Do you ever feel alone, even when you’re surrounded by other people?
Perhaps the most obvious problem that has at its core a lack of relationally deep contact with others, is loneliness.
This is more common than we believe. A large-scale study for instance, found that around a quarter of people had recently felt very lonely.
Loneliness can be more painful than some people may assume. For instance, most people feel a nearly intolerable sense of emptiness when they are alone.
The following description of loneliness powerfully conveys the sentiment: loneliness is like being in a deep dark pit, it’s a deep empty pit in your stomach.
Many of my client’s report greater feelings of desperation, impatience, boredom, and self-depreciation, and are more likely to suffer from depression and medical complaints.
As most of us will know, loneliness is about much more than just being on your own. Indeed, for many people solitude is a profoundly rewarding experience, but… equally one can also feel lonely in a crowd.
Max*, a 20 year old client at our practice, said he felt most alone when out with his mates: “I sit in a corner, and just listen to the conversations around me. It’s not that no one will talk to me, it’s just that I can’t really tell anyone how I’m feeling, like I feel so awful about myself or the fact that I can’t get up in the morning.”
For people like Max, the pain of loneliness is much less to do with the absence of others and much more to do with the lack of genuine human contact.
Like many other people, Max has a deep sense that others don’t really know who he is. Max was well aware that others had a particular image of who he was. People knew his mask, but no one had ever seen the face behind the mask. This was very upsetting for him with a sense that he was alone, that no one was there to help him.
Such psychological misery makes particular sense if we consider that human beings have an inherent need for contact with others. Without this closeness, we frustrate one of the most powerful human desires.
*Real name withheld