Spooning With Loneliness
Spooning with Loneliness
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
Can make it out here alone . . . (Extract from Alone by Maya Angelou)
Loneliness. Many people at some point have experienced this painful sense of disconnection, emptiness, not belonging or feeling unloved. As a Psychotherapist, I see it time and time again, whether clients come for individual therapy or relationship counselling.
Yet so many people don’t realise that loneliness is a major contributing factor to mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and marital breakdown. Spooning with loneliness is more prevalent than we realise.
I believe Mother Teresa was right when she stated that loneliness is the greatest disease in the West. So many of us are starving for love. This 21st century epidemic becomes even more startlingly clear when you look at the 2012 Australia Institute report, which found that one in three people suffers bouts of loneliness.
The problem is that we feel embarrassed about loneliness, try to suppress it, or attempt to smother it with the hectic pace of modern-day living, particularly work, thinking that we’ll soldier on. That’s largely because our more privatised, individualist and technological approach in Western society encourages us to be self-sufficient.
Unfortunately, we have focused too much on independence and gone against the essence of who we really are. The reality is, we are interdependent creatures.
You only have to look at the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which recently completed a 75-year study on happiness and health. Headed up by American psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, they discovered that having “good relationships keep us happier and healthier [and help us to live longer]. Period.
To be happy is to be connected with others. As humans, we are hard-wired and designed for close, intimate relationships. We all need to be loved. To me, this is not a matter of choice, it is a necessity.
We are not meant to be born into families and communities to then live alone, be isolated or become disconnected.
Loneliness Versus Being Alone
Often there is confusion surrounding the difference between loneliness and being alone. As I discuss on my website’s Counselling for Loneliness page, loneliness is not the same as the feeling of aloneness or the state of being physically alone.
Loneliness is a sense of painful emptiness where we lack connection to those around us, particularly to our significant other. It’s there that depression, feeling disconnected or unloved, anxiety and not belonging can occur. Everything can seem bleak and hopeless. Our desire and longing for connection or community remains, but we’re unsure of how to make that happen.
As for living alone or doing things on your own, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are lonely. We do need to have quiet, reflective time on our own and/or be alone. But when it is for extended periods, it can increase the likelihood of loneliness creeping in.
Loneliness and Flying Solo
While it is considered totally acceptable for us to be alone and/or choose a bachelor or bachelorette lifestyle in this modern era, why are we seeing the mushrooming of sleep cafes or sleepover services? For example, in Japan, you can pay from $75 to have a stranger sleep next to you (strictly non-sexual). Meanwhile, New Zealand offers the likes of cuddle classes.
The thing is, whether you are single, separated or divorced, the origins of loneliness may be born out of past hurt. Many people that have found past relationships less than fulfilling, or even damaging, can make conscious and unconscious decisions to fly solo — to be alone.
If you find yourself at this point, it is necessary to be fully aware that pain decided for you to be single or alone, not you, not love, or even your need to be loved.
Instead, I encourage you to be brave.
Take the hurt and find an attuned, experienced and qualified Counsellor or Psychologist, not because you want to regurgitate the past, but because you want to heal from those experiences to forge a strong, healthy, fulfilling relationship.
It’s important to realise that your past hurt does not have to define the next two, five or 10 years of your life.
Sure, we can be healthy and get by with some very close bonds. However, the bond between you and a significant other, if irreplaceable, will always leave a void. That’s because we are made to attach.
Simply put, that part of you that has been hurt within a relationship will remain unhealed until it is healed again — within a relationship. In this day and age, we need to be aware of it and actively work on it. That is where leaning into relationships comes in.
Leaning into Relationships
Leaning into relationships means being open and aware. It is awareness of self and others. It also involves taking a risk, but not just any risk. It needs to be an educated, calculated risk.
For example, when we have been hurt in the past, there is a tendency for us to say something along the lines of that man or woman wasn’t really right for us. Instead, a calculated risk means taking a good, hard, honest look at ourselves, and it is hard for us to do that, particularly when we consider what we did and didn’t get right, or had a tendency to point the finger.
Once we get past this, it’s still not about saying that we have to completely love ourselves before we go into relationship. It is more about knowing and feeling: “I am good enough to be loved and to love.”
Recently, a female client said to me: “Kim, I work so hard for my partner to love me but somehow time and time again, it simply doesn’t work.” My response is this: when we work so hard at loving our partner, we can forget that our partner also has an equal biological need to love us as well.
When choosing a partner, we need to be fully conscious and aware. That is, choose with eyes wide open.
Loneliness in Relationships
Although loneliness is often perceived as something that only single people experience, that’s not the case. Being in a relationship, whether married or partnered, doesn’t immunised you against loneliness, either. There can be loneliness in a relationship.
Sure, you might be sitting on the couch together or having a meal at the table, but on a deeper emotional level there is disconnection.
As to how that disconnection occurred, it could be for any number of reasons, big or small. It could stem from the usual stresses or life, be it money, kids, work and the juggling of needs. To me, disconnections usually stem from the lack of timely responsiveness between partners.
Basically, couples disconnect when there are instances of things being unresolved. In other words, they don’t speak about what is really going on for them. They talk about the topic from an intellectual perspective, not the underlying emotion. Unfortunately, couples cannot address emotional distress with intellectual discussions or arguments.
As for instances of disconnection between a couple, these can range from being excluded from a Christmas family photo to emotional flirtations, to a partner not being able to rely on the other during times of stress or vulnerability. Not only women disconnect. Men may feel trapped or pressured when unable to speak up about not wanting to move in, start a family or have another child. All of these examples of unresolved issues ultimately lead to disconnection between partners.
The downside of having intellectual conversations like these is that couples talk or argue (attack and defend) and end up going round in circles, not finding a solution. That then leads to frustration, which leads to anger and resentment, so the disconnection becomes semi-permanent and inevitably affects the quality of the relationship.
This is why I find terms such as falling in love and falling out of love unhelpful. They are parallel to falling into a ditch and getting out, wounded and bruised. Other terms such as 'we don’t have chemistry', or 'we’ve drifted apart', besides being nonsensical, simply do not address what is really going on and why.
Reconnecting Your Relationships
Whether you are feeling hurt and disconnected from a former spouse or beloved partner, family members, including parents, siblings or children, or close friends, all these relationships that we now find ourselves disconnected from can heal.
In saying that, healing may or may not involve the other. When appropriate, like in a spousal relationship, healing would ideally be conducted with couples counselling. However, when this isn’t possible, healing can occur via an internal process, with a warm and attuned therapist.
Of course, couples can drift apart, and divorce rates are high, but the ones that stay together weather the storm by knowing how to reconnect.
So take a deep breath, tune in and listen to your emotions. Let them tell you what you need. Then approach your partner with gentleness and kindness: express to them why they are so special to you, that you want to take a risk, and tell them what you need from them most.
Although painful, those feelings of loneliness or disconnection are informing us to do something about it. If you find yourself in a lonely space, or over time loneliness has somehow become a way of life, know that it does not have to be this way.
Whether you’re single or in a relationship, contact us. Your needs to connect are important and we can help.