The meaning of loneliness - a personal reflection

While scrolling through Facebook, I came across an advert from the Samaritans making people aware that you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely - you can experience loneliness when surrounded by people. This got me thinking about my own feelings in this regard; quite often, I don't feel lonely when on my own or with my family, but I do in crowds of people. This short reflection from my personal point of view will hopefully help others to think about their own relationship with loneliness.

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I recall in my primary school days I would often spend time by myself, but I do not recall feeling sad about this. I remember playing playground games and I did have friends. Our family home at the time was fairly secluded and behind fields and a mountain. I remember walks with my father, brothers and family dog, to build rope swings and collect tadpoles etc., which felt quite common in the 1980s.

I remember feeling at home up the mountain or in the countryside in general. I suppose that is why I have an affinity for camping today. The lack of noise except for bird song and other animal sounds provided comfort and peace. To this day, if I am feeling stressed, I notice that I will be drawn to the seclusion of that mountain that once stood behind our bungalow, as opposed to seeking the company of others.

At the end of primary school, we had moved to a larger town, which still to this day I feel a sense of loss of that house, its location and the stability it provided - but that is a story for another time. Right through comprehensive school or at least for a major part of it, continued in the same vein. I would sometimes spend breaks on my own or with friends. This was largely dependent on what my friends were doing and whether I wanted to participate or not and I suppose this is where I became aware of my sense of wanting to be independent.

So far, it may sound like I was not lonely on my own and you would be right. Where I experienced the feeling of being alone was in the company of others, especially if I do not know anyone or there are a lot of people. I feel this sense highlights my sense of not belonging. Though on the surface I may appear sociable, I am not and struggle with the social etiquette of human interaction. This may explain why I was drawn to the systemic tradition in order to gain a greater understanding.

In a room full of people, I often feel judged or - worse - not seen by others, which makes me feel othered or as though I do not belong.

I feel it is this 'othering' that feeds into this sense of loneliness as it lays bare my own hidden insecurities of being strange or weird as a child. In personal therapy, the main theme of our sessions seems to be the idea of ‘not being heard’ which can be problematic as we have seen during the Covid pandemic or the EU referendum.

Due to having personal therapy and my training, I have been able to reflect on what loneliness means to me and how to combat it. I notice that I feel most connected when amongst a small group of good friends and family. A day out with my wife and children, a game of golf with a friend or sharing mutual pastimes together seem to provide the most effective way of helping to not feel alone. I avoid big gatherings of people such as in pubs, due to suffering depression on and off; my relationship with alcohol has changed and do not find such places fun anymore.

The irony of this, of course, is this can lead to disconnection. Especially in a Welsh context, perhaps due to the social element during the industrial era where for most working class workers, the pub became the focal point of the community. Rather than focusing on how bad the situation makes me feel, I tend to look outwards. I have recently become a member of a golf club and one day while out with members, though I did not score well, I remember feeling connected and happy in that moment.

I still on occasion need seclusion and will walk in the countryside on my own taking in the sounds and smells, and simply exist in the moment. I feel comfortable with myself and enjoy my own company as I drift into a fantasy land of future possibilities and scenarios, and just let my mind race before plugging back into life.

I hope this personal reflection will help people get a sense of what loneliness means to them.


How can therapy help?

In systemic therapy, meaning and how we make meaning is an important part of the approach. Systemic counsellors feel it is important to understand how clients perceive the world around them and how things like class, race, gender, etc., play a part in how connected or disconnected we feel. It can be folly to assume that someone experiencing loneliness is physically alone - it may be helpful first to understand how the individual experiences loneliness.

With this understanding, we can begin to piece together what will work for a personal client and help the client to build self-confidence and become aware of what works for them.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Bedwas, Caerphilly, CF83 8EH
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Written by Anthony Purnell, BSc (Hons), MBACP (Accred) MNCS (Prof Accred)
Bedwas, Caerphilly, CF83 8EH

I am an accredited counsellor with the BACP and NCS, I am Systemically trained and work with clients in a relational way and I am also a qualified supervisor. I work in private practice which I began in 2019 and work with adults over the age of 18 either as individuals or as couples.

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