my space tracker

Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: September 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

Emotional Loneliness

It's that feeling that you are all alone in the world. Like you are in a vast vacant place, all alone, even in a room full of people. Sometimes it comes with a pang in your chest, a heaviness in your heart, a deep sinking feeling in your stomach. The feeling is sitting on top of the belief or thought - firm conviction even - especially in moments of severe emotional pain and longing - that no one understands, no one gets it, and no one ever could. Not exactly anyway. Sometimes, it melds into self pity, anger, sadness, grief, depression and hopelessness.

What follows is often a feeling of giving up, or rebellion. We think, "forget it, why even bother?" Or "that's it, I'm out of here." Maybe we mean actually, physically, or maybe it means mentally, emotionally, or that we will stop giving or trying or showing up. We may go to the idea that we are worthless then, undeserving of love. Or that the person who has hurt us is unworthy, either incapable or unwilling to give us what we need. Either way, it hurts.

Sometimes the feeling lasts for a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, and sometimes it gets chronic and lasts for a long while. Sometimes it comes and goes. It's not unusual to feel some emotional loneliness even in the best of relationships. Though we may wish it, we cannot be connected all the time. And when we are hurting this way, it often eclipses all of the good things that may exist in our lives or in our relationships.

In our primary relationships emotional loneliness can be especially painful, as we expect and long for emotional connection there first, and when it lapses or does not happen the way we need it to, we can lose control, lash out, or turn to self destructive behaviors to cope, giving us, perhaps, temporary relief, but ultimately adding more difficulty or bad feelings on top of the pain.

There are options, of course. We do not have to suffer, though sometimes this can seem like our mantra, that we are meant to suffer. We can decide to take good care of ourselves, not just when the loneliness spikes, but in general. We can talk things out with someone, write, walk, sit quietly. We can decide that though it hurts, most likely, we are not the only ones who feel this way, and that it is possible to study what causes it, when and how it happens, and if it is new to us, or in fact a feeling we know well, from years ago. And we can make use of it to get ourselves better and direct our energies toward progress.

And when it comes to loneliness in marriages, I have worked with many couples who are able to sort through the confusion and come closer. Yes, it takes work to untangle the feelings, the history and the needs, but it can be done. And when we are willing to do the work, we do get closer to those we love; we go easier on ourselves and others and we get much more of what we need.

Monday, September 12, 2011

At My Age...

Sometimes in therapy, when we come up with a particularly interesting insight, have an "ah-ha" moment or hit on something that rings deeply true, folks will say to me, "I can't believe I hadn't figured this out before now." Or "At my age, I can't believe I am only just now realizing this." It's funny though, because I hear these from clients of all ages, and on just about every topic from relationships with current partners to childhood influences. And each time I hear them, I marvel at how we seem to expect ourselves to know things that we can't really know until we study ourselves a bit, talk things out a bit, and take dedicated time to reflect on our desires, our feelings, our needs and our actions.

So too, the question "why now?" comes up in therapy. "Why now am I talking about the incident with my old neighbor?" Or "why now does my difficult relationship with my brother matter?" Or "why now, after all these years, does it matter how my mother treated my father?"

And "Why can't I, at my age, figure this out by myself?" "Why isn't there a quick answer that will move me from point A to point B?" "Why is it that the talking helps?"

There are some good articles and studies out about the benefits of talk therapy, which are great to read, but still and all, it's from listening to my clients' life stories, hearing their pain, their feelings, their ideas and their own progress that my own conclusions are drawn. We can (and should) take time to sit with ourselves, to review our motivations, character and longings. But there is something different about talking. There is some kind of progressive relief in being able to say anything, and being heard and understood.

I'm not sure, definitively, what the answers are to the "why now" and "at my age" questions. I think that at least some of the answers lie in the truth that when what we have always done to protect ourselves or to survive, or to keep us going seems to stop working for us, or seems to get in the way of having more of what we wish for, we have to look for a better way. Sometimes that happens in our 20's and sometimes in our 80's and sometimes anywhere in between. And we are, in many cases, better able to study things, endure the difficult feelings that may come up, when we are older and have more support, or life experience behind us. Perhaps also, parts of our past come up years later simply because it's time. Somehow, between our psyches and our spirit, it just becomes the right time to deal with old hurts, traumas or just to start talking about ourselves and our lives.

I think too, that when we ask these questions we are asking them with a bit (or maybe a lot) of frustration sprinkled in, and probably some self attack as well. And often, some sadness. We do wish that we could connect the dots of our past and present more readily, but it doesn't always happen by itself.

The good news is that when we can take out the self attack, let all our feelings flow, often, we get relief on many levels. We get to honor all of our feelings. We get to know ourselves much better, we find new ways of getting what we need that don't trip us up, and we get to move forward.