Have you ever felt completely alone in your life? Loneliness can be one of the most painful experiences of life. It doesn’t matter how much we fight to avoid loneliness; we can’t escape from facing it at some point in life.
Loneliness is not exactly an objective fact. It’s more an emotional state, even when we are surrounded by people. And although it’s usually painful and terrifying, it can end up being one of the most productive and joyful experiences we may ever have.
In this article, we’re going to not only understand loneliness in all its contrasts but will also design a four-step path for turning loneliness into a path for fulfillment.
Is loneliness something we should be really afraid of? What makes it so terrible? Maybe this monster is not so ugly if we just stop to look at it in the eyes.
Loneliness itself is not good or bad. It’s just a fact. But our concepts, thoughts and emotions can completely shape the way we experience it.
Let’s examine three elements which play an important role in the way we experience loneliness:
Birth trauma and the instinctive fear of loneliness
Our first nine months of life happen inside a contained and protected environment. In the womb we’re comfortably wrapped in tender and warm amniotic liquid. We receive all the food we need. All our necessities are being attended to. And, most importantly, we’re in!
There’s no loneliness in the womb. We’re inside our mother’s body and we feel ourselves as part of it.
With birth all of that is gone.
Suddenly expelled from this protected and cozy environment, the baby must face the exposure to a scarring wide, dry, cold and noisy environment.
The belly cord is cut and the sensation of belonging is gone. The child is no longer part of the mother, but an individual, exposed to a dangerous world.
For a baby with no control of the body and no elements of language to even formulate thoughts, being so defenseless in such a new and hostile world is a quite a traumatic experience.
This first trauma shapes us at a deep level. And although with the passing of time we develop many layers of mental and emotional structure, we keep carrying these traumatic memories in the depths of our subconscious.
Because of this first trauma, we live an eternal quest for belonging. It doesn’t matter how much we wish and fight for freedom, we will always seek for something that can feel like the protective embrace of the womb.
What once was a very real place becomes an archetypical realm, which we keep pursuing in the course of our life.
Which sort of situations do you associate with peace, protection, unity and belonging?
We can’t avoid projecting this archetypical womb in our relationships. The momentaneous feelings of dissolving our personality into something bigger than oneself – a love affair, family, community, spiritual circle, etc. – are experienced as a kind of return to the womb.
This association happens behind the scenes, in the depths of our subconscious, and can really mess with our lives. It can make us project a savior in our partner or believe that we would be lost if we leave our spiritual circle, for example.
The fact is that we feel an instinctive and irrational fear of ending up alone, helpless and with no horizon. And this fear can push us to stand the most negative and abusive sorts of relationships just to maintain the illusion of protection and care.
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Social myths and expectations
The construction of society doesn’t obey a linear kind of logic. It’s the fruit of different sorts of interests and necessities.
These interests and necessities can be quite contradictory. We live in the center of forces which are bigger than us, fighting for manipulating and using us for their purposes.
That’s why at the same time our society stimulates us to be fully independent and fight for our capitalist dreams, it also wants us to stick to obsolete formal and conservative models of family.
The contradictions are many. Men are usually raised believing they must chase girls and have as much sex as possible to prove their masculinity, but at once they are taught to respect moral values, sticking to a monogamic marriage and constructing a family. Meanwhile, women are raised in the cultural heritage of a patriarchal society. Marrying and being a mother are the normal thing expected from them. They must live between the old pressure of their sexual repression and the modern pressure for achieving the current feminine standards of liberation and independence.
Romantic love, monogamy and a happy American family are some of the constructions intended to serve a social purpose rather than to make us happy. Yet these structures are sold to us as the path for happiness. Even worse, they are also sold as “the normal,” meaning that if you don’t fit in with these models there must be something wrong with you.
We all live under the shadow of social parameters which condition and limit our behavior.
So, how is loneliness seen in the eyes of society? It’s seen as something unnatural, almost like a shame. If you are alone, you must have something wrong with you. It not only means you’re not a nice person, but it’s like you’ve failed. This is what our society subliminally says.
To make our situation much worse, each of us carries the society within. It’s not only that we exist in society. Society, with all its rules and codes, exists within us. We have introjected the whole society in our subconscious, and we live as if we’re being constantly observed and judged.
Even if no one is watching, we keep playing this same game. We feel the pressure. We see ourselves according to the social rules and expectations programmed in us. We imagine we’re being watched, judged, and criticized.
That’s how something as natural as being alone is turned into something wrong and negative, into a fault.
Being alone doesn’t only mean you live by yourself. Unless you break through these social expectations, it will also mean that you’re a freak, you’re suffering, something is going wrong with your life and you should be ashamed of your situation.
The culture of distraction
In our current world, being busy is the rule. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being working. Whenever you’re surfing your Instagram or watching television, you’re busy. You have your attention occupied with something else outside of yourself.
Two elements play a major role in our lives, although we rarely notice their level of toxicity: the entertainment’s industry and social media. These elements can drain your so precious time, giving absolutely nothing back but distraction.
