Loneliness: A subject of deep vulnerability.
Readily admitted to by some and a secret shame for others.
Even as social media has turned up the volume on comparison with our peers and our consequent need to appear(if not be) partnered and/or popular, it has oversimplified its cause as also its resolution. Hence, the more common ways that we try to deal with loneliness is by numbing or distracting ourselves.
More Netflix, more FB/Instagram, more shopping, more alcohol, more substances, more parties, more sex, more vacations.
More work, more workouts, more workshops, more meditation, more retreats.
I could go on. But you get the point.
Anything in excess can be counterproductive and takes us further and further away from our deeper truth.
To make matters complicated, common beliefs and behaviours perpetuate some long-standing myths:
- “If only I have a partner/spouse…”
- “If only I am accepted as a member of a particular family/clique/group/cult/etc…”
- “If only I have a child…”
- “If only I lose weight…”
- “If only I have a particular car/home/net-worth…”
- “If only I have a particular status in society/designation at work….”
- “If only I could travel to newer places…”
- “If only these lockdown restrictions end completely…”
Such (and similar) laments end with us convincing ourselves that our resolution lies in either being validated by others, ‘fixing’ ourselves, or changing our location.
But if we were to honestly share our experiences with each other, we would discover that none of these may satisfactorily heal the void we are aiming to fill within ourselves.
That special relationship, new community or exciting adventures may bring a temporary high. But unrealistic expectations, especially from romantic partners, can soon lead to disappointment and lostness again. A break-up may feel as bad (or worse) than withdrawal symptoms because we may need to de-addict ourselves from a particular person. Parking all our requirements in one person, group or place and growing miserable in their absence is neither fun for us, nor for the object of our affection.
Instead, a more realistic recognition and honouring of the multiple connections in our life is strengthening and also comforting in times when loneliness does visit.
Loneliness is defined as a ‘feeling of unhappiness and discomfort that we feel due to a lack of perceived connection.‘
As I often share with my clients, it is helpful to understand our own loneliness before we can accept it and address it in the best way possible. There are many possible components to this experience of disconnection and the importance of each contributor differs for each of us. By identifying our own subjective needs, we can deal with our specific situation more effectively.
But before beginning the difficult task of meeting our loneliness head-on and objectively, a few reminders:
- You are not the first one to experience this, nor will you be the last.
- Everyone goes through phases of loneliness at different times.
- It does not make you lesser or wrong in any way.
- You may be experiencing loneliness, but it does not define you.
- It is human to experience highs and lows – Nobody is happy all the time, even if their newsfeed says otherwise.
- Like all feelings, however persistent or recurring, This Too Shall Pass
- While we associate loneliness with being alone, the truth is that we can also feel lonely in a crowd. Being in a relationship or being a part of a family/unit does not in any way guarantee us escape from this discomfort. In fact, that kind of loneliness is perhaps even more painful than being alone. (On the other hand, being alone can be wonderfully liberating, comfortable and even uplifting!)
Loneliness feels as though we are missing out on something, that there is an emptiness within us to be filled. Put differently, ‘I need something that I do not have‘ is the kind of thinking that dominates this state. The associated expectation that ‘it’ does not seem available in the near future only adds to our despair and unhappiness.
Instead of unsuccessfully chasing an elusive, magical solution to an ill defined problem, lets spell out what it is that we are actually missing. The following questions can help detail our own individual requirements:
1. “Which of my needs am I trying to fulfil (as I believe this will free me of loneliness)?”
2. “Are these reasonable needs or do I need to question my thoughts around them and eliminate/alter this perception?“
3. “If these needs are reasonable, what are the various ways in which these needs can be met?“
4. “Are the answers that I imagine realistic and available to me right now, or do I need to start with a modified, accessible version?”
The second question is as important as it is unwelcome.
In our pain, it is often difficult to see that it is not the situation, but our thoughts that need to change. However, if you are willing to shift underlying beliefs and assumptions, you grow in power and become less affected by external factors. For many of what we consider as essential ‘needs’ are actually our ‘wants’. And the more of these that we drop, the less unhappy we are.
