2020 has been one of the world’s most lonely years. During the various lockdowns, we have been isolated in our homes, and even after the lockdowns were over, many of us chose to stay safe from the virus at home. Anecdotally, I’ve discovered that introverts are coping with this isolation much better than extroverts. But even the introverts are suffering some loneliness during this time. So, this is an excellent time to really begin to explore, to face, and to find a remedy for our loneliness.
But first, we need to look at some of the mythology surrounding this idea of loneliness. The first of these myths is the myth that being alone means you are lonely. This is utterly false. It is absolutely possible to spend long periods of time alone, even periods of deliberate solitude, without feeling lonely. The second and one of the most debilitating myths is that we must learn how to be popular and loved by everyone in order to avoid loneliness. This myth is debilitating because if we find that we are not popular or loved by everyone, we self-flagellate in all manner of self-abusive self-talk that makes us feel very unworthy and can be dangerously depressive. And the third most popular myth is based on an “if only.” If only I had friends, then I’d be okay. If only I could find a partner, then I’d be okay. If only I were a better person, then I’d have friends and find a partner and then I’d be okay. Each and all of these “if only’s” are based on the idea that I can only be okay if I have friends, have a partner, or become a better (i.e., more likeable) person.
Of course, it must be said that we all need emotional support; we all need a solid, if small, group of supporters. But that last “if only” gets the cart before the horse. For you see, the remedy for loneliness is not found in other people. I know, I know that is counter-intuitive. But it’s also true. The remedy for loneliness is the accompaniment of self. That comes first. The support group comes after that.
In fact, many of us will tolerate abusive and toxic relationships for long periods of time just because we are afraid of being lonely. We fear loneliness as one of the most painful and distressful of all feelings. And we are all too often willing to do anything, even distort our true personalities, in order to gain even the most insincere forms of support so that we can tell ourselves that we are not lonely. But we will eventually reach a time when we have to admit that even in the crowds of parties and laughter, we were still lonely.
Why? Because there is no real relationship with the self. So, what do I mean by a relationship with self? In the earliest stages of our lives, when we were being introduced to parents and family, we were intuiting what they expected of us. And since we were simply too vulnerable to say “no” to these expectations, and in order to avoid the vast emptiness of loneliness, we introjected the projections of our parents and families in order to belong. In that process, we were sacrificing an identification with our own true authentic self. We left it behind and we became what they needed us to be.
So, now as adults, we are still trying to please the people in our lives in the same ways and patterns of behaviors that pleased (or didn’t please) our parents. Often, we are doing the same old thing looking for different results than those we got from our parents. What we don’t know is that each time we hit a wall with these patterns of behavior, the authentic self calls us home yet again.
We need to feel at home in our own bodies, in our own minds, in our own emotions, and in our own behaviors. And it is that feeling of being at one with body, mind, emotion, and behavior—that feeling is the remedy for loneliness. We need a self, a strong sense of self, a self that is not defined by what others demand of us or project onto us but is defined by what feels true to the deeper spirit, the deeper soul, the self.
Once that is established, it is then, and only then, possible to find others who can relate to that self. Before we find a self, even when we are with others, they do not know us, so how can they truly relate to us? We can only truly belong to others when we belong first to ourselves.
You can find this and other articles by Andrea Mathews, at “Traversing the Inner Terrain” on Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain