‘We are born into language. Our body is a language, many languages, and words imprint it. There are many ways to formulate an intimacy between words and life and rupture between words and life’ (M. Eigen)
Loneliness has been much discussed in the media recently. The stigma surrounding the subject is starting to shift. ‘The Age of Loneliness’, shown recently by the BBC, is one
such example of a more mainstream discussion of an emotional experience which we are all likely to experience at some point during our lives. Like many painful feelings, it can be very difficult to talk about. The shame which may be tightly tied around the experience can add to the discomfort of discussion. To share yourself in one of your most vulnerable states can take a great deal of bravery. You open up to both an authentic experience of yourself and the feared judgement and potential rejection of others. What is it to be lonely? Perhaps you fear being not good enough to find connection with others or with yourself. Aloneness and loneliness are different experiences. However, if you are alone and lonely then the panic response which might come from recognising yourself as an individual in the world and what that really means can be frightening for some. Loneliness can be an overwhelming experience, but it is a universally human one.
Perhaps circumstances so far in adult life have prevented you from becoming familiar with loneliness. A life change such as the loss of a partner, moving away to a new city without a support network, or illness may lead you to sitting with powerful feelings you have not yet had the chance to be with or put words to. If you do not feel you had a choice in shaping your new situation, loneliness may be felt more strongly. You may find that if you allow yourself to be alongside the loneliness for long enough you are reminded of familiar feelings from your school days, within your family system or of a general sense of being other and on the outside of something. How did you manage these feelings then? If your current loneliness doesn’t have an obvious trigger, the story of your loneliness in the past may provide some important information about your response now.
‘Aching loneliness can stretch endlessly, like a measureless sea’ (S. Buechler)
It is understandable that a creeping loneliness, with the sense of despair, darkness, isolation and hopelessness it can bring, is a state that many people would immediately want to move away from. You may try watching television, listening to the radio, over-eating, over-exercising, spending time in unhealthy relationships, drinking, drug taking or over-sleeping to manage some of these feelings. You have not failed because you are feeling the full force of loneliness. If this is accepted, starting open and authentic discussions with yourself and others is more possible. You will be able to work towards sitting more comfortably with loneliness when it appears throughout your life, become more familiar with your personal experience of loneliness, have a better understanding of the triggers and manage moving away from the state more responsively if you chose to.
Struggling to communicate experiences of loneliness to others may perpetuate the sense of disconnection you can feel in this state. It can be difficult to describe your felt experience to another, particularly if you are only just starting to understand your own loneliness. Finding individual words, quotes or images to share can be a good starting point. In researching loneliness in the past I’ve found photography to be a helpful way to start to have these important conversations. In a state of loneliness you can feel very exposed and finding a creative way to make this more bearable could lead you back to a place of connection if you are willing to take the risk of really being with yourself and others.