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What should young people do with their lives today?... The most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured. – Kurt Vonnegut
Too many people in this world feel alone, unimportant, and sometimes ostracized. Even one person feeling this way is too many. But the truth is that the problem is rampant. It is inherent in the depression that people all around the world struggle with (albeit the rates of depression differ by country). So, the paradoxical reality is that if you feel lonely or abandoned or rejected by the world at large, you are in good company.
You are not alone in wanting to be truly seen and accepted. When people feel invisible or rejected, it cuts deep. Many people are surprised to find that they feel even more alone when they are around others. Maybe you watch TV or share a meal together. You chat or swap texts. So, you might reason, what more could you want? A better question to ask yourself is whether you sense that those around you really understand and accept you. Do they really “get” you? And do they really care? In all likelihood, if your answers were yes, then you would not be feeling so alone. But by not acknowledging or accepting you for who you are, sharing space with them only highlights how alone or inadequate you feel.
Most people feel lonely sometimes, and it’s a painful feeling they generally ride out. But when the feeling overwhelms you and it defines your experience of yourself, then it can be crushing. However, you can begin to get out from under it by recognizing that others also feel this way.
No doubt you’ve heard stories or spoken with people who have struggled with feeling alone. If you really look into the faces of the people you interact with, or even just pass, in your day, you will sometimes see that their true selves are hidden someplace far inside. Especially during the holidays, when stores and the media are exploding with bright colors and joyful music, many people find it much harder to hide from their sense of aloneness. And just as you have empathy for them and would want them to feel happier, you also deserve this same consideration. You deserve a sense of connection and belonging.
You can choose to look at yourself as you would another person, practicing to have empathy for your situation. If you do, you will likely still feel a pull to turn inward, and to isolate yourself more. You might help yourself by using your memory and imagination. Think of a time when you felt loved. Imagine it with as much detail as you can remember. Then allow yourself to re-experience that feeling and sit with it. Enjoy the inner warmth that you feel.
You can also create opportunities for connection by choosing to stretch yourself a little. Think of activities you have enjoyed sharing with others. Even if you are not feeling up to re-engaging, choose to do it anyway. This might mean talking with family on the phone, making plans to meet a friend for lunch, or just taking a walk out in the world around people. It won’t come easily, but you will feel better for your efforts.
Much like how you block your eyes from the sunlight as you come into it from the darkness, you will naturally guard against connecting with others as you push yourself into their company. But just as sunlight and its warmth feel good as you adjust to them, the “light and warmth” from connecting with others will also feel good with time.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness