In my last posting, I discussed loneliness and how it feels. In this one, I discuss what can be done to lessen the intensity of the feeling and healthy ways to deal with it.
Firstly, it is important to identify the emotion of loneliness and allow oneself to feel it. That may be a tall order since it is usually a very painful feeling, which many people avoid experiencing. But like any negative emotion, you can only make a positive change in your loneliness by first allowing it to come to awareness.
One way of doing this is, when you find yourself starting automatically to do one of the things you usually do compulsively to avoid painful emotions, is to stop for a few seconds beforehand and ask yourself: what am I feeling right now? If you can’t identify your emotional state, that’s okay. Many people I have worked with in psychotherapy have not learned to experience, identify and articulate many emotions they are experiencing. This is particularly true for the so-called negative ones. I deal extensively with that issue on my blog, particularly in the posting labelled Emotion and the Self: Inclusion of the concepts of Robert Stolorow and colleagues. You can find that article in the Therapist’s Corner section of my blog and are welcome to read it, even if you are not a therapist.
One way to begin to identify emotions is to consult sensations in your body; that’s where emotions emanate. And your face is part of your body, so you might feel what expression your face is assuming and look in a mirror to see what’s there.
Chances are, as I pointed out in my prior blog, loneliness is usually accompanied by other negative emotions such as sadness, feelings of worthlessness, shame, fear, etc. Because these emotions are also very painful, you probably have an understandable reason for wanting to avoid them. But we are, by our very natures as humans, social creatures. You may have learned to deal with underlying loneliness by avoiding contact with others as much as possible. It’s bad enough to feel lonely when you are by yourself, but experiencing it when you are alone and in public, can make the feeling much more painful. But avoiding social contact deprives you of the enrichment to be gained from meaningful contact with other people.
If you avoid feeling lonely, on the other hand, by constantly seeking the company of others and never being alone, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to introspect, to grow emotionally and cognitively by examining your thoughts and feelings and doing some pleasurable activities by yourself. For example it may be reading a good book.
One sure way to find out if you’re feeling lonely or not is to just say the words, either silently or out loud: “I’m feeling lonely.” When you say that, feel into your body. If that’s what you are really feeling, your body will let you know. You might feel a a relaxation in your chest or belly. Or, if the emotion feels dangerous, you may feel a tightness in parts of your body. If loneliness fits, you might also try other emotions on for size that might accompany loneliness: “I am feeling sad.” “I am feeling ashamed about feeling lonely.” “I am feeling afraid.”‘ “I am feeling angry.”
If you are able to zero in on the feeling of loneliness and these other emotions, think about from where these emotions might have come. I would even suggest starting a journal and, when you feel like doing so, jot down some thoughts about your loneliness. Did you feel lonely as a child? In your family? Can you think of some past events that triggered these feelings? Many clients of mine through the years have described feeling alone and misunderstood in their families. Also, unloved, rejected, inadequate. Many also felt rejected by siblings, peers in their neighborhoods and in school. Having learned to expect rejection by others, they unconsciously anticipate the same rejection by others as adults and utilize the same coping skills they developed as children. While these coping mechanisms did their job in childhood, they are no longer appropriate in adulthood. But it’s important that you not blame yourself for anticipating rejections and keeping away from other,
Other clients of mine deny there was anything amiss in childhood and claim they had fine, loving families and many friends. But as they began to be more aware of what actually went on during their childhoods, they noticed that even though, on the surface things seemed fine, they always felt somewhat cut off from other people. And not having the support of their caretakers to identify their emotions, they never were able to identify their painful feelings of loneliness and then to deal with them in appropriate, expansive ways.
Just allowing yourself the opportunity to do this self-exploration can help to lessen your feeling of loneliness. If you find that you can’t do what I’m suggesting here, that may be an indication that you need support and help in exploring the causes of your loneliness and what you can do about it. You might think about involving yourself in a psychotherapy group or in individual therapy. I give some guidelines for choosing a therapist on my website, www.doctortobin.com.
As always, I would appreciate comments and discussion about this issue.