Further, everything comes at a price. So for example, if one wants a live-in partner then one has to be willing to make all the adjustments that come with living with someone else. Or if one wants to feel the security that comes from being in a family/community, one has to shoulder responsibilities and the restraints on independence that come with it. So are you ready, willing and able to pay such a price? If not, then one first needs to build that capacity.
What needs remains after this preceding inquiry, we can examine across the four categories below.
Acute loneliness is undoubtedly difficult and the pandemic lockdowns have stretched many of us. While I do not expect the included suggestions to provide easy, immediate or complete relief for you, I do hope it gives you a fresh lens with which to respond to your loneliness. In that, perhaps you will discover ways to enhance your wellbeing that may have not been apparent before.
(Do note that some resolutions that occur to you may not be realistic or available right away, but you can then explore if some modified version will help for now.
For example, if I am missing family but can’t travel to them due to lockdown, can I connect with them more frequently over calls? Or perhaps sit in meditation and connect energetically?
Asking yourself, “What one step can I take right away that will make me feel better?” can be significantly useful and feel definitely better than continuing on a downward, pessimistic train of thought.)
Now let us look at the different types of unmet needs that could be contributing to our loneliness:
A caring touch is a fundamental human need. In fact, even if we have received less touch as a baby (perhaps due to the absence or incapability of our carers), it can leave a long-lasting emotional mark on our personality. Further, as adults, cultural taboos, the danger of unhealthy touch and our inability to voice this need without inhibition or shame can leave one longing for physical touch. Sexual drives are different from this and these too vary from person to person. Quite often, the need for intimacy is confused with the need for sex.
Understanding which of these three play a dominant part for you can help you change your remedial measures. For example, attentive, loving self massage or a professional therapy at a spa can go a long way in comforting a TLC need. Being hugged by a friend, or your pet can soothe your nerves. Not being in a committed relationship need not mean you deny yourself opportunities for physical pleasure. From vibrators, friends with benefits, to apps, there are multiple options available in this day and age for those who prefer them.
However, do remember that intimacy is not necessarily of the sexual kind, nor is it restricted to physical hugging, cuddling, etc. If sex still leaves you feeling empty, then consider whether the intimacy you seek is actually different: Emotional intimacy looks for mutual caring and sharing, intellectual intimacy requires the meeting of thoughts and ideas, spiritual intimacy shows up in the form of respect of each others’ faith, shared purpose or support of each other’s journeys. Perhaps one of these require more attention in your life.
All forms of intimacy do however require us to be authentic and vulnerable. So we also need to concurrently build and grow our own readiness to show up more openly and create safe spaces that enable that.
These can range from emotional intimacy as mentioned above, to being witnessed or heard, to feeling the comfort of having someone around us. We may be requiring validation or at least encouragement from others to feel good about ourselves. The human brain is also geared to give a great deal of weightage to belonging as being part of a unit implies safety and security(as was true for our hunter/gatherer ancestors).
Conditioning and popular beliefs convince us that need and love are the same. That is, we desperately need someone(often a specific person we become obsessed with) to be around and to reciprocate our feelings with similar intensity. But this is where we must take a step back and understand that ‘loving someone’ and ‘needing someone’ are two different things. List all the things that you think you need this person for and grow in your own abilities and readiness to deal with them. Your enhanced self esteem, independence and freedom will soon have you recovering from any loneliness pangs and open up possibility for a more appropriate match. (For example, a lot of people continue to stay on in relationships that have long turned sour, only because they are unready or unwilling to take on the other’s duties and responsibilities. In such cases, the loneliness comes from staying in a unhappy relationship!)
