“I don’t deserve to be happy.” “No one could possibly love me.” “I’m not good enough.” “I’ve made too many mistakes.” Have you ever heard anyone say these things? More importantly, have you ever said or thought them? Well I certainly have—and I suspect I’m not alone.
As singles, we spend quite a bit of time alone, isolated from others. Without the companionship of a spouse, or on the off weeks when our children are not with us, we shut ourselves up in our homes alone. We eat at restaurants alone, sit in church alone and go to the movies alone. We exercise alone with earphones shoved in our ears so no one bothers us.
During these “alone times,” what happens? If you’re like me, all sorts of crazy thoughts enter your mind.
Shortly after my divorce, I was in a new city with no kids, no job, no friends, no church, no support group of any sort. That is when the mental attacks started.
Speaking from my own experience, when we’re alone we start talking down to ourselves.
- Blaming ourselves for our isolation: “I have no one because no one cares about me.”
- Proclaiming ourselves failures: “It’s all my fault my marriage failed.”
- Convincing ourselves we’re not worthy of happiness: “I’ve made too many mistakes in my past; I don’t deserve to be happy.”
- Leading ourselves to believe God doesn’t care about us: “Since all the bad things in my life have happened, God must have allowed them—He must not love me or He is punishing me for who I am.”
- Sometimes, we even contemplate suicidal thoughts: “I can’t live like this—no one cares, so why should I?”
In addition to our self-defeatism, we have an enemy who doesn’t play fair, who attacks us in our weak moments and in our most vulnerable place. Satan attacks us like a vicious, hungry lion (I Peter 5:8). He spends most of his time accusing us before God—bringing up our weaknesses and past mistakes (Revelation 12:10). If Satan is bold enough to accuse us nonstop in front of God, surely we should expect his sneaky attacks on us individually. And when do you think he whispers his mess in our ears? Definitely not when we’re with a group of people worshiping in church! He attacks us when we are … (wait for it) … alone.
Personal testing and temptation usually happen in isolation. After calling fire down from heaven, Elijah became depressed and suicidal in the loneliness of his dark, clammy cave. Jonah pitched a solo temper tantrum and asked God to kill him. Satan chose to sorely tempt Jesus when he was alone and fatigued in the wilderness.
When we isolate ourselves, we play right into Satan’s strategy. He isolates and then starts shooting his accusing darts of doubt, low self-esteem, unworthiness, blame, guilt and others. In the absence of friends or family members who truly care about us, who would challenge our self-deprecating thoughts, we begin to actually believe his false accusations.
As a survivor of both mental and isolation attacks, here are some tips I’ve learned to fight back.
How do we overcome negative thoughts?
- You and you alone control your thought life. No one else is responsible for your mental well being, so don’t blame anyone else. Analyze each of your thoughts, then determine if it has a positive or negative effect on you. Toss the negative; dwell on the positive.
- Your thoughts affect your feelings. Have you ever walked into work feeling just great, until one or more coworkers asked if you were feeling okay? The more they suggested you looked sick, the more you began feeling chills and body aches. Such is the connection between thoughts and feelings. So stay away from negative or depressing thoughts or settings. Listen to upbeat music. Watch comedy or slapstick movies. Instead of dwelling on lost loves, think about the wonderful people in your life now. Do what you can to maintain a cheerful atmosphere.
- Spiritual warfare begins in the mind. Romans 8:5-7 clearly outlines the difference between a spiritual mind and a carnal mind. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” The battle rages on. The side you feed the most wins.
- Capture your thoughts. Willfully “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). Don’t mindlessly wander. Purposefully think uplifting thoughts.
- “Think on these things …” Is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy? (Philippians 4:8) When dark thoughts cloud your mind, view them through the lens of these characteristics.
How do we conquer isolation?
- Get outta bed and off the couch. The lethargic and mundane routine of isolation leads to loneliness and depression. Toss the remote control. Get up, get busy and stay busy.
- Get into a group setting and stay involved. Church groups, community groups, charity groups, neighborhood watch programs, school volunteers—there are many people-facing opportunities to enjoy. Find one that fits your interests and abilities and commit to being there.
- Create your own social network (that has nothing to do with technology). If you can’t find a group you like, start your own. A reading group, biking group, professional group, gardening group—whatever your interest, start an interactive group with like-minded people.
- Invest in yourself. Use your “alone time” as an opportunity to improve yourself. Pursue a degree, commit to ongoing education for career enhancements, find a new hobby, start a new exercise program. In doing so, you may also find more like-minded friends.
- “Watch your six…“ Pay attention to your habits. If you find yourself slipping into your old routine of going home and “hiding” in the bed or on the couch, prompt yourself to get back at it. Find an accountability partner, then hold each other responsible get out and participate in life.
Consider life a spiritual battleground. You’ll be stronger and win more often when surrounded by fellow soldiers than fighting the war alone.