All of us feel the sharp pangs of loneliness from time to time.
It’s a heavy, aching sensation often tinged with sadness or fear, and in complete contrast to the peace and contentment we feel when we are enjoying chosen solitude and time alone.
Though loneliness can hit us even when we are surrounded by a sea of people, it does seem to make its unwanted appearance most often when we are alone or otherwise isolated.
Sometimes, loneliness is simply desiring company and connection when none is available. We are social creatures after all, and our happiness – our very survival in fact – depends on the connections we build with one another. We may feel lonely when we move to a new city, leave a relationship, or start a new job. Sometimes loneliness touches us when we feel different from those around us in some key way, such as with our beliefs or interests. Many feel a unique kind of loneliness when they long for a deep, intimate connection with another in the form of a romantic partner.
But Is it possible that sometimes, what we feel in those quiet hours isn’t loneliness at all?
In those moments when we are truly alone, and without the distractions and diversions we normally surround ourselves with on a near-constant basis, we are faced with the uncomfortable presence of something many of us would rather not deal with – ourselves.
Our culture and society do not encourage solitude, nor are there many opportunities for silence. We are over-stimulated by noise, visual distractions, social media, video games, food, shopping, sex, busy-ness and to-do lists. In this type of life, there is very little opportunity for quiet contemplation and introspection.
And yet it is often only in these rare moments of quiet solitude that our emotions – especially those that we have buried, repressed and suppressed – have the space to finally surface. And which emotions are we most likely to bury and avoid by all this distracting? The challenging ones, like sadness, grief, insecurity, doubt and fear. Emotions that feel a lot like loneliness.
We are so quick to dismiss difficult and uncomfortable emotions. We’d really rather not have to sit with them, look at them, or deal with them. So we label them loneliness, and attempt to fill the aching void by watching a show, calling a friend, or surfing social media. The feelings seemingly ‘go away’, and so we believe we have solved the problem.
But what we are really doing is denying these emotions the attention and time they so desperately need, pushing them back down only to resurface the next time we find ourselves alone and bored.
In most situations, challenging, uncomfortable and even painful emotions just need to be allowed in order for them to begin softening and dissipating. We don’t have to solve the originating problem, make amends, relive the past, or change our lives to experience immediate relief. Emotions are truly ‘energy in motion’, and much of the time, all they require of us is a little quiet space and our undivided attention.
We may believe that if we sit still with the feelings for even a few moments, they will intensify and overwhelm us, but this is not the case. Our emotions just want to be acknowledged, welcomed and felt. Like clouds in a clear blue sky, they will have their time in our awareness before passing through.
Some deep-seated or particularly painful emotions may linger longer than others or revisit us from time to time, and new ones will also come and go. But if we don’t resist them by distracting ourselves, they will indeed pass.
So, next time you find yourself alone and feeling lonely, give yourself the gift of your own company for a little while, and let the feelings surface. Give them your undivided attention without gripping or holding on, and without resisting or pushing away. Become curious about them. The results might just pleasantly surprise you.