But let’s go back in time a little bit more, to remember how you were educated at school. How much have you learned about yourself and your emotions there? Have you learned to stop, to feel your body, or to explore your inner dimensions?
Of course, not. All you’ve got was empty, cold knowledge from outside, which you’ve had to memorize. You’ve learned to repress and block your natural instincts, to sit in a boring chair and listen to a teacher for hours, instead of being playing and exploring life in your way.
Becoming an adult is a difficult job. As we grow up, we must detach more and more from our essence. Each social circle has its rules and demands us to behave in a certain way. Not playing the social game is not an option. If we do not do that, we’re rejected and can’t find our place in society.
The process of socialization means turning from an innocent and spontaneous child into a broken adult disconnected from our depths. We must repress and hide our true nature, put on a mask and try to attend the social expectations in order to survive.
With the passing of time we get so used to this game that we completely forget we’re playing. We forget that we are far away from our true being.
Depression, anxiety, existential anguish and feelings alike are signals sent from our own being that there’s something wrong with us. They’re callings from our depths, reminding us to stop and come back to our true nature. They’re the beginning of our journey back home, our journey of self-discovery.
Yet we’ve learned to run away from these feelings. We’ve learned to anesthetize them with antidepressants, anxiolytics, social-media and entertainment.
We’ve been so far from our true being, for so long, that we’ve forgotten the way back. We don’t know who we are and our purpose in life. We live in a constant existential crisis, which we try to ignore at every cost.
Being alone would mean having to face our own being. And we fear that.
We don’t know how to deal with our emotions. We fear what may happen once we stop and must face ourselves. We’re not in peace with ourselves and we’re afraid of opening the door and tapping into our forgotten depths.
A four-step journey to finding peace and fulfillment in loneliness
Each of these elements – birth trauma, social myths and expectations, and the culture of distraction – would be enough to create a big conflict between ourselves and loneliness. But these three factors combined can make a real hell of our life whenever we find ourselves alone.
But although the obstacles are big, the reward we can get bypassing them is priceless!
The way to inner peace and fulfilment unavoidably crosses the desert of loneliness. Only there we can meet our deepest nature. Only from there we can flourish to life with the entirety of our being.
Just for a moment, don’t try to avoid loneliness. You can treasure it. It’s an opportunity!
First step: Cultivating a relationship with yourself
Have you ever heard about the inner relationship? It happens all the time, even if you’re not aware of that.
How do you treat yourself?
This is a key question.
Your whole life experience will be a consequence of the relationship you have with yourself.
How much do you judge and criticize yourself? Does your mind behave as an invisible tyrant constantly judging and criticizing you?
Do you recognize and celebrate your accomplishments?
Do you take good care of your body?
Do you respect yourself?
How much guilt, shame, anger and resentment against your own being do you carry within?
We usually choose to avoid these questions. They are not comfortable. But believe me, it’s worth taking time to ask yourself these questions. This is how you start shifting your relationship with yourself.
Think of how you would like to be treated by people. Are you treating yourself with the same love, care and respect you would like to receive?
If you aren’t, it doesn’t matter how many people you have around and how much they love you, you’ll still feel empty and alone.
A positive and constructive relationship with yourself is fundamental for your wellbeing.
You can think of saving the world and achieving other great deeds later. But your first responsibility is with yourself.
Yet this is not how we’ve been educated. We’ve been taught that self-love is selfishness and self-admiration is narcissism. We’ve been conditioned to ignore what we want, to become what the world expects from us.
We start playing this game without even thinking about it. And we expect that if we play well, the world will give us back the fulfillment we look for. But it doesn’t happen. Fulfilment only comes from inside out.
Imagine your inner environment as an ecosystem. You’re the gardener responsible for taking care of it, for making it flourish healthily.
If you do this job properly, your moments by yourself will never be empty. You’ll be there, planted in the center of your life. Your core will be energized, and your life will be fertile.
Second step: Listening to yourself
How much do you know yourself?
Do you know how to listen to yourself?
I don’t mean listening to your mind. Your thoughts are not trustworthy. They are too volatile and malleable. If you don’t believe me, you can check yourself by stopping, grabbing a notebook and a pen, and taking notes of all your thoughts for five minutes. Try to read it later, and I’m sure you won’t make any sense of the madness you’ll find in your notebook. The human mind is pretty crazy!
But our mind is not only inconstant and volatile. It’s also permeable.
You may be walking on the street, feeling sad, stressed and frustrated. You look up and see an outdoor display of an advertisement of a happy person holding the newest iPhone. Such an image may plant a seed in the background of your mind, and in a couple of days you may be convinced that the iPhone can put an end to your sadness, or even that the reason for your sadness and frustration is because you don’t have an iPhone.
Of course, this is just a very simplified example of a much more elaborate process. In the last century, a quite sophisticated media system has evolved to serve the capitalist system. Marketing became a science, and for decades advertising experts studied and perfected their ways to manipulate us and plant dreams in our mind.
Summing up, you can’t trust your mind.
In order to really listen to yourself you must go beyond your mind. You must get in touch with your emotions.
What do you feel? Listen to your feelings by being present in them.
