Isolation and the feeling of loneliness

During this time when we have to spend our time isolated from those around us, we can end up feeling lonely, we can become more and more agitated because we don’t know what to do anymore with our time, missing the way we used to live our life before.

Spending time in solitude is not always a bad thing, as it might be perceived, because it can be an opportunity to take a break from the hustle and bustle and the many stimuli around us, to get to know ourselves better, to (re) discover certain aspects of our personality, but for many people solitude is synonymous with loneliness which they are afraid of and which they are used to run away from.

To feel lonely it means to feel disconnected from those around you and yourself and, in fact, all those negative emotions emerge from here, because we are used to paying more attention to the outside world and too little attention to our inner world. Not paying attention to our inner world, in a way we can say that we are strangers to ourselves, because we spend our days "on autopilot", for the most part ignoring our emotions and inner voice, being focused on achieving goals (which maybe we don't even want) and check the accomplishment  of daily tasks.

In reality, not the fact that we are no longer surrounded by people makes us feel lonely, but the fact that we feel "empty" inside. These inner voids come from our unhealed traumas, come from the frustrations that we have accumulated over time, from the fact that, maybe, we have lived our lives as others have wished (in accordance with their expectations and demands from fear of being rejected, criticized or excluded), from the repeated compromises and sacrifices we have made and which have shattered our self-confidence and self-esteem every time, because we have fed our fears and dependencies instead of confronting and freeing ourselves from them, because we don’t feel we have a purpose or a meaning in life, because we haven’t yet discovered a way to resonate with deeply, to feel it our "way". So, in order to lessen the discomfort or painful emotions that come from here, we were used to engaging in all kind of activities, wasting time with people with whom we often had nothing in common, but who distracted us from our problems, we used to sink into work or momentary distractions. Because all these things have become inaccessible to us at the moment, what already existed inside us, all those dissatisfaction or sufferings, are now coming to the surface.

If we were feeling lonely or we were afraid of loneliness and we were constantly seeking for outside stimulation to hide this feeling, now we can no longer run away from all these feelings. The fear of loneliness is, first of all, a fear of our inner child who feels insecure or abandoned. If when we were children we were abused or our parents didn’t give us the security we needed - we were left alone for long periods of time, they weren’t responding to our physical or emotional needs, we were neglected, we lived in uncertainty, we can carry inside this feeling of loneliness until adulthood, as if we were alone in the world, as if we were alone, we would be exposed to the same dangers as when we couldn’t take care of ourselves, as children. At the opposite side, the fear of loneliness is also caused by the fact that we were overprotected, that our parents didn’t allow us to develop our autonomy and independence, so that we came to believe, to unconsciously perceive, that to remain alone or be on our own represents a danger. So, if we have experienced any of these two situations when we were children and if we haven’t worked with our inner child to overcome these traumas (with or without the help of a specialist), as adults we can react and behave according to the same pattern - when we are left alone, we feel insecure, we are overwhelmed by irrational fears, we seek to become dependent on other people in order for them to take responsibility for our life.

On the other hand, there is, somehow, embedded in our society the idea that loneliness is something wrong, that if you are alone or you are not a person who always seeks to be in the company of others, there is  something wrong with you. This way, loneliness becomes a stigma that we must run away from, that we must avoid at any cost. On these considerations we can enter into toxic relationships or compromised relationships, only to be with someone. In addition, let’s think about the fact that as introverted people charge their batteries in solitude, so do extroverted people feel energized if they spend time with other people, if they engage in social activities. Thus, the preference for solitude also depends on this trait, because introverted people need much less external stimulation than extroverted ones.

Loneliness is a deeply subjective feeling - a person can live in a dynamic social environment, with a large family and many people around, but they can feel lonely inside, and someone who lives alone or doesn’t have many friends, can feel perfectly fine, at peace and satisfied with their life, even if they can be looked at with suspicion or even pity because of this, precisely because we are told that normality means family and children. The point is that no matter what your situation is - whether you are married or not, whether you are divorced or not, whether you are in a relationship or not, whether you have children or not, the most important thing is to realize where this feeling of loneliness is coming from. Many times we have the impression that if we have someone or if we have children, we won’t feel lonely, but this can be a trap, because we already know that there are many people who have done all this, who maybe have made compromises and accepted half measures out of fear, but they didn’t succeed to feel as they expected, that is fulfilled and happy, because no one can bring us happiness if we aren’t ok with ourselves, if we are not at peace with ourselves, if we don’t love ourselves.

