“The only antidote to fear is to go through it. Only by embracing loneliness may its tyranny be broken.” – James Hollis.
Can you imagine a condition associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature death? A state that everyone at some point heard about someone who experienced it or is currently experiencing it. A condition that, in developed countries, affects a third of the population, leaving people depressed, irritable, self-absorbed, isolated, and disconnected. Social status, ethnicity, or peculiarity of one’s character will not defend one from this quite contagious condition. Even though, in recent years, it emerged as a public health problem, for the most part, it is ignored, stigmatized, and underestimated.
The sad part is that physicians and mental health professionals lack the knowledge and resources to assist people suffering from it. This modern ailment is called loneliness.
So, let’s take a closer look at what loneliness is.
In his book ‘Inner Gold,’ Robert Johnson described that loneliness can be experienced in three different ways: loneliness for the past, loneliness for what has not yet been realized, and the profound loneliness of being close to God.
The loneliness for the past.
The loneliness for the past is regressive. It’s wanting to return to the place we came from, to the comfort and security of the way things used to be. It is the wish to return to primal innocence, to the safety of the mother’s womb. But, unfortunately, this kind of loneliness drives us backward and downward.
“How many times do your dreams take you back to the early times-the playground, the backyard, the tree you used to climb, your grade-school friends? This is the backward-turning loneliness, a hunger for the Garden of Eden.” – Robert Johnson
The loneliness for the future.
The second kind of loneliness is the longing for what is possible but has not yet been realized. As human beings, we are equipped with the vivid intuition to envision what we are capable of. It is an ability to imagine what is possible. Longing towards these possibilities is loneliness for what is not; seeing something out there will alleviate the suffering that is happening here. This occurs when our values and sense of meaning are outside of ourselves – that there is something, someone, someplace, or some condition that is the remedy to our current problem. This kind of loneliness drives us forward and upward. The unique aspect of that kind of loneliness is that it has the potential to cause us to accomplish something. However, if loneliness is our driving force, we are never in control.
The loneliness for God.
The third kind of loneliness, the most subtle and complex, is the loneliness of being close to God. This kind of loneliness is felt as extreme pain. We cannot touch something we long for the most, and that ‘inability’ is excruciating. When we are in such pain, we cry to be freed from our suffering.
It is said that the only cure for loneliness is aloneness. Recognizing that initiates a journey inward from loneliness through solitude towards the vision. That is where the redemption takes place. That is when the loneliness vanishes. This happens when a change in consciousness arises that turns loneliness into solitude. If you can transform your loneliness into solitude, you are one step away from the most precious experiences. This is the cure for loneliness.
Where to begin our journey from loneliness towards solitude and vision?
Carl Jung said, “Loneliness does not come from having no people around one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.”
The journey beings with a conversation with yourself. It starts by being honest and compassionate about what you feel lonely for. This will reveal a lot. So, ask yourself:
Do you want to return to where you came from? Do you want to return to the good old days? Or do you see a vision that you can’t live without?
Examine your thoughts, and reflect on your feelings, values, and desires. Get to know yourself better. Find out what the essential things in life are to you. Work towards developing self-love and self-worth. Ask yourself, what is the driving force for your highest good? Rather than trying to escape your feelings of loneliness, engage in genuinely listening and addressing them in loving, gentle ways. Invite them into an honest conversation. See them as small helpless children that are trying to communicate with you. Such an approach will help you become more authentic, and as a result, you will connect to others in a meaningful way.
With warm wishes,
Photo Credit: Eve Baran
Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S, Capitanio JP, Cole SW. The neuroendocrinology of social isolation. Annual Rev Psychol 2015; 66: 733–67.
Hollis, James (1996), Swamplands of the Soul: New Life in Dismal Places. Toronto: Inner City Press.
Johnson, R. A. (2008). Inner Gold: Understanding Psychological Projection. Adfo Books.