Why is it that we can be surrounded by people – even our friends and family – and yet still feel alone? Research has suggested that loneliness is more common than we might think, with 80% of children and 40% of seniors experiencing it. Loneliness results when we believe if we reveal our true self to others that we will not be accepted and, instead, will be judged negatively. To avoid the emotional pain of rejection – or lack of acceptance – we either wear masks and pretend to be someone we are not and/or tend to pull back and isolate ourselves, cutting off our life-giving connection to ourselves and others.
As a young person, I often felt different from the people I found myself surrounded by. People would tell me that I shouldn’t feel the way I felt or that I should pursue a particular career because it was the smart thing to do, implying if I didn’t want to pursue it that I must be dumb. I spent a great deal of my life trying to fit in, hiding my emotions and behaving in ways that I was told was right. I remember talking to friends about feeling like I was a square peg trying to fit in a round hole and they would look at me with a funny look on their faces. I just kept thinking that if I continue to put myself out there I will eventually find my place in the world. So I kept searching and searching, trying on different masks to see if I could find the “right” one. Ultimately, my search for acceptance left me exhausted and full of self-doubt!
I found my way into therapy and spent several years on a journey of self-discovery. This journey took me deep, to the roots of where the seeds of my beliefs came from so I could understand why I was looking for external validation versus allowing the expression of my authentic self. Once I understood where my beliefs came from and why they developed, I then got the opportunity to question them to decide if I still believed them or if they actually weren’t my beliefs in the first place. Once I was able to get to a place where I could embrace (yes, accept!) my uniqueness and stop trying to conform just to fit in, I found a greater sense of peace. This inner peace brought me more ease when interacting with others, reducing the judgment both of myself and others. And once I got a taste of that felt sense of inner peace, ease, and acceptance, my way of being in the world changed and opened the door for a deeper connection in all of my relationships. I was able to relatively quickly find my tribe where I no longer had to put on any masks because they appreciated my energetic vibe just where it was.
As a social species, humans grow when we feel accepted, connected, and supported on our journey to remain true to our purpose in life and the expression of our unique talents in the creation of the meaning of our purpose. If we feel stuck and alone, it may be a sign that we are disconnected from our authentic being, chasing that elusive sense of acceptance from others. What we might need is some time and space to work on accepting ourselves. And what research is showing is that reaching out and asking for help through therapy might just be a way to alleviate the pain of loneliness and deepen our felt sense of connection.
If you would like to read some of the research about why increasing our understanding of loneliness matters, click on the link below: