I don’t tend to make declarations, but here is one: Loneliness is the hardest feeling.
You will probably say: What about fear? Sadness? Rage? Jealousy?
Here is a method for you to check if I am right: Try to sense which is the most difficult for you: When your child is afraid of a monster hiding underneath the bed? When she is in the middle of a tantrum? When he says 'It’s not fair! Why her and not me??' Or when she comes home and says that no one wanted to play with her at preschool. Again.
Feeling lonely is the hardest feeling because interaction, relationship, is a formative part of our lives. We are by definition part of an interaction, even when we are alone; there is always someone else there, someone significant in our lives, even if they are not right here, even if our relationship with them is terrible, even if they left a hole in us. We are always someone’s child, we have all originated from interaction, we all need interaction, we need someone to be with us.
Being lonely is so hard that most of us don’t allow ourselves to really experience it. Different addictions – to food, drugs, bad relationships – are an attempt to find refuge from this aloneness. The internet and social media, the interpersonal relationships of our time – on Facebook, Twitter, or Whatsapp – enable us to avoid being alone for even one split second.
But does it all obliterate loneliness? Does it make it go away? Not really. It anesthetises and distances it for a moment, creates white noise and screen so we don’t see the abyss, we don’t hear the silence. And then it slightly raises its head again, and we have to hurry up and take another dose of whatever it may be so we don’t feel that we're alone.
The few people who do feel loneliness describe it as a desert, as a deep hole, emptiness. Loneliness is probably the feeling most resembling death.
Being lonely is so hard that most of us don’t allow ourselves to really experience it. Different addictions – to food, drugs, bad relationships – are an attempt to find refuge from this aloneness
A small latching animal
The interesting thing about loneliness, though, is that it is rarely on its own. Other emotions such as fear, sadness, rage, and jealousy are painful. But they are particularly painful because loneliness is at their side, inseparable. It has been there for many years, each and every moment.
When we were 8-months old, we burst into tears at the sight of someone that provoked something inside of us (it was all unclear back then).They smiled awkwardly and told us: 'Don’t cry, it's only Uncle Simon!';
At the age of five, when we ran and fell down, we were told: ‘I told you not to run!’ or ‘It's ok, it will pass soon enough’!
At the age of ten, when we came home and said that someone called us fat, we were told: ‘Don’t pay attention to them, they are stupid’, or ‘Maybe it is time for a diet…'.
And at the age of 16, when our heart was broken we didn’t tell anyone anymore. We knew that no one would listen, that there would be no one who could contain the pain. Because loneliness was already there, like an invisible barrier.
Loneliness is like a small latching animal. The pain experienced in childhood, has left its scars. Inside us, holed up behind walls of defense, that can only be approached carefully and gently.
But if we look closely, attached to that deep and ancient pain, we will be able to find that loneliness. From afar, they seem to be one, but in fact they are two, and they are both extremely aged and sad: the pain and the feeling of no one hearing, no one seeing, no one being there to say: "Yes, it hurts. It is sad. I am with you".
Searching for someone to blame is futile. Our parents, if they were even around, only wanted to spare us any pain. “Nothing happened! Everything's fine!” were common phrases, and they truly wanted to believe that nothing happened, that this too shall pass.
But something did happen, and even if it has passed, even if the pain has faded or weakened or has been mixed with other things – it is still there, together with that loneliness.
If we look closely, attached to that deep and ancient pain, we will be able to find that loneliness. From afar, they seem to be one, but in fact they are two, and they are both extremely aged and sad: the pain and the feeling of no one hearing, no one seeing
So today, when we are all grownup and experience difficulty in our relationships, or are stuck in our careers, or have parenting challenges, or recurring migraines, or simply feel a sort of heaviness in our stomach or a lump in our throat and tears that come for no reason on random occasions, we can start getting closer.
We can start befriending; first of all our walls of defense, the internal critic (what is wrong with me that I can’t hold on to a relationship? I failed my diet again…) habits and addictions (so I’ll take a cigarette, or a chocolate, and at least I would feel better for now). Then slowly and very gently, we are able to get close to that pain, the pain no one has gotten close to in years, or perhaps ever; No one wanted to listen to it without trying to make it go away. And along with the movement, we will start dissipating the loneliness by its side.
This is how Focusing works. Focusing enables us to have a different kind of interaction, a healing interaction. That’s right, you can focus on your own, but the best way to cure the pain and loneliness is with another person. Just as failed interaction locked them together at the start, successful interaction will relieve and cure them, and allow a gentle unravelling, deepening a healing process.
Even more than believing in Focusing, I believe in interaction. Because the greatest gift we can give ourselves is a healing interaction with someone close. Someone to run with, and also to rest with. Someone to trust. Someone who listens. Someone who agrees to be there even when it hurts; who doesn’t run away, that doesn’t try to drive the pain away. Someone who agrees to be with us.
Slowly and very gently, we are able to get close to that pain, the pain no one has gotten close to in years, or perhaps ever; No one wanted to listen to it without trying to make it go away. And along with the movement, we will start dissipating the loneliness by its side.