Dear Dr. Norquist:
It seems that I always feel like “it’s me against the world.” It’s not that people don’t like me or are plotting against me, but it mostly feels like I’m alone. I have a few friends and caring parents. But I can’t seem to share enough of myself to not feel alone. I hear about places where people really care for and about each other, but I don’t know if such places really exist. I know it doesn’t feel like that around where I live. Do I have to change myself so I don’t wish for something that seems impossible to find?
Dr. Norquist responds:
Loneliness is a strange phenomenon. One person can be surrounded with friends and still feel alone, while another may spend most of her time alone and only be close to one or two people in her life, yet not feel lonely. Everyone needs meaningful connections with others to be healthy emotionally. I believe a lack of a meaningful connection with another also has a negative effect on physical health.
What is it that allows us to be with others and not still feel that gnawing inner loneliness? To feel a meaningful connection with another, you first need to feel in touch with who you are. You need to first experience your own genuine self. For many, this is not as simple as it sounds. Many have learned, since childhood, to be very focused on others, and become adept at acting in such a way as to get others’ approval, or to avoid disapproval, or anger, or even danger (emotionally or physically). This habit of focusing outside themselves leaves them unