Every one of us desires to be loved, appreciated, and included. Loneliness is the feeling that comes when we do not feel loved, and/or we lack the ability to express our love and the innate brilliance of who we are. The loneliness that I am addressing here is very different from aloneness—the ability to spend time alone while feeling full, complete, and content within yourself—which is a healthy state of being. Loneliness, however, is not healthy, and is a painful, miserable state that hurts us in many ways.
The 3 Different Kinds of Loneliness
We might feel lonely when we are physically isolated and don’t have family or friends to interact with for a protracted period of time, which is situational loneliness. But we can feel just as lonely when we have people around us who do not meet us, see us, include and value us, and treat us with respect, which is objective loneliness. And, in addition to these first two, we can also experience loneliness even when we know that we have people in our lives who care for us, but still feel alone because we cannot take in and acknowledge their love, which is subjective loneliness.
Loneliness Shortens Our Life Span
Loneliness has reached such epidemic proportions that it is now considered a health threat as severe as obesity and smoking cigarettes. It is a worldwide disease so troublesome that England has instituted a minister of loneliness to try to resolve the problem. It is a fact that human beings need not only water, food, and air to survive, but also love and connection with each other. We need to receive love from others so that we feel loved, and we also need love that we can give to others so that we feel loving, good at heart, and valuable to the community. If either the ability to receive love or give love (which are part of your healthy inner female and inner male functions) is impaired, we fall into the pit of loneliness and we suffer greatly.
An infant who is not touched and related to will likely wither and die because the immune system weakens, and the growth hormone shuts down. This is clearly explained by author Maia Szalavitz and leading child trauma expert Bruce D. Perry, MD, PHD in Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential—and Endangered.
And infants who may not actually die from lack of human contact can still develop severe mental illnesses and impaired cognitive function, according to psychiatric studies, which is infinitely sad, but true.
Love is your Birthright and the Antidote to Loneliness
Love is the birthright of every child, regardless of standards of beauty, intelligence, talent, race, social status, and gender. All children should be loved just because they exist; just because they were born. And, like the child you once were, as an adult you have the right to be loved—as well as the duty to love yourself like a caring mother and a loving father would. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. The antidote to loneliness is love, and the ability to receive and give love to ourselves and others, with no reason needed, resides within each of us.
Love Is a Formidable Agent of Transformation to Be Handled with Care
Love is a powerful force, but it must be handled wisely and skillfully. I still remember years ago when one of my clients surprisingly turned to me during a session and said: “You think you are healing me by giving me love. You don’t know that your love hurts. Back off.” Yes indeed, sometimes love hurts when it comes into the places where we are shut down. When love comes into contact with the shadow within us, we may feel the pain and the anger of all the times we were not loved before. The challenge is that these emotional wounds—created by painful events that have bruised us in the past, and which I call “crystallized knots” or “crystallizations”—form places within us that refuse to receive the love that we really want and need. It will take gentle persistence to gradually adjust to receiving an ever-greater amount of love in the places where we have been traumatized and hurt because those aspects of ourselves are indeed afraid of being truly loved. They are also unwilling to truly love others because they are starved of love themselves.
Fear of Love Brings Us Loneliness
I have counseled many clients over the course of decades who felt deeply alone because the intimate loving and stable relationship they longed for eluded them. Over and over again, these clients would reject mates who were capable of being loyal and deeply loving to them, choosing instead romantic partners who rejected them, betrayed them, and hurt their heart. My clients felt they were at the mercy of their romantic chemistry, and believed that natural attraction, which they could not control, made them gravitate toward people who hurt them or were not available.
But that destructive pattern was not due to chemistry or fate, or to the fact that the person they thought of as their soulmate was not conscious enough to recognize them. Instead, it was a well-calibrated strategy created unconsciously by the aspects of their own psyche that felt safe only with people who rejected them—and which happened because deep down they feared being loved. Many of my clients healed from this devastating loop of loneliness and found long lasting relationships by recognizing their destructive patterns, and by making decisions to take healthier actions. As they empowered their rigidified shadow inner female to open up to new possibilities, they gradually learned to receive love. In addition, they connected to and activated their healthy inner male, which protected them, so they were now able to trace appropriate boundaries with people who clearly were not capable of, or in a position of, giving them true, lasting love.
Motherly Love and Fatherly Love
Motherly and Fatherly love are different, but equally important. We need them both to survive and thrive in our life. In this context, I am referring to qualities of parental love that can come from both men and women. While it is possible to be “fathered” by a mother or “mothered” by a father, most often the father experience comes from a man and the mother experience from a woman. And although both fatherly and motherly love can also come from the same person, as often happens in the case of a single parent, for simplicity I will refer to motherly love as the love of our mother and fatherly love as the love of our father.
The love of our mother makes us feel that the very essence of who we are is worthy of being loved. She reflects the beauty and goodness of our internal nature, and validates the richness of our interior world. When we receive motherly love we feel that we are good at our core, and that we contain within ourselves a source of inspiration, creativity, and inner strength that we can tap into to nurture and regenerate ourselves.
The love of our father makes us feel that we can succeed in expressing our special qualities and talents in the outer world. And while fatherly love also validates us, it is the love that is responsible for providing us with guidance, for reaching us how to navigate the outer world skillfully, with determination, endurance, and focus. Fatherly love gives us the confidence that we can survive, even thrive, through our interactions with the abundance of resources that the outer world presents to us—and that we will be received and acknowledged for our unique contributions.
Fatherly love helps us to accomplish our unique mission in life. Motherly love validates and nourishes who we are at the core.
