We're More Connected Than Ever... So Why Do We Feel So Lonely?
We live in a world with more people on earth than any time in history, with technology that allows us to talk with people anywhere in the world (and even see their faces while we do it!), and yet we feel lonelier and more disconnected than ever before.
Why is that?
Loneliness is akin to sadness or depression, but it contains a unique sense of longing.
In loneliness, there’s a sense that something important is missing from our lives, that a fundamental need in our lives isn’t being met. It can arise when we feel alone or isolated, when we don’t feel heard or seen by others.
And yet, if this was as straightforward as needing more human connection, then why is it that lonely people still feel lonely in a crowd?
While some lonely people don’t have any close friends, many others do. The common solution of “go out and spend time with people” may bring temporary relief, but the loneliness usually returns soon after. Clearly there’s something more going on here.
One of the things I feel is going on is that loneliness isn’t just about connection, but it’s also about intimacy, and belonging. Perhaps it’s not so much about how well-connected we are (or how many friends we have on Facebook), but about the quality and depth of the connections in our lives.
Modern society just doesn’t allow for the deep social connections that are at the core of what it means to be human.
To put this in perspective, imagine that you lived 10,000 years ago.
The majority of your life would be spent with a small group of people, and all of you would know each other intimately. You’d be present at every birth, every death, every major life event in every person’s lives. Every single person in your community would be family.
That sense of belonging, of truly knowing others on such a deep, intimate level, is something people had in their lives for the vast majority of human existence.
This is a fundamental part of being human, and it just doesn’t exist for us today. Not having this is the psychic equivalent of missing a limb.
We might have some close friends, but the demands of modern life usually mean that we only see them a couple times a week (if we’re lucky!). We might feel close to our family members, but how many of them are a part of our everyday lives? How many of them even live in the same city?
It makes perfect sense why loneliness is so prevalent for us in today’s world.
And yet, I still don’t think this entirely explains the loneliness we feel.
Have you ever tried to reach out to someone and connect on a deep level, but they seem to have a wall up? For many lonely people, they want connection but there’s something inside that just doesn’t let it in, even when it’s offered.
Most of us carry a block within us to the depth of intimacy and connection we truly need, because intimacy requires vulnerability. And vulnerability is scary!
Even when we embrace vulnerability and do our best to embody it, there’s still something inherently scary about it - because by definition, we aren’t protected. We’re exposing ourselves to the possibility of being hurt.
It’s just not possible to protect ourselves from being hurt and be vulnerable too. And the less used to it we are, the scarier it feels.
Not only did none of us grow up with the kind of intimacy that our ancestors would have experienced with everyone in their lives, many of us didn’t grow up in safe environments. So many children experience trauma and abuse, or grow up in emotionally-harsh environments where vulnerability is clearly not safe.
Even many normal methods of parenting (like telling kids to cheer up because “it’s not that bad” or “it’s not a big deal”) cause us to shut down, teaching us the lesson that it isn’t safe to bare our hearts. Boys and men also experience a massive cultural expectation to not be vulnerable, otherwise they’re not considered “a real man.”
And our society isn’t exactly safe for us as adults, either. We’re not surrounded by people who we’ve grown up with, who we know have our back and will be there for us no matter what. There are many people out there who will take advantage of our vulnerability if they can.
Many of us have an intuitive wariness toward other people, because it takes time to know who we can trust. This isn’t paranoia, it’s emotional intelligence.
So it makes perfect sense why vulnerability is uncomfortable for us.
And this doesn’t only cut us off from other people, but it disconnects us from ourselves as well. The more we learn it isn’t safe to feel our true feelings, the more we close ourselves off from what we’re feeling altogether.
All the ways that we’re taught to control our emotions - to repress anger, deny fear, or cheer up when we’re sad - just feed into this. Because in order to override our emotions, we have to suppress them, and in order to suppress them we have to shut down.
Add to this the fact that the demands of modern life continually pull us outward, and how little our society values solitude and going within, and we’re left with a huge lack of intimacy with ourselves as well as with other people.
Even when we do our best to relate from the heart, most of the time we’re still focusing outward. We may value connection with other people and do our best to deepen those connections, but it’s so easy to forget about connecting with ourselves.
I believe this is truly what’s at the root of loneliness, because we can only show up and be present with others to the depth that we’re willing and able to be present with ourselves.
What’s inside reflects what’s outside, and vice versa.
When we feel lonely for belonging, connection, and intimacy, ultimately the solution is to meet those needs for ourselves.
Trying to find them outside of us just won’t work to get those needs met, and it won’t get rid of loneliness. Our loneliness isn’t just about other people - it’s revealing the deep, core wounds we’re carrying that still need to be healed.
Only when we meet those true needs for ourselves - by being the person who makes the wounded part of us feel heard, validated, and loved - can we ever truly feel love and belonging out in the world. It just doesn’t work the other way around, no matter how hard we try to make it so.
Here’s another way to look at it. As long as our inner child still feels that it’s not safe to open up, be vulnerable with people, or be intimate with others, then we’ll continue to have a hard time creating those kinds of relationships and experiences with other people.
And as a result, we’ll continue to feel a lack of that true connection and belonging, and we’ll continue to feel lonely and unloved.
But once we help our inner child to feel safe, by showing them that we’ll always be there to validate them and protect them, no matter what, then we’ll no longer feel that inner resistance to creating the depth of relationships that our hearts truly desire.
So if loneliness is something you suffer from, I have some suggestions for you.
First, try to commit to spending a little time each day checking in with your feelings. Even if it’s just a few minutes, take time out from your life to go within, to notice what your body and your emotions are wanting to say to you.
Explore your inner landscape (the felt space within your body), and learn to be with whatever you find within you. Be curious, and relate to them as little “selves” within you. Empathize with them, talk to them, and feel into their fears, their desires, their needs.
For example, you might find a part of you that feels frustrated about a situation in your life, and another part of you that feels scared and worried about it. There might be a part of you that is really needing your love, even if they’re angry with you. Why are they angry?
Learn to be a compassionate witness to all the parts of yourself, no matter how they show up and no matter what they’re wanting or feeling. It’s all valid, and it all needs your empathy and love.
And if you have the skills, I encourage you to take this one step further.
As the compassionate witness, once you’ve explored what’s within you and why it’s feeling that way, then the next step would be to track that feeling back to where it’s rooted in your past - back to the very first time you felt that way. Then find out what that “little you” needed in that time and provide it, whatever that is, so that the wounded part of you feels whole and happy once again.
In my experience this is the most profound and effective way to meet our true needs for love, validation and belonging.
And it’s so important, because as long as those wounds remain unhealed, life will continue to reactivate them and make us feel the same way, over and over again, for the rest of our lives if we don’t do something about it. You could say that life conspires with our soul to bring us precisely what triggers us, so that we can rediscover what needs healing and bring that healing to ourselves.
Once we become aware of what’s happening, our triggers can become gifts, and opportunities to heal. If you’d like to find out more about how all this works, I explain more in this video.
And if you’d like to see how this kind of healing works firsthand, you can watch this video where I walk my lovely partner through a real, live healing.
And, finally, if this resonates with you and you want one-on-one support in doing this kind of healing work yourself, that’s my specialty! You can schedule a free session with me here to find out more.
May we all feel connection and love, both from within and without.