Last night I attended a group meeting where we discuss different topics related to one’s emotional life. The topic for the evening was “aloneness and loneliness”. It’s a topic I’m familiar with personally, but it’s something I think is part of the human condition and the topic never really leaves our lives.
Being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease as a child left me feeling lonely. I was the only one I knew who was facing a health challenge and socially it left me at odds with myself and my social development. I remember trying to avoid any discussion of my illness and didn’t know where to turn. Doctors weren’t a support and although my grandfather had the same health challenge we never discussed it…I don’t think he ever dealt with it on an emotional or spiritual level.
As we went around the room last night many if not most of the group, when discussing loneliness, spoke about isolating. Members of the group continued sharing and the word isolation kept coming up and the more they said it, the stronger my gut reaction was saying, that’s not it for me (even though that’s what I had said at the beginning).
My A-ha moment came when about the 10th person talked about wanting to be a part of something, a group, a sense of belonging and that’s what combats loneliness. In that moment, I realized that when I’m the most lonely is when I’m disconnected from myself. My feeling lonely is a sure sign that I’m not paying attention to my own needs. I’m trying to fill my life with events, and people, but not necessarily focusing on my heart and soul.
There was some talk about filling your life by making plans and that combats loneliness. It reminded me of a story from my childhood. I have a younger brother and he would chase me (don’t ask me why or why I participated). I would yell to my mother, “Mom, he’s chasing me”, and she would reply, “Stop running and he can’t chase you”.
That was my reaction to the idea of overcoming loneliness by making plans. What happens when we stop running, when we stop making plans to fill our day, when we schedule our days so full hoping to be filled up? I’ll tell you what happens, you go home exhausted and the loneliness creeps in because you never really dealt with it.
Being diagnosed with a chronic or other life-altering illness can be very lonely. Very few of us have the opportunity that big stars like Michael J. Fox, Suzanne Somers, or Montel Williams have where they wrote a book about living with their illness and then travel the country meeting others who are living the same experience dissipating the sense of loneliness.
This is the benefit of support groups. They give you a place where when someone says, “I know how you feel”, the odds are good they’re telling the truth, not simply placating you. I’m a big proponent of support groups but there is a caveat. The group needs to be facilitated by a trained and competent facilitator. Nothing can leave you feeling lonelier than a group that has driven far off course and you’re still standing on the road wondering where everyone else went.
How do you combat loneliness? How do you foster a connection with yourself? I’d love to dialogue with you about this. Simply hit the comment button and think of this as your own support group where you’re not alone and hopefully that results in reducing your sense of loneliness.