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This week’s episode of The Baggage Reclaim Sessions is on a subject very close to my heart, loneliness. The last couple of months of the year are notoriously difficult for some who are feeling low, but also, some of our habits are triggers for loneliness. In seeking to understand our emotions and why we experience loneliness, we can take better care of ourselves as well as others.

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Nuggets from the episode

  • It’s easy to get the impression in the last couple of months of the year that ‘everybody’ is supposed to be in a great mood. We compare ourselves to the imagery we’re sold or other people’s lives and think, I should feel better than I do.
  • Maybe under other circumstances, we don’t typically grapple with loneliness but thanks to the pandemic, we have or are. The pandemic has caused upheaval, disruption, loss and comparison, amongst many other things.
  • We can feel as if we are putting a concerted effort into trying to alleviate our loneliness only to find that it worsens. Mislabeling our feelings and experiences, especially when we’re self-critical and comparing heightens and exacerbates loneliness.
  • Loneliness is the emotional state we experience when we’re emotionally disconnected. When we stop sharing our innermost feelings and thoughts, not just with others but also ourselves, we, whether temporarily or chronically, will experience loneliness. We have become emotionally adrift from ourselves as well as others.
  • Loneliness is something that anyone can experience and that everyone will experience. It’s not something reserved for ‘certain types’ of people. It’s not a sign of our brokenness or flaws.
  • Keeping up appearances, pretending to be something we’re not, being in an unfulfilling or abusive relationship, affairs, not asking for help, not admitting that we’re struggling, shame, glossing over our feelings, not feeling our feelings and being tuned into ourselves and our needs, are just some examples of experiences and habits that contribute to and accentuate loneliness.

We all have our interpretation of what loneliness means to us. Emptiness, isolation, a sense of not being seen or heard, of people not getting how much we’re going through. People aren’t getting or seeing the real us, or that’s how we feel.

  • We might have a far better understanding of ourselves now, but if felt that what is actually our neurodiversity was ‘weird’ or ‘wrong’, this is where we may have first become emotionally adrift. Shutting down, withdrawing, masking our feelings, playing roles, all fuel patterns of loneliness.
  • We might feel as if there’s a part of us that walks alone. It doesn’t mean we actually are alone, but we all have younger selves within us. It’s, yes, our inner child, but it’s also every age and version of us that we’ve been. We’re like Russian dolls, only we have millions of ‘us’ within. Some of those aspects of us did and do walk alone. We may not yet fully understand that younger version of us’ experiences.
  • It is possible to feel lonely and alone without actually being alone. This is why someone can feel lonely even though they’re in a room full of people that they love and care about. It’s why we don’t understand why someone who seemed so happy breaks down. We thought we knew what was going on within them, but they weren’t revealing the innermost feelings and thoughts that were causing them turmoil, pain and stuckness.

Understanding our loneliness

  • Is your loneliness temporary, situational or chronic? Sometimes it’s fleeting or for a few minutes, hours, etc. Maybe it’s because of the situation you’re in. For example, you may have experienced a loss or be going through a difficult time. Or, yes, perhaps it’s ‘chronic’ in that this is something you experience most or almost all of the time. Recognising this helps you to put your feelings and experiences into context.
  • What are your loneliness triggers? How do you know that you are lonely? What do you think, feel and do? Are you mislabelling? So, for instance, is it that you’re feeling bored but you call it ‘lonely’ and then that sets off a sequence of events? Thoughts precede feelings. Becoming more conscious of cues, triggers, and responses helps us to understand our emotional habits around loneliness.
  • What are your loneliness habits? What are the things that you say, do and think, that whether you’ve been conscious of it or not, you recognise that they accentuate or even cause loneliness. For instance, some of mine are not asking for help when I really, really need to, withdrawing into myself when I’ve become a little too self-reflective, and being what might easily come across as aloof in group situations with unfamiliar people. It’s easy for me to see why I’ve felt lonely or why it’s worsened when I’m honest about my loneliness habits. Some of the things we do are harmful, not helpful.

Some of the thoughts and feelings we experience in situations we associate with loneliness might be default responses. They don’t necessarily reflect what is actually taking place.

  • What do you need? Your feelings are telling you something about your needs. Everything we do whether helpful or harmful are our attempts at meeting our emotional needs. Everything. Chronic loneliness means that we’ve got ‘stuff’ we need to process and that our loneliness habits have got on top of us. Yes, that might mean seeking professional help or gradually learning how to practise self-care. It might be looking at the choice that we’ve avoided making. Situational means that given that we don’t experience it in other contexts, we can become present to what is going on. In doing so, we notice something we can think or do that shifts our feelings to a more restorative place. And temporary loneliness, again, is about being mindful. It’s noticing where we are and what we’re doing and thinking that set off the feeling. All of these plug us back into ourselves and connection.

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