It is helpful to know that tools similar to those used for anxiety such as meditation, exercise, EFT, Bach Flower Remedies, etc., can soothe the mind and body. A surprising amount of comfort can be obtained by playing white noise, ASMR tracks, calming frequencies( eg. Solfeggio) or even playing the radio/tv in the background. You may recall how the ticking of an old fashioned clock mimics the heartbeat of a mother and thus calms a baby or puppy. Or why lonely seniors tend to leave the radio or tv on. Even listening to a story podcast told in a gentle voice can be surprisingly effective in lulling an adult to sleep. Making some of the suggestions listed at “16 Effective Ways To Dissolve Unhappiness” a part of our daily routine help in building resilience to get us through low phases.
A great deal of emotional needs can be met by authentic engagement. If it is possible with a wise friend, great! If not in person, you can always reach out virtually. However, sometimes, it can even be with a complete stranger and for the briefest of moments. In fact, the connection that we are longing for is not dependent on the past or the future that we have with another. It is found in being completely present to another in this current moment. Most of us are too distracted and pre-occupied to do this consistently. But practise this more intentionally, and you will be amazed at how many encounters right from the shopkeeper to the colleague at work, from the street dog to even the tree in the park provide you with a deep sense of reassuring, warm connection. (This really is a case of being the change you want to see.)
Try asking yourself open ended questions which steer awareness, thoughts and attention to new possibilities. You need not have specific answers to start with, but eventually things start changing because you are looking through a different lens. Examples include:
- “What activity/class have I not yet tried that would help me meet likeminded people?”
- “Which people or groups would I like to travel with?”
- “What would it take to find my tribe?”
- “What activities have I not yet tried by myself? What if shopping, dining or traveling alone can be an uplifting experience? What would it take for me to be ready, willing and able to give that a shot?”
- “Which online group or offline meet-up would align with my interests?”
(You can use the above with energy clearing tools like EFT or Access Consciousness Clearing Statement.)
As loneliness is often associated with the missing of a special person in your life, it may be pertinent for you to reflect on “Who Do You Become In Your Closest Relationships?” In a sense, our relationship with ourself is perhaps the most intimate one in the outer world. It is experienced 24/7 for as long as we live. Though you may associate your loneliness with the absence of a particular person, in truth you may actually be yearning to meet who you your self become in the company of that person! In which case, exploring ways and means to bring out, encourage and nurture those aspects in yourself on your own will bring you great joy and personal growth.
Some of us find enjoyment and connection in intellectual and philosophical discussion. For the deep thinkers, the sensitives and those who do not conform to mainstream thinking, there can be a strong sense of alienation. For those of us, it is important to develop self acceptance of being a minority and my EFT script such as The Road Less Travelled may help with that. In this case, it can also be helpful to actively reach out to online groups, read and listen to others with similar interests and release the uneasiness that arises from believing yourself isolated. You are not alone.
Underlying all the needs listed above is our inherent calling to remember our true nature. As we tend to be identified with our personas and caught up in the outer world, it usually takes us a long time to realise this.
It is only when we develop a healthy sense of our self and at least begin to tick off items on our bucket list that we begin to notice that some mysterious core need remains unmet. This kind of loneliness is leading you back home. It urges you to truly know who you are at your core. To meet the part of you that remains unchanged through everything and is beyond all roles, definitions and limitations,
In my opinion, this part is universal and stubborn in its call, though its volume may differ for each of us.
Instead of trying to deny it, change it or run from it, meet it head on. Sit alone with it, undistracted, and let it transform you. Start with a few minutes at a time and build the ability to embrace it. Let it be a slow, gradual process of spiritual and self inquiry. There is no hurry here. But once this leads you to remembering your essence, your Source, all the other challenges of life become much easier to navigate. It becomes possible to welcome company when it comes and to enjoy being alone with equal ease. One learns to play this game of life, with all its ups and downs, with lightness.
As they say, the truth shall set you free.
Meeting physical, emotional and intellectual needs in our immediate experience while rebuilding our connection to our spirit feels pragmatic to me. Prioritising spiritual growth alone is not an easy path to walk. There is a time, pace snd suitability for everyone. Being honest with where we are and accordingly mapping our way forward is the best way to experience lasting shifts.
If you find any of the above useful or thought provoking, please share this link with others.