By Rachel Negar Partiali, Ph.D.
Loneliness is an inherent part of the human condition, yet we each mask our loneliness in subtle and often not so subtle ways. A relationship falls apart, we lose our job, we feel unloved, we feel unseen by those who love us – all experiences that can confront us with our hidden loneliness. When we are faced with this pain, we often try to avoid feeling it because it feels so awful. Avoidance can take the form of either numbing ourselves through distractions or filling our lives with “things.” Yet, the distractions keep us in a cycle of perpetual loneliness. They further plunge us into the depths of a life filled with chaos, noise, and business as a means to escape being with our inner discomfort.
We often think that our loneliness is the result of the absence of company or stimulating environments, but the reality is that our loneliness springs from our inability to form an emotionally deep connection with ourselves.
We may feel trapped and not know how to lessen this inner pain or how to connect with ourselves. In all fairness, most of us never had modeling of how to be with our emotions. On the contrary, we have learned to push away parts of ourselves that we don’t like or parts of us that would be otherwise rejected by others.
So, how can we deal with the loneliness that lives within?
To transcend our state of loneliness, we must befriend our loneliness.
Instead of thwarting away that lonely feeling in the pit of your stomach, embrace it. Embrace the emptiness, hopelessness, desperate longing, unworthiness, or any other feeling that dwells within the open wound of your loneliness. Perhaps as you open yourself up to your feelings, a sense of inner compassion can be born to hold space for the forgotten abyss that lives within. The act of being compassionate to our suffering creates a deep connection to our pain. The deeper we can connect to our pain, the more space we create for authentic joy, love, and happiness to exist. We often close our capacity to feel our loneliness too prematurely. As eloquently stated by the 14th-century poet, Hafez:
“Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut more deep. Let it ferment and season you As few human or even divine ingredients can…”
If we allow the loneliness to unravel as we maintain a sense of inner compassion, rather than scolding ourselves for feeling the way we do, the loneliness can become a gift. When we befriend our loneliness, we also become acquainted with our desires and longings. The loneliness can be the drive that motivates us toward seeking the fulfillment we yearn.
The simplicity of this truth does not mean it is an easy task to accomplish. The concept of compassionately witnessing and befriending these parts within us can feel like a daunting task, yet avoiding these feelings lead us to perpetual suffering. As we bring an attitude of curiosity, compassion, and openness to our loneliness, some reflective questions to consider can be the following:
· Is the loneliness you are feeling only the result of your immediate environment?
· Is the loneliness an old feeling that has been with you for a long time?
· What feelings underlie the loneliness?
· What kind of connection are you seeking to ease the loneliness within?
· What quality of internal connection with yourself would ease the loneliness you feel?
· What part of you needs to be seen and acknowledged?
· Can you feel the pain of loneliness and allow self-compassion to exist for your pain?
Although pain and loneliness are part of our existence, we can free ourselves from the cycle of perpetual loneliness by cultivating a compassionate space for such feelings to exist. This desire to befriend our loneliness creates a deep connection with ourselves which can serve as the springboard to us finding meaningful connections with others.