Leaving Loneliness Behind

couple beach Loneliness is a universal experience known to every human being on earth. Everyone is potentially susceptible to loneliness, including the rich and famous. Judy Garland once said, "If I'm such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, being a legend is all very well if you've got somebody around who loves you."Many of us are probably lonely but are reluctant to admit it. We may feel ashamed and stigmatized by our loneliness and see it as a sign that we are unlovable or defective instead of recognizing it as an essential part of the human condition.James Park, an existential philosopher, asks, "Is there a person who has never known the eerie distance of isolation and separation, who has never suffered the pain of rejection or the loss of love?" Park eloquently goes on to say, "Loneliness is an aching void in the center of our being, a deep longing to love and to be loved, to be fully known and accepted by at least one other person."

The Faces of Loneliness

Experts say there are several different kinds of loneliness.
  • Emotional isolation springs from the absence of close emotional attachment. Dr. Robert Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a social scientist who did much of the seminal research on loneliness, describes emotional isolation as the terror of a small child who feels abandoned by his parents.
  • Social isolation results from the lack of a social network. Dr. Weiss characterizes social isolation as the mind-set of a child who is bored and feels left out when his friends are unavailable at a given time. It is no coincidence that children often create imaginary companions to chase away their feelings of loneliness.
  • Spiritual loneliness stems from a void within ourselves, a sense of feeling incomplete and unfulfilled even when we have many loving people in our lives. Mark Epstein, MD, a New York City psychiatrist, practitioner of Zen Buddhism, and author of Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart, tells his patients that instead of fearing this emptiness, they should learn to embrace it. He writes, "Only when we stop fighting with our personal emptiness can we begin to appreciate the transformation that is possible. Only then can we have access to the still, silent center of our own awareness."
Although getting a divorce, moving to a new state, or having a child leave home can cause feelings of loneliness and loss, feelings of loneliness are often based on an internal sentiment rather than an external reality. Even a socially active, "popular" person can feel emotionally isolated when surrounded by a roomful of superficial acquaintances with whom she lacks a true emotional connection. Even those in a satisfying intimate relationship can feel lonely if they do not have a network of friends to turn to for support when their partner is physically or emotionally unavailable.

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