If either of these two experiences of love has eluded us, we will probably risk feeling an underlying loneliness throughout our lives unless we heal. If you have experienced any kind of wounding in the love connection with your mother or your father, it is important that you begin a process of re-parenting yourself (more guidance for this process will be shared in a future article). During this process of internal healing and restructuring, activation of the fatherly and motherly aspect of your own inner male and inner female will take place. And, by modeling these aspects on the Sacred Mother and the Sacred Father, you can become your own healthy mother and father as you learn to give yourself the motherly and fatherly love you did not receive fully as a result of the imperfect ability to love of your parents.
What to do about it: Tools of Transformation
A) Transforming Situational Loneliness. The society we live in fosters isolation and separation. North American culture glorifies the figure of the individualist, the pioneer, the extremely independent and self-reliant patriarchal male who plows his path through the challenges of life on his own. Do everything possible to go against this myth. If you have to leave people you love behind for a period of time—or if you feel alone in an environment that feels foreign to you—look around and find people who are open to helping you and reach out to them. Remember that your ability to receive comes from your inner female. Another alternative is to discover what the needs of others are, and how you can contribute to their well-being. Giving generously is the fundamental characteristic of your inner male. You do not live in a vacuum. In order to do what I just outlined, follow these five steps:
- Drop into your receptive feminine nature by opening your heart, your intuition, and sensitivity to your environment. Several practical exercises to help you with the healing process of your inner female if she is rigidified and a bit shut down can be found here: Exercises to heal the Ridigified Inner Female.
- Activate your giving masculine nature—the part of you that is proactive and action oriented—and reach out, connecting in particular with people who are different from you. More specifics about how you can empower your inner male if that part of you is feeling withdrawn and collapsed can be found here: Exercises to heal the Collapsed Inner Male.
- Find the expression of kindness and care that makes you feel connected to others and to the environment that surrounds you. One example may be to find out who your neighbors are, then to introduce yourself and give them a gift that can be as simple as a flower from your garden, a note, or an offer to help a person who might be in a fragile situation. When one of my neighbors had a hip operation, I offered to walk his dog during his convalescence; many people want buddies to exercise with. Another idea is to loosely organize a group to walk together and keep each other motivated. The possibilities are infinite.
- Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help. There are always people who are willing to help you. And if you get a rejection, let it go without making a big deal out of it. Resist the temptation of creating a story around it, just move on and ask someone else.
- Learn to ask questions that are deeper and can open the door to a greater level of intimacy. Instead of asking. “What do you do for a living?” ask “What are you passionate about?” Then listen attentively.
I’ve had lots of experience in overcoming isolation as a first-generation immigrant who arrived in the USA with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, and none of the cultural mores. No matter how alone I objectively was, I always found connection when I was open in my heart and reached out to others with a kind attitude.
In a certain period of my life I lived isolated in a yurt in the wilderness, but never felt alone because I was surrounded by all sorts of creatures and by the beauty and aliveness of the forest. The sacredness of Mother Nature loved me and nurtured me as tangibly as if I were her beloved daughter.
As I did, you can as well. Just remember to be open, without expectation, and without waiting for others to come to you. Instead, find how you can help somebody in need. If you are the lonely elder yourself, ask for help and company, making sure when you receive what you asked for to express gratitude with kindness in your heart.
B) Transforming Objective Loneliness. If you find yourself surrounded by people who belittle you, disrespect you, ignore you and reject you, and this happens over and over again, you must immediately assume that you are at the mercy of the pattern described previously in this article. In this case, it is likely you are unconsciously creating a situation whereby you “protect” yourself from opening to love, but here are steps you can take to address this tendency:
- Begin by learning to love yourself. Treat yourself kindly and respectfully. Honor your own authority, listen to your feelings and your intuition, then follow through with appropriate action.
- Your inner female will tell you how to perceive the truth of a situation, and what to do about it. Whatever your inner female’s counsel may be, trust it—and follow it. Activate your inner male to follow through with the best action.
- Treat yourself as if you were your own beloved. Learn to receive more and more love, even if it is scary to do so. Remember that although it might be scary to receive and give love, it is the way to healing, freedom, and self-respect. Be assured that this change in attitude to be more loving toward yourself will not go unnoticed by the people around you and, in most cases, they will also change their attitude toward you.
- If the attitudes of others toward you don’t change, but you continue to love, honor and respect yourself, there will come a point when your inner female signals that you can’t take any more of that environment, and she will urge you to leave. Then, your inner male will have the task of protecting you by taking you by the hand and carrying you away into an environment that reflects the new level of love and care that you are now capable of. You will no longer feel lonely because you will have found yourself. Please refer again to the exercises to heal the Collapsed Inner Male and the Rigidified Inner Female to empower and heal the aspects of your wounded shadow that keep you in a state of aloneness.
C) Transforming Subjective Loneliness. If you know that you have people in your life who truly love you, and yet you still do not feel loved, it probably means that you have within yourself a mother wound and/or a father wound that is not yet fully resolved.
In this case, even though you have love in your life you will not really be able to digest or assimilate it, and instead it will feel like the love given to you is never enough to truly nourish you. (Imagine eating and eating without digesting any of the nutrients, and feeling continuously hungry.) Part of the problem here may be that you have an all-devouring shadow inner female that is activated. Please read my article about the All-devouring Inner Female, and do the appropriate practices described to heal and rebalance her to achieve a healthy state.
Most of all, I suggest that you re-parent yourself with an emphasis on re-mothering yourself. Ask yourself how you would care for yourself if you were your own daughter or your own son. If you do so diligently, you will no longer feel that empty space at the core of yourself that continuously wants to be filled with the love of the mother.
Photo credit: Grae Dickason
My next article will address Spiritual Loneliness.