The Difference between Loneliness and Being Alone
“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
As my client sat opposite me, telling me how lonely she was, how “alone in this world” she felt, I suddenly became aware of the noise emanating from the street below. Still busy with late night shoppers, children excused from school and the ever constant whir of the traffic, I wondered about ‘loneliness’ and ‘being alone’. Were they the same or were they inextricably different? How really alone can we be in a world that never stops, where access to almost everything is not more than a click away?
My client noticed my reverie and enquired as to whether or not she was boring me. “Not at all”, I said. “In fact you’re making me consider the concepts of ‘loneliness’ and ‘being alone’ and I’m wondering if they are different”. This seemed to engage her thinking and together we sat quietly for some moments, both lost, I assumed, in our very own experience of ‘loneliness’ and ‘being alone’.
What if ‘loneliness’ sends us into the realms of believing we are truly ‘alone in the world?’
For me loneliness is a feeling state. A blend of feelings whose ingredients may include any one of, sadness, anger, fear, happiness, despair, shame and emptiness. Feelings that seem to rise from deep within, carrying with them a density that seems to hang like ‘a dead weight’, as one client described.
I began to wonder; perhaps it is this menagerie of feelings, undistinguished from one another, that overwhelms us, leaving us crippled, unable to move freely, stand tall and see clearly? What if ‘loneliness’ sends us into the realms of believing we are truly ‘alone in the world?’ What if loneliness is like some sort of monster from the bog. The Bog Monster, a body of seemingly terrifying warts, scabs and wounds. If left untreated, The Bog Monster grows and grows. No one ever goes near him, for fear of catching something or worse still being swallowed whole.
My client and I looked back at one another; “what are you thinking?” I asked. “I’m not sure,” she said “but I don’t feel so bad”.
As we explored her feelings something became very clear. The time spent sitting quietly together, sharing a physical space in moments of thought, acknowledging a common experience, loneliness and being alone, we had been in a state of ‘togetherness.’ We had shared something implicit. Was this some sort of relatedness that had shifted both our moods?
So whilst we can feel lonely and experience our own unique set of feelings and Bog Monster, deep within us, we can at the same time in the presence of another, in silence or dialogue, experience a togetherness that tells us, that although we may feel our loneliness, we are not necessarily ‘alone in the world’. Feeling lonely can shift, if we feel the presence of another and let ourselves know that we are part of something bigger; unique yet shared.
In times of loneliness, when it's easy to tell ourselves that we are alone, that no-one understands or feels the same as we do, remember that feeling lonely and being alone maybe two very different modes of experience.
- Find a space to embrace your ‘loneliness’ in a shared space; the park, the cinema, the coffee shop
- Sit with your loneliness and name the feelings
- Explore your Bog Monster
- Get to know it, warts and all
- Remind yourself, you feel lonely in this moment but you are not alone in the world
- There are others to connect with
- Make your own togetherness
As Maya Angelou suggested, find your music, your refuge or whatever creativity you can use to ‘crawl into the space,’ that fills your loneliness and makes being alone a rich, nourishing, emergent experience.