Loneliness - a chance to reconnect with the self
“Loneliness is as much a part of life as night and day and thunder, and it can be lived creatively, as any other experience.”Clark Moustakas
Loneliness can affect anyone at any time. When we think of someone who is lonely, we tend to picture an older man or woman who has lost their partner, alone in a small flat. It is unlikely that we think of a young person at university, or a mother or father with young children.
This is a common misunderstanding. A recent AXA PPP survey found that 18-24 year olds are four times as likely to feel lonely “most of the time” as those aged over 70. In addition, research commissioned by Relate, found that found that one in five married or cohabiting people said they rarely or never felt “loved”.
It seems that loneliness is quite common in our modern world, and that the changes to our society have created the conditions for loneliness to thrive. According to the 2011 census, 30% of people in Britain live alone. Increasing levels of redundancy mean that people are more likely to be isolated in their daily lives – missing out on the daily social interactions that office or working lives offers. And more generally, phone calls are being replaced by text messages and emails, while people look to Facebook and other social media platforms as a way of keeping up to date with what friends and family are doing. Added into the mix is increased social mobility – there continues to be a rise in people living far away from the community they grew up in.
Alone but not lonely
It is important to make the distinction between being alone and being lonely. On one level, each of us is in the same situation – we take the journey of entering into the world alone, and when we die no one takes that specific journey with us. It might be comforting to learn that we therefore all experience being alone – that the feeling is universal and in many ways, unavoidable.
In addition, there are times in our lives when we actively seek solitude – whether this is 5 minutes peace before the kids arrives home from school, a planned walk alone in nature or a full week on retreat.
Interestingly, we can be surrounded by people and be very busy, but still feel very alone. Being busy is a typically modern way of dealing with loneliness – rather than explore it, we get busy with all manner of distractions and activities.
Philosophers refer to this as existential isolation.
How does loneliness happen?
Often, our life and it’s meaning is created by interacting with others, and so when this is challenged it can feel frightening and alienating.
Loneliness tends to occur as a result of change. Triggers can include the loss of a job, children growing up and leaving home, relationships ending or relocation. Of course loneliness is also triggered by death and bereavement.
Sometimes, the roots of loneliness lie in childhood. From birth we grow up being connected to our care givers – even if these care givers are not a positive presence in our lives. As we grow and develop, we separate from these people and ultimately learn to be alone. Changes such as those described above can trigger childhood experiences, meaning that more intense feelings of loneliness can occur in the here and now.
These changes can lead to a spiral effect – when change is not positive it can result in anxiety and depression, which can further compound loneliness as people retreat from others as their self esteem lessens.
How can counselling help?
- The following information may be useful if you have read the above and feel that you are experiencing loneliness at this time.
- A counsellor will not simply try to encourage you to be more social as a way of counteracting loneliness. They will support and guide you on the journey towards that, exploring the reasons for your feelings of isolation. A good counsellor will help you to explore a different route – one of embracing the painful emotions, and of discussing their roots and patterns. Other ways in which counselling can help:
- Counselling provides you with the opportunity to first acknowledge loneliness. Sharing your thoughts and feelings around this with another person can help you to mitigate it… as you share your vulnerability, intimacy is created and loneliness can begin to lessen
- Counselling can help you to build up self esteem and challenge you to look at questions such as: what has caused you to question your self worth, why are you looking to others to provide you with your sense of worth, and why do you need others to provide you with validation?
- It is important to note that loneliness is an emotion and not an illness, meaning that you may feel lonely when you are disconnected from your true self and your purpose in life. A counsellor can help you to get back in touch with yourself and your values so that you can begin to live in accordance with these.
- If the roots of your feelings of loneliness lie in childhood, then you can use your counselling to explore the events that may have led to this, the resulting feelings, and the current situation in your life, which has triggered these emotions once again.
Ultimately, finding a deeper connection to yourself is likely to put you in a much better position to connect on a deeper level with others later on.