From loneliness to connection
I have such a fear of finding another like myself, and such a desire to find one. I am so utterly lonely, but I also have a fear that my isolation be broken through and I no longer be the head and ruler of my universe. Anais Nic, House of Incest
Loneliness can feel like a desperate need for connection and an underlying feeling that connecting with others is impossible or blocked. On the other hand, isolation is not necessarily experienced as a difficulty. It can be a choice to remove oneself from a number of interactions with others in order to stay focused and achieve a goal, or to reach high levels of creativity and connection with oneself.
Loneliness can be experienced as a disconnection from others. Sometimes loneliness may come up as a result of disconnection from loved ones. A breakup, a divorce, a loss, a traumatic disappointment, moving away from one's hometown, difficulty to create friendships or a sense of community can be what triggers loneliness. Then we feel lonely and disconnected because we are feeling the empty space from the absence. The absence is so intense that our whole existence is coloured by this absence and we cannot feel present and connected with others and the world. This kind of loneliness can lead to a sense of 'forgetting' what we used to enjoy, forgetting our goals and not finding meaningful what we used to find meaningful before.
Generalised long lasting loneliness
Loneliness can also be felt as a generalised, long lasting and pervasive feeling of disconnection with no apparent event or situation behind it. The underlying reasons for this disconnection could be a trauma in childhood, for example a difficulty in the connection between us as children and our parents. This trauma could be what has created blockages and fears that stop us from reaching out to others. This trauma could be from emotional, physical, sexual or verbal abuse or it could be from long times of being left alone or ignored by the parents or significant others.
The reason for our inability to connect could also be a difficulty in connecting with our own selves and our emotions. Feelings are our compass to finding who we are, who we want to be, with whom we want to connect and then feelings are the bridge that help us communicate that with others. We may be unable to fully experience and express ourselves because we have not learned how to do it. Perhaps emotions were considered dangerous or difficult in our family of origin. Or perhaps the emotions we experience in our childhood were too intense to handle.
Sometimes it is fear of loss of the connection that closes us down to not connect. Perhaps we felt the pain of loss and disconnection where there was once love and care, and in order to avoid ever feeling that pain again we chose to not engage with others. At some point loneliness seemed to be a better choice than the possibility of another loss.
Some other times the fear of rejection is what keeps us closed down and blocks our connection with others. Perhaps we felt criticised or unaccepted or unloved by our parents, one of our parents or a significant other.
We often gladly exchange our freedom and existential loneliness/isolation with merging into a group, losing ourselves into a feeling of oneness induced by the group experience, identifying ourselves with a certain identity to fit in the group.
Existential loneliness or existential isolation, as Invin Yalom called it, is brought up by our vulnerabilities and our impermanence. We are going to die and we are going to die alone. No matter in which groups we belong, what is our socioeconomic status and if we have family or/and friends, we are still going to die alone.
This is the kind of loneliness that helps us confront what is really important for us underneath various facades. We are free and alone in the face of death and in the face of life. We often want to escape this kind of loneliness because it brings up the awareness of our insecurity and impermanence. The problem with escaping our existential loneliness is that with it we also escape our creativity and freedom.
We are deciding who we want to be, what activities to engage with, what career to follow, who to partner with, to have a family or not, where to live, and perhaps most importantly: what to live for. In order to explore these questions and find our very own, very subjective answers we take some distance from the world and then we can connect with the world anew. We become aware of our existential loneliness and then we choose how to reconnect with the world but this time less driven by the desperation to avoid our existential loneliness and with more courage. Loneliness in this way can be seen as a part of life and facing it can make us stronger and can help us uncover who we want to be, who we are.
Paradoxically, existential loneliness can bring us home to ourselves.
Resistance to reconnecting with the world and others
As mentioned before there is a fear of loss coming up if we actually connect with someone, so being lonely safeguards us from that. Or sometimes we feel we are not worthy of others and being lonely secures us from getting our 'unworthiness' exposed. Another reason for resisting moving away from loneliness may be that we are afraid we will lose ourselves and our desires if we connect with another person. Some of us are also afraid that our choice of partner, friends or community limits us from the possibility of finding other better partners, friends or community. The reasons we resist reconnecting with others need to be explored further and understood for each one of us individually.
Arriving home/from loneliness to connection
Facing our loneliness, understanding the deeper roots of our loneliness, and getting in touch with our existential loneliness can facilitate arriving home to ourselves.
Some of us believe that things or people need to have an intrinsic value, beauty and meaning in order for us to connect with them. Some assumptions that may be coming up for us are: "the sun needs to be shinning to appreciate this day", "that person needs to be rich or successful to be worth talking to", "this scenery needs to be unique and perfect to be worth taking a photo of", "I need to look great with no 'imperfections' to be worth falling in love with".
Arriving home to ourselves includes seeing beyond these facades and connecting with ourselves, others and the world with childlike innocence, curiosity and wonder. We allow connections to happen and unravel, we allow life to flow and evolve, we allow ourselves to communicate all of ourselves, including our vulnerabilities, with others. Mindfulness, therapeutic meditations, existential therapeutic exploration and working through past trauma with the help of a therapist can assist us with this.
Arriving home to ourselves also involves finding our inner emotional compass of what we like and what we do not like. Many of us have been sidetracked by societal or family expectations or by previous traumas, as explained before, away from our emotions. The help of a therapist may be needed to assist us in this self exploratory journey. Finding who we are, who we want to be and what we want are crucial elements of feeling at home with ourselves.
Our heartbeat, our breath, our passion, our desires, our love leads us home.