Dear Therapist..."I Feel Lonely"
I find this time period so lonely, even though I live with flatmates. Do you have thoughts about this? I find it hard to talk about.
I promise you, you’re not alone! Many of us feel lonely these days. Unfortunately, loneliness often bathes in shame, and it's hard to say the words "I'm lonely." We feel embarrassed and as though we've failed in some way. But it's honest and can happen to any of us at any stage of life. It's consoling to acknowledge loneliness. Feeling lonely at times is part of the human condition, and though it's unpleasant and uncomfortable, it's also completely survivable. When we can accept this, we can get more comfortable with the discomfort.
We can be lonely anywhere, in crowds, with our families and friends, by ourselves. Being with other people and feeling disconnected can be the loneliest of all. Loneliness is not about being alone. It’s about feeling disconnected.
Let’s look at how especially hard life is these days. With social distancing, there’s too much space from lots of people, and not enough space from the people we are living with. You say you live with flatmates. The combination of not having enough personal space and feeling cut off from social interactions has left most of us reeling, at least to some degree. Not having enough personal space has an insidious impact on loneliness – we might not realise we are lonely because we feel crowded, but actually, having no breathing room makes it harder for us to feel attuned internally. Our sense of self gets fuzzy when everything is claustrophobic. We feel cut off from ourselves. And for those living alone, it’s hard not being able to touch and be touched so easily.
Beyond physical touch, during this time period we are missing out on exciting parties and events, but also on ordinary, incidental banter. Not working from shared spaces, we miss that sense of belonging that comes with camaraderie and communal experiences. Many of us have also felt considerable fear, and terror and suffering can evoke childlike feelings of helplessness and solitude. It’s one of the tricky aspects of being human, that suffering makes us feel alone, even though it’s something we have in common. The solution is acceptance and connection.
There’s inevitably a gap between self and other. When we can accept this, we don’t need to struggle so acutely. Acceptance allows you to feel like yourself in the presence of others – more at ease in your own skin -- by tolerating your separateness. Acceptance spares you from feeling forced to perform, pretend, hide, deny. And it’s paradoxical. Accepting this gap gives you a much better chance of feeling close with others. I have a strong suggestion: say the words aloud! There’s a certain cosiness that comes with the realisation that we are not alone with our feelings of loneliness. Now that we’ve talked about how hard it is to admit loneliness, but also how helpful it is to admit it, say it aloud and see how it feels. By yourself, or to someone else. Say the words. And trust that you will survive this.
Do you have a question for Charlotte? Send it to [email protected] with Dear Therapist in the subject line