Updated: Nov 28, 2021
By its very nature, loneliness is a solitary experience, our feelings and emotions are unique to each of us.
At the same time loneliness is a common experience. Many of us can relate to the sadness, emptiness, anxiety, hopelessness, and the sense that we are invisible to others. As the psychologist Carl Rogers writes (1967)
What is most personal is most universal
I reflect upon the various types of loneliness
Missing a particular person and just wanting to be with them again.
Spending too much time alone, missing the interactions and the company of others.
the lack of any relationship in which we communicate our real experiencing – and hence our real self – to another Rogers (1967)
Having plenty of acquaintances and finding that this does not satisfy the need for deep bonds with people who we love and trust.
Feeling lonely in our community, lacking a sense of belonging and feeling like an outsider. Perhaps our views and beliefs have changed and are now at odds with this particular community, or maybe we are not very confident socially and find our self on the outskirts.
Loneliness related to depression, anxiety and trauma
The loneliness of not having anyone around you who truly understands. Describing personal experiences of depression, anxiety and trauma to people who have not been through something similar can be extremely difficult. This can be due to symptoms such as exhaustion as well as the challenge of finding adequate words to capture the feelings, emotions and moods.
Kay Redfield Jamison writes about her experience of social loneliness and isolation when depressed:
People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.
Inner loneliness is about the relationship that we have with our self.
Depersonalization is a form of dissociation. It is a feeling of being detached from one's self. There can be a sense of going through the motions of day to day living without being emotionally present. This has been described to me as being like a zombie, and being a body without a soul.
Without an inner connection to one's self it is also difficult to relate emotionally with other people.
Feeling lonely is very painful and can affect our physical and emotional health. I note that some people blame themselves and that this can exacerbate their suffering.
Everyone else might seem to be living an exciting and sociable life, surrounded by family and friends. The 'evidence' is posted on social media with photos of people having fun together. Those of us who are feeling lonely and isolated may conclude that there is something 'wrong' or 'different' about us. Perhaps we focus upon our looks, personality, a disability or a general sense of 'wrongness'.
This can be especially painful in situations where we are expected to have sociable experiences such as university, and on birthdays and festivals that we spend alone.
We may become ashamed of our self and our loneliness. Withdrawing rather than reaching out for help, and hiding our shame away.
As a counsellor I am interested in what might help therapeutically
Counselling begins with someone sitting beside you. They are beside you in an emotional sense and this creates a space for change and allows the quality and intensity of loneliness to shift.
When we share our experiences of loneliness with a person who is genuinely attentive, respectful and accepting towards us the feeling can alter. Central to person-centred therapy is the counsellor's intention to understand, as closely as they can how things are from the client’s point of view. In a non-judgmental and non-directive atmosphere, there is room and safety to explore our self and our experiences.
As we share our perspective and feel understood and accepted the healing connection between client and counsellor can grow, and our connection with our inner self can deepen.
Loneliness can be explored and new understandings and insights tend to emerge. We might change our perceptions of loneliness and understand it in a fresh way.
We can work with loneliness in a thrapeutic way and perhaps there are also steps that we can take for ourselves
When we are in an emotionally low place taking some sort of action may be extremely difficult. Self-care can be a gentle start. the decision to consider our needs and then do something for our own benefit indicates that we are important and deserving of nurturing attention. This can increase our confidence and sense of worth.
If we are able to involve ourselves in activities that boost our physical and emotional health, we are likely to have more energy and enthusiasm for social engagement.
Joining voluntary projects can be a way of connecting with others and alleviating both our and their loneliness.
We can all be aware of the people around us. Noticing and including someone who looks left out in a social situation and offering our companionship where we can.
~ Carl Rogers a Way of Being ~Kay Redfield Jamison An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness