How Do I Cope with Loneliness? — A Very Individual Question
In our era, people in record numbers are struggling with the question of how to cope with loneliness. At this time, we can genuinely say that loneliness is an epidemic, often associated with anxiety and depression.
But what is loneliness? We can find some general truths, yet it means very different things to different people. It may involve an actual experience of actually being isolated from people. Yet, as many individuals in 2018 know, it is very possible to feel absolutely isolated from others in a crowded city, on the subway, or in the mall. In fact, you may be far less likely to be lonely in a small, remote Newfoundland outport than you are in the midst of a huge city!
Loneliness as Archetypal Pain
Neuroscience researchers such as UCLA’s Naomi Eisenberger have shown that the brain reacts to loneliness in much the same way as it relates to actual physical pain. Researchers characterize the pain of loneliness and the accompanying stress state as something that has evolved in us to renew and maintain the connections that we need to survive and prosper.
Depth case studies of the Jungian variety characterizes loneliness as a fundamental, archetypal pain. They would also connect the state of loneliness with the drive within us for eros, for relationship and connection, to understand and to be understood. (I wrote about eros in a recent blog post).
Loneliness, Self-Sufficiency and Solitude
There is a place for solitude, and all of us experience times when we want to be alone. This is what we mean when we refer to solitude. People’s needs for social connection and affirmation vary greatly. But when we experience actual loneliness, it hurts — sometimes a great deal.
Sometimes, people feel very alone, because they have a hard time tolerating their own company. They may experience intense anxiety or even anguish when they’re alone. This may result from faulty or disrupted connections with mothers or other caregivers when they were young. Or, it may result from disturbing thoughts that emerge when they are alone, that may clash with the way they usually perceive life or themselves.
Sometimes people feel alone because of major life transitions that make them feel outside of the mainstream of life. Situations of major physical illness or grief can often be examples of this. Sometimes people feel profoundly different from those who surround them, which creates its own kind of especially deep loneliness. Or individuals may feel that, despite being connected to many people, they aren’t actually seen for who they are, or they are unable to trust that these others actually “have their back”.
The forms of loneliness are more numerous than I can list here. Yet one common denominator that they all share, is the capacity to produce immense pain in the life of the individual.
A Creative Response to Loneliness
Much depends on whether the individual can find viable ways to connect with others over the divide that loneliness creates. The journey to acheive this is a very individual one. It often involves much self-discovery, deep level compassion for oneself and discovery of creative resources in oneself, together with finding the courage and affirmation to move beyond old patterns.
The Capacity to Cope with Loneliness — and to Connect with Others
Loneliness is a fundamental aspect of human experience, encountered in many different ways. It might involve actual physical social isolation. Yet there is also the “lonely crowd”phenomenon, where one is surrounded by others, even interacting with them extensively, but still not experiencing “being seen” or being “taken in” by them. It also includes existential loneliness, the awareness of being fundamentally alone with ourselves.
Depth case studies at its best addresses the fundamental loneliness that an individual experiences in his or her life, and can often offer help. One of the most important aspects of /a-midlife-transition in its Jungian form is a safe environment for the individual to be seen and acknowledged in their human uniqueness. It can also offer very concrete assistance in helping the individual to reach out in relationship and connection across the human divides we experience in our lives.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst
PHOTOS: Clàudia Matges (Creative Commons Licence) ; R. Crap Mariner (Creative Commons Licence)
© 2018 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, OntaWIthout rio (near Mississauga)