Thoughts About Loneliness

Many of the people I see and talk to indicate that one of the feelings they struggle with is a constant or nagging state of loneliness.  What does that really mean, I usually ask them.  The answers I receive are very personal, varied, and individual.  There are some common threads though that tie these answers together.  Perhaps the state of being human IS to be lonely on some level.  I suspect we are all hungry for someone who really gets us, really understands us...without us having to explain or reveal ourselves too much.  Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing if such a person really existed? 

The yearning for such a friend/companion is not really all that surprising.  One of the things we learn as child-centered play therapists is that all young children sincerely wish to be seen and heard and understood.  Since we carry our wounds from childhood forward, is it all that surprising that as adults we would still be longing and yearning for the same thing?  Someone to be a mirror for us, to show us our true share in our triumphs and accomplishments as well as our losses and sorrows.

Sometimes we can be lonely in a crowd, a group of friends, a marriage or other type of committed relationship.  Sometimes it is not enough to "have" someone, especially if we feel like that person just doesn't understand us.  There have been some relationships in my life where I felt more lonely to be in the relationship than out of it and "by myself".  Why is that, I ask myself?

Well, loneliness is a mystery.  Maybe it belongs to the realm of the unconscious, the unknown.  Perhaps it symbolizes a longing for the Divine.  Perhaps it is even how we know that we are alive!  I say that because even in my best relationships, the human ones that seem to fill my soul up to the brim, there is often that subtle (or sometimes not) psychic residue of loneliness still hanging around.  Sometimes it is just a vestige, the tiniest glint of "something" that escapes and eludes me.  

I just can't quite put my finger on it.  I suppose it functions to keep me on the path, ever trudging forward, seeking more closeness, more intimacy, with my beloved.  And then, just as unexpectedly, it vanishes.  It turns a corner and can't be seen.  

I think it's gone for good.  I relax, I stop trying so hard to stay conscious.  Maybe I even stop praying so much and sink into my own norm, the mundane of everyday living, and bam!  There it is again.  It came calling for me again just that fast!!!!  LONELINESS.  Just that little bit of something, that little bit of nothing.

How to Work With Someone Who Hurt Your Feelings

Sometimes I forget to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and see things from their point of view.  John Gottman, famous couples researcher and therapist, tells us that being able to do this is imperative for a good relationship.  Usually this means being able to understand why the other person is feeling what they are feeling.  Sometimes I am actually too good at that, usually in the context of the therapy room.  Today I am thinking about it in a slightly different context, though it has similar results.

Recently I joined a committee for a professional organization that I have membership in where I really did not know anyone very well.  I have just moved back to town and am in the process of creating new relationships/business contacts with people.  I used to belong to this organization before, about 15 years ago.  It was good then so I thought I would give it another try.

When I lived here before I was in another profession and was well-connected by virtue of what I did.  I was in business development for a CPA firm as well as for a bank.  Since then I have transitioned into doing marriage and family therapy work for professionals/executives.  I have had my own business for the last 13 years.  I think to myself (which is too often) that no one knows me here for what I have been doing these last 15 years.  I think they only know me for what I did when I left.  I think about how well known I was where I was living in North Carolina, but how little known I am here for the kind of work I do now.  So I enter the first committee meeting leading with these negative thoughts, feeling inadequate and somewhat anxious despite the fact that I am very extroverted.

I was shy about volunteering my time to help, mostly because I have so much going on with the transition here, so I held back.  However, there was one event where I thought my field of expertise could be a plus.  So I stuck my toe in the water and offered to help, but someone else with a stronger voice took charge of the lead.  That was okay with me, but I have to admit feeling a little left out.  I felt so left out that by the time I pulled out of the parking garage at the end of the meeting, I didn’t pay full attention and scraped my front bumper against the concrete post!  That was like an exclamation mark to my feelings of frustration and I almost quit the committee right then and there.  Afterall, I figured, they didn’t really need me.  I wasn’t really contributing anything.

But I stuck with it and tried again by attending the next meeting.  Once again, I felt weak to the strength of the other committee members’ strong voice when it came to speaking out on planning this one event…they were taking on all the work and I did not have a part in it,  and I wasn’t speaking out and saying anything because I was listening to those negative voices in my head too much.

A few weeks went by, and it came to be the week of the event.  Imagine my surprise when the person with the strong voice e-mailed me to request my input re: the content of the events’ program.  We arranged a telephone call, and I was blown away by how it turned out.  During a forty-minute conversation, I found out that this person valued my opinion, and preferred to collaborate during the presentation part of the event.  They also suggested that we co-facilitate that evening.  I gave strong opinions on the content and was met with positive response.  I felt my anxieties wash away as I realized that I was the one with the problem:  I had failed to put myself in the other person’s shoes because I was too preoccupied with my own insecurities.  If I had done so sooner, I would have seen that they sought my input as a valuable contribution.  That they were not preventing me from participating in the planning at all, that I was doing that all by myself with my negative thinking.

Thank goodness I was open to the call of cooperation and was easily able to brush aside my hurt feelings.  The collaboration turned out to be a rich experience.  When the other person introduced me at the event, it was done in a flattering style, with attention called to my “many credentials”.  To say I was in disbelief at the moment was not too strong of a phrase.  I hope that I will be savoring this experience for months to come…what it teaches me is not to be so preoccupied with the negative voices in my head that I fail to notice when someone is extending a helping hand.