The experience of feeling lonely comes up often in therapy sessions. While the physical experience of being alone can trigger feelings of loneliness, we all know that you can have your friends and family around you and still feel lonely… and on the flip side, people can be on their own and not feel lonely. So how can we understand loneliness?
I find it most helpful explaining it as a disconnection on multiple levels. There’s an inner experience of disconnection, and we can go as far as the molecular level (go listen to Dr. Zach Bush for more on this), a mind-body disconnect and to a person-environment disconnect.
There’s so much in our society that encourages a mind-body disconnect that literally can start from the time you’re in the womb and birthed into the world… all the way to death. Another word that comes to mind when I think of disconnection is fear. Fear is usually the culprit of creating disconnection between the mind and body, and between yourself and the environment around you. One example, and what I see in every-single-person that I’ve ever worked with is that unpleasant emotions (the physical experience of an emotion) is avoided, pushed away, struggled with, intellectualised, compartmentalised or numbed out… basically people will do anything to avoid feeling an unpleasant sensation in the body. This is a mind that is disconnected from the body, and this occurs because there is a fear associated with the unpleasant feeling… which yes, typically stems from how emotions were responded to in infancy and/or childhood. So I’m going on a bit of a tangent… what does all this have to do with loneliness? Basically, if you are not able to understand, validate and regulate your own inner emotional experience… you will be searching for someone to do that for you (which, by the way… is the role of a parent when your brain is forming these connections with your body). This perpetual search for external validation never seems enough, cue chronic feelings of loneliness.
As an adult who is no longer dependent on parents, YOU are your answer and YOU are the one you are looking for. When you start ‘reparenting’ yourself and develop greater interconnections within your mind and body, and between yourself and your environment, only then will you experience a sense of feeling emotionally ‘full’ and no longer search for something or someone else to fill that void, and instead are able to develop deep, enriching and expansive relationships.
Here are some things you can do to encourage connection between your mind and body:
Go to sleep when you start feeling tired at night. Some nights you may need 8+ hours… some nights 5-6 hours is more than enough.
Eating real, whole-foods as much as possible and a step beyond that is to predominantly eat foods that *you* naturally find ‘attractive’ to eat.
Reduce or eliminate any kind of illicit substances and alcohol. Alcohol in particular is a huge problem because it’s socially acceptable and even ‘expected’ in certain settings.
Reduce the time spent on social media and watching TV and assess the function that they serve you. Example, watching a movie to relax and enjoy with friends and/or family is a beautiful thing… scrolling through a newsfeed because it’s become a habit… not so great.
Incorporate some more mindful exercises such as yoga, pilates, walking in nature… even more ‘mindful jogging’. It’s great to work up a sweat but most intense exercises disconnect the body from the mind (because usually the mind wants to give up!) so I just wouldn’t recommend this being the only form of exercise.
Notice, acknowledge and honour the emotions you experience in your body. You don’t have to fear unpleasant sensations (but I get it… you’ve likely been conditioned to fear sadness, anger, anxiety from a young little tot so it’s an unlearning process that takes time).
Become aware of your fears and work on releasing these (with professional help if needed).
Meditate. To begin with, I would suggest a progressive muscle relaxation or a simple breathing exercise.
What else do you do that fosters connection within yourself or between yourself and your environment?