The Age of Loneliness
Loneliness is such a common but sadly hidden difficulty so many people among us suffer with. Whether chronic or sporadic loneliness can and does affect anyone and at unexpected times. Sadly, life rarely lives up to the social media ideals we are bombarded with. What is more unhelpful is that those experiencing loneliness, although absolutely everywhere, are so isolated whether due to not feeling able to step out or the inability for whatever reason to meet the right people to connect with in a ‘socially acceptable’ way. It becomes an ever-decreasing self-perpetuating cycle.
I was so impressed by one person’s honesty and evaluation in a public Facebook post that I ended up writing this short blog on loneliness which may resonate, or not. My work as a Counsellor brings me into contact with the issue of loneliness and the stigma it carries and it can be one of the most difficult things to address often because people struggle to say it out loud.
A small example of social coercion:
I personally rarely drink, not due to any moral or health objection, just because… and I often catch myself making or laughing along with the jokes of ‘having a glass/bottle of wine’ etc., subconsciously aligning with social expectations/norms. Yet, when alcohol flows, I am usually found with coffee (not even a posh one) or a sparkling water which are my poisons of choice.
The point is that we are socially driven creatures and feel the absence of true companionable connection deeply so we work whether consciously or not to connect with others. But with the absence of connection often comes feelings of shame or guilt, that they must be something wrong with us or that others will think of us that way. Worst of, God forbid that we appear needy as a result of our natural need for friendship but current lack of it (perceived or actual). Whether alone or surrounded by people, being busy or quiet, loneliness can be present. It does not discriminate and can cripple with devastating effects. Loneliness can be entirely disconnected from actually being alone. Feeling alone with lots of people requires reconnection or a change of circle but when we are alone without people, navigating and overcoming loneliness can be even more challenging. How do we meet people when we have no one to go out with? What does that say about us and what will others think?
What can be confusing is that while loneliness can a be a killer or a major cause of mental and physical ailments such as depression, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, digestive issues and heart problems to name just a few, being alone can be healthy and really empowering. This can be where we feel most disconnected. Others may talk at length of the value of their aloneness which is completely valid, but if we are unable to connect with that concept it might as well be another planet light years away. Being independent and self-reliant can bring confidence and rewards as well as attracting people to us. Just knowing this is not enough. If it is something that we cannot connect with personally, a journey of self-evaluation can offer the opportunity to connect with the positive aspects of aloneness. Counselling can be extremely effective at supporting this process.
It is possible to work on both at the same time. We can improve our ability to live with being alone some, much or all of the time, by addressing the effects of loneliness while building on the empowerment potential. Addressing issues that either prevent connection with people or implementing new strategies to meet people while supporting the effects and reframing the potential for personal growth can sound complicated, overwhelming and possibly hard work. But with good Counselling and comprehensive step by step strategies the process of bringing about healthy change whether physical, psychological or both can be made to feel more manageable and achievable.
You are truly not alone – no matter how lonely you feel. I know that doesn’t automatically make things better but it is a tiny piece of hope you may choose to let into your mind.