things alone that maybe you always thought you couldn’t because you “needed someone to go with.”
And you might discover a sense of independence you didn’t know you could find, in doing this.
7. The inability to calm down and feel better
This often roots from neglectful parenting in very early childhood or perhaps from certain mental illnesses. When you’re upset, you can’t console yourself
Sufferers of borderline personality disorder also have this problem.
Some people still need another person to do that for them, much like Mom or Dad picking up the crying baby from the crib and changing a diaper or rocking, holding, and cuddling the child.
8. Anxiety about the future
Related but perhaps not the same thing, you get anxious about what will happen to the self if something bad happens.
Help is needed, but no one is there to help.
Movies and TV show us this stereotype of lonely people as intentionally shying away from other people and feeling sorry for themselves.
Even worse is when we, the lonely people, think this of our own selves and then berate ourselves for it.
10. Feeling depressed and a sense of loss
Conditions like grief or depression make it worse, especially for the elderly, who may have lost most of the people they knew in years gone by make the loneliness even more apparent.
My great aunt made it almost to 95. All of her brothers, sisters, and a lot of her friends were already gone, and all her other relatives were scattered across the country.
11. A sense of having no intrinsic value to the world around you
If you’re lonely and you need someone to come and rescue you from your plight, you may see that as a drain on another person, when what you really want is to contribute.
You want to have something to offer, to be valuable and wanted, rather than have someone conceding to spend time with you because you are needy.
People need and want to feel useful. And I am sure there are a lot of elderly in nursing homes, homebound, or in assisted living who would feel the truth in this.
12. Feeling useless
You have this idea that you are so sad and you don’t have anything to offer anyone anyway.
If you’re grieving or depressed, you cannot offer to others the cheer that makes people want to be around others.
If you know that, you may decide you don’t want to inflict yourself on anyone else.
13. Feeling guilty
You have this idea that if you aren’t actively pining away, you didn’t really love a person you lost or you must have fallen out of love with them and don’t love them anymore.
You might feel guilt or confusion over this, thinking to yourself, “If I don’t have these big, dramatic feelings anymore, do I still love the person?”
Why does loneliness exist?
Being alone is almost universally reviled as bad.
How many studies are there that show that being chronically alone has a negative effect on morbidity and mortality in so many conditions, from cancer to heart problems to old age?
But, if alone-ness is so very bad for us, why are so many in these contemporary times finding themselves alone and feeling so bad about it?
Psychology and astrology both tell us that when we suffer, we’re drawing to us the very conditions we need to master.
If that’s the case, then an awful lot of people on this planet need to do some sort of mastery work on this pathological relationship to being alone, myself included.
Author Kathleen Dowling Singh, in her book, The Grace in Aging: Awaken As You Grow Older, has some worthwhile thoughts on that. She points out that, over the course of human life, we’re going to lose just about everything we have.
We’re going to lose everything we thought we needed, and we won’t be able to do anything to stop this process.
We’re going to lose our importance in the world, our high-powered jobs, and all the status that went with them, as we get older and eventually have to retire.
We’re going to lose our health and mobility one day. We’re going to die.
All these experiences are part of human life, writes Singh. If we can’t be alone successfully, Singh argues, we’re going to have a very tough time when these experiences of growing older come to meet us.
“We cannot secure pleasure permanently,” writes Singh. “We cannot avoid the predictable sufferings.” She also writes that “loneliness is the experience of being alone through a lens of deficiency and aversion, through the lens of ignorance.”
Ignorance, perhaps, that we cannot avoid the predictable sufferings? Or ignorance that we aren’t really deficient?
Ignorance that learning to handle being alone strengthens us to handle difficulties in our lives we have yet to meet?
It’s been discovered that there’s a region of our brains that feel aloneness as a physical injury and sends out pain signals, as if we’re having a gall bladder attack when we’ve only just broken up with some dude who was bad for us anyway.
This region of the brain is a product of mammalian evolution, necessary so that an abandoned young child or mammal will call out for its parent, and its parent will come running to take care of it.
It ensures the survival of the species.
But we’re not children anymore.
At some point in life, all of us will be alone.
And, apparently, we’re supposed to mature ourselves enough so we can do it without collapsing into meaningless and hopelessness.
I think the inability to master this is what pathological loneliness is. That’s why it’s a feature of so many mental illnesses and difficult life stages.
So, what do we do about it when we find ourselves caught in this all-too-common, all-too-human state?
Some reflection about why we think we are here and our purpose on the planet seems to be in order.
If we’re happy with what we’re putting out there, and we think it has worth, we’re going to feel happier even if we’re alone.
And feeling happier, as all of us lonely people know deep in our bones, attracts people a lot more than feeling unhappier. Then we might not be alone anymore.
But running around in a desperate search for people, for replacement friends, for replacement family, simply doesn’t work.
And as long as we’re fretting over the sense of sadness we feel and pining away for happier times, we might be abusing others into taking care of us as if we were still little.
We aren’t feeling or working on a life purpose or a sense of self-value.
We aren’t working on a sense of wholeness on our own, so we can handle any instance of isolation that will come up in the future.
So how do we work on a life purpose or a sense of self-value? How can we be alone and yet comfortable?
As long as we’ve still got all our marbles, we have the stuff to turn this over in our minds and work this issue out.
Perhaps this is what pathological loneliness really is: our immature self still crying in the crib, insisting that we’re still too little to get this one, and demanding that other people come around and remove this responsibility from us.
It feels too difficult and we want others to help us to ignore it for a little while longer.
But, loneliness actually serves a crucial function for us: encouraging us to become more resilient.
P.D. Reader, a student astrologer, blogs as The Thinking Other Woman. On her website, she shares advice about affairs, relationship problems, astrology and more.
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This article was originally published at The Thinking Other Woman. Reprinted with permission from the author.