The fear of loneliness is often an escape from ourselves. We run away from our thoughts that frighten us, we run away from our unresolved problems, we run away from the things we don't like about ourselves, which we deny or hide, seeking excuses and justifications, we run away from our more or less irrational fears. Of course, the healthy way is to face them, to start solving them one by one. But this scares us and causes us anxiety because we don’t know how to do it and because we back down when we have the slightest feeling of discomfort. We have already become accustomed to being in a certain way, we say "this is who I am and there is nothing I can do about it", we are used to thinking, reacting and behaving in a certain way, even if those patterns are dysfunctional or destructive. But we don’t have to go through this process of healing and changing alone. We can call on the help of a specialist, we can try to make every day a small step, even though we will often tend to return to the old habits and attitudes.

In order to overcome this mental space of loneliness where we often feel unmotivated  and in no mood for anything, it’s necessary to learn again to enjoy our own company. If we manage to feel good even when we are alone, we realize that no one can take this feeling away from us, because it no longer depends on others, but on ourselves. We are so used to relying on others to have fun, to feel good or to make us happy, that we forget that we can have fun, laugh or feel good in our solitude.

Why not allow ourselves to be spontaneous, to express ourselves as we feel, to dance (yes, alone in the room or in front of the mirror), to paint, even if we are not at all good at it, to express ourselves in any creative way, to build something with our hands, to listen to a podcast or to watch a comedy, to write a story without thinking too much about it or to participate in an online creative writing course, to practice others skills that we haven’t practiced too much so far, to remember an older dream and to plan how we can turn it into reality (even if initially this exercise is just for fun), to start a diary that can also be a tool for self-awareness and personal development, in which we write, for example, what emotions and feelings we had today, to correlate them with what triggered them (what thoughts or expectations we had, how we behaved in certain situations, how else we could react, what we can do differently next time), what we are proud of today, what we could have done better and so on.

Let’s learn to take care of ourselves more, to listen to our body and mind needs, to do everything we can for our wellbeing with what we have at hand. To notice what is our attitude towards life, whether or not we are accustomed to live in suffering, victimization, regret, and to think about if getting out of this condition scares us or not - when we have been living for many years in a certain comfort zone, be it  uncomfortable, when we usually have negative feelings, when we are sad, dissatisfied, to start to enjoy ourselves, to feel free or relieved scares us, no matter how strange it may sound, because all this would represent leaving that known, that comfort zone. For this reason we can end up self-sabotaging, we can rob our chance to feel good or happy.

If we haven’t done this by now, let's make an inventory of our values, abilities, interests and passions, let’s think about how we can make the most of them, put them in the service of others, we can create our own online community, get in touch with other people who have the same interests, exchange ideas, work together for the same projects and so on.

Loneliness is a state of our mind that, as we can see in the society we live in, has not so much to do with the people around us or with our daily activities, as with the way we perceive ourselves, with the feeling of fulfillment (how satisfied we are with ourselves and our life) and personal wholeness (how much we feel we can rely on ourselves, how much we feel "whole", how much our life depend on others and how much we have, in fact, taken responsibility for it, how much we value ourselves). A person can say, for example, that they want to have a relationship, but every time they sabotage their chances of getting closer to someone or creating that relationship because at an unconscious level they don’t see themselves good enough, they don’t cherish and value themselves. After each failure, they feel more and more lonely, but that feeling comes from a lack, an inner emptiness that cannot be filled by anyone and anything if that person doesn’t learn to forgive and accept himself or herself, to love and to see themselves worthy of being loved.

If during this time you spend much more time with yourself and less with others, if you can no longer do the activities you were doing before, if you start to feel lonely, I invite you to take a break and start to notice where this feeling of loneliness comes from, what emotions, beliefs or wounds are behind it. I invite you to think about what you can do now with the resources you have to work on this aspect and I invite you to think that there is a warrior and a winner spirit within you that has accompanied you so far in other difficult times that you have lived in your life. Use that inner strength!

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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