“The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety.”
Did you ever walk through a room that’s packed with people, and feel so lonely you can hardly take the next step?
Why is Loneliness So Painful? How does it really feel to be lonely?
When we feel lonely, there is an almost unbearable sense of being uncared for, bereft, unloved, totally isolated, an outcast.
Such emptiness, such hollowness inside, may feel massive, as if it is totally overtaking the whole of oneself, submerging mind and body.
There may be a resulting sense of powerlessness and helplessness against such a dark torrent of feeling.
All this is extremely painful. There is most often a deep wish to connect with others, but a feeling of being unable to do this.
Automat. Edward Hopper. Flickr. Gandalf’s Gallery.
Loneliness may be triggered by events outside of our control, such as the death of someone close, retirement or old-age; it may also be a symptom of depression and low self-esteem.
There may be detrimental effects on health as a result of being lonely.
Many times, working people who live alone find it difficult to cope at weekends. During the week they are busy with work, but there is a yawning chasm of loneliness at the weekend.
Loneliness can affect us even if we are surrounded by people, or in a relationship.
We might feel lonely amongst a crowd of people with whom we have no real connection. Loneliness is most often a state of mind.
“We are all so much together, but we are all dying of loneliness.”
Sadness, Depression and Loneliness in a Crowd. Wikimedia Commons. Graehawk.
The Roots of Loneliness.
“In what is described as depression and experienced as emptiness, futility, fear of impoverishment, and loneliness can usually be recognized as the tragic loss of the self in childhood, manifested as the total alienation from the self in the adult.”
Loneliness in childhood is a very painful and depressing experience and one that invariably is carried in some way into adulthood. When ways of managing aloneness have not been established, coping skills as an adult tend to be in short supply.
Winnicott talks of ‘the capacity to be alone,’ which can develop in childhood. It grows from the child’s experience with a ‘good-enough mother.’
In such a relationship, the child can learn to feel comfortable being alone, being and playing quietly in the presence of their parent. (I want to add, importantly, that this parent may also be a good enough father.)
Where there is not a good enough experience, the child may grow up feeling lost and lonely and be unable to cope with being alone.
Loneliness and Difference.
Eleven a.m. Edward Hopper. Flickr. Gandalf’s Gallery.
Jung often speaks of his own loneliness, which seems to have emanated from his dramatic ability to think differently from the crowd. Many people who are deep thinkers or have had therapy may feel equally lonely and somewhat isolated with their insight about self and the world.
Having different ways of thinking can be an isolating experience in a sea of people who might all seem to think in non-psychological or non-analytical ways.
Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible.
Carl Gustav Jung
As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.
Carl Gustav Jung,
As a therapist, I can identify somewhat with these feelings. Sometimes, therapeutic insight becomes a kind of secret, in that it can only be heard by the relatively few others who are ready to hear it.
Otherwise it falls on deaf ears, or it is rejected as nonsense, sometimes making the other person feel rather isolated with their ‘secret’ knowledge. It may feel as though they are on a different planet.
“If one’s different, one’s bound to be lonely.”
“One cliché attached to bookish people is that they are lonely, but for me books were my way out of being lonely. If you are the type of person who thinks too much about stuff then there is nothing lonelier in the world than being surrounded by a load of people on a different wavelength.”
“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone.”
Loneliness stops a person from getting to know themselves:
Loneliness is a barrier that prevents one from uniting with the inner self.
Loneliness is such an omnipotent and painful threat to many persons that they have little conception of the positive values of solitude, and even at times are very frightened at the prospect of being alone. Many people suffer from “the fear of finding oneself alone,” remarks André Gide, “and so they don’t find themselves at all.
Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself
How is it that loneliness has this effect? In order to get to know the inner workings of the self, it is necessary to be able to feel comfortable enough to face oneself and the areas that might need to be worked through.
However, loneliness gives us a sense of alienation from self and other and an inability to think clearly.
In addition, if there is a fear of being alone, then there is little time and space to reflect, ponder and consider oneself and the inner workings of the mind. There is a need to be calm and mindful in order to growthfully observe the self.
It is hard to understand the workings of the self when you are anxious or afraid.
“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself.” – Thale
Loneliness and Solitude.
“Loneliness is one thing, solitude another.”
Nietzsche’s statement is surely true but what does he mean? What is the difference between these two states of being?
Solitude and aloneness can be creative and conducive to freeing up the imagination. There is a different quality to such experiences; they are in some ways the opposite of loneliness.
With loneliness, something is very much missing; it represents a feeling of absence. When one is contentedly alone, there is a sense of completeness, of life and of light.
‘We must reserve a little back-shop, all our own, entirely free, wherein to establish our true liberty and principal retreat and solitude.”
But how to do this? Could we develop such a back-shop for ourselves? Read more in the next two weekly posts………….
Nighthawks. Edward Hopper. Wikimedia Commons.
“Unconsciously, probably,” Hopper explained, “I was painting the loneliness of a large city.” (Mymodernmet.com)