We usually try to run away from uncomfortable feelings. We try to ignore, fix or resolve them as fast as possible.
But your emotions are such an essential part of your being! Avoiding and rejecting your emotions means abandoning yourself. As much as you run away from your emotions, more feelings of abandonment and rejection grow inside of you, and more alone you feel.
Every time you tap into an uncomfortable emotion, your mind will try to take you away from it. It will try to find a solution for your feelings. Yet your feelings are not a problem.
Listen to your feelings instead of trying to fix them. The narrative created by your mind around them is not important. Just let go of your mind and embrace your feelings so you’ll be listening to yourself on a much deeper level.
By consequence, the rejected and neglected aspects of your being will start to receive your attention. It’s like opening a window, letting fresh air and sunlight come to a place closed for a long time. A new blow of life will start circulating in these depths. What before was monsters growing in the darkness of your emotional dungeons will turn into flowers in your inner garden.
All your emotions require for that is your presence.
Third step: Taking responsibility
Whenever you find yourself suffering for being alone, ask yourself who you blame for that.
Each person can find a different answer for this question. Some blame themselves. Some blame their partner or ex-partner. Some prefer to put the responsibility on someone who irreversibly traumatized them in the past. And some blame the ruthlessness of the world.
Whatever the answer is, you must overcome it. It doesn’t matter who you blame for your loneliness – if someone else, the world or yourself, blaming is a self-destructive process that keeps you stuck in your pain, stopping you from taking action.
It doesn’t matter how you got there, what matters is that you’re suffering for being alone. Instead of blaming, take ownership of your feelings, and take responsibility for them.
Taking responsibility is very different than feeling guilt or blaming yourself.
Taking responsibility means looking at your eyes in the mirror and saying: “yes, this is my life. I’ve put myself here, and I can change it if I want. I am the only responsible for my life.”
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Once you’ve chosen to take responsibility for your loneliness instead of blaming, what should you do?
Again, you must take responsibility. At this point you must take the responsibility for your own fulfillment.
Don’t expect anybody to bring happiness and fulfilment to your life. You must be this person.
How can you use your time and energy in positive ways? How can you fill your inner universe with life?
If you know the answer, go for it! If you don’t, explore with curiosity. Try!
Loneliness is such an opportunity! Far from distractions of external relationships you can focus on yourself. You can learn from yourself. You can explore new possibilities. You can be creative.
Most people find loneliness boring. But it can be quite the opposite of that. You just need to be active and creative. Boringness is just the consequence of laziness. Once you take responsibility, you won’t waste your time anymore. You’ll take advantage of every minute of your life.
Fourth step: Celebrating yourself
We carry many expectations about life. We have many more dreams and time to achieve them. And some of the things we dream about – like eternal happiness, for example – are not even possible to achieve.
Once you understand that, you won’t take your frustrations so seriously. You’ll understand that it’s just part of the human experience.
You’ll understand that your life will never be perfect, because such perfection doesn’t exist.
When you get to this point, you can start celebrating yourself.
We usually postpone celebrating ourselves. We think our life is not complete yet and we don’t deserve celebrating it. We keep pursuing an idyllic perfection, hypnotized by our expectations, instead of enjoying the life we have now.
We think one day we will arrive at a place of happiness and fulfillment where we’ll finally enjoy our life. But as time passes, we never arrive there and all we get is frustration growing inside of us. We can end up depressed in the course of this process.
You don’t need a better life. You don’t need to do anything else. You don’t need to be any better than you already are. You can celebrate yourself now.
Recognize the miracle you are. Look at your accomplishments. Worship the life that exists within you. Enjoy being yourself.
You don’t need to feel any different than you’re feeling now. Celebration doesn’t require happiness. If it’s sadness what you feel, you can open your heart and go as deep as you can. Don’t judge your feelings. Don’t react to them. They’re life. They are part of the miracle of being alive.
When you start celebrating your emotions rather than fighting them, they start revealing their true nature. You will not only be able to find peace even in the midst of an emotional chaos but will also experience being in touch and in peace with the entirety of your being. And this is such a fulfilling feeling!
Look at yourself and celebrate it. This life is not exactly a gift. It has cost a lot for you to survive so far, to develop yourself and to get where you are. You can see yourself as a problem or as a wonder of nature. The choice is yours.
If you arrive at the conclusion that you’re sacred, how would you worship yourself? This idea may sound like a sacrilege, but you’re more real and sacred than any invisible god above the sky. How can you celebrate yourself? How can you say to yourself that you’re sacred and worthy of all respect and love that you can give?
You can be creative and find your own way for celebrating yourself.
At this point, being alone will be the last of your concerns. You’ll feel so fulfilled and in peace with yourself that you won’t need anybody to attend to your emotional needs.
At this point you’ll be able to develop healthy relationships in your life. Relationships where you can exchange from your heart, with no codependency.
But such relationships will be an option, not a necessity.
Rudá Iandê is a shaman and the bestselling author of Laughing in the Face of Chaos, a politically incorrect shamanic guide to modern life. He is currently playing a free masterclass on Love & Intimacy for a limited time.