‘Why do I feel so alone? I am seeing my students and colleagues online almost every day, I have never attended so many zoom meetings in my life and now, more than ever, I am spending more time with my family and those I live with? What is wrong with me?’
Loneliness is a funny thing. A word we often associate with being physically alone, isolated or being by ourselves. Loneliness though isn’t as straight forward as it sounds.
In his book ‘Together: The healing power of human connection in a sometimes lonely world’, Dr Vivek H. Murthy talks about 3 kinds of human connection that when missing lead to loneliness; intimate, relational and collective. He explains that to sustain life in our own way, we need all 3 types of these bonds.
Intimate loneliness is when you lack connection with people who really know you, with whom you feel you can be your true self, usually a close friend or partner. Relational loneliness is when you lack friendships and connection with those whom you would normally spend time with on the weekend and socialise with. Collective loneliness is when you lack a sense of community-based or shared identity, this could be found in the workplace, with colleagues or a sporting or charity group you are a part of.
At the moment, with isolation and social-distancing being enforced, you’d be forgiven for feeling lonely. We have lost many of our connection points, and those which still remain, especially in the relational and collective categories, have become more about the transactional connection. We are so consumed with our own survival, the connections we used in the past to fill the need of relational and collective connection have been instead replaced with check-lists, meetings discussing who is doing what and people preoccupied with what is coming up next.
We know connection is missing, but does that really mean we are feeling lonely?
Loneliness doesn’t always present itself in the way we might think it does. We can be surrounded by people, yet still feel alone.
‘I am doing it all on my own’
‘No-one understands what I am going through’
‘I can’t ask for help, I just need to get through it’
These are all signs that loneliness is right there with us. Connection is lost. We are on our own. It is hard to ask for help, speak up or even utter those 4 powerful words; ‘I feel so alone’. We are ashamed, afraid someone will judge us, not like us, or think we aren’t doing a good enough job. This is where loneliness hides.
What I want you to know about loneliness though, is that it is far more common than you think. If you feel this way, it is likely someone else does. Just by speaking up and sharing your own loneliness, asking how someone is and giving them the space to answer honestly, you may find yourself truly connecting with those around you for the first time in this socially isolated world we live in right now.
It isn’t just connecting that matters, it is the quality of our connections that will make us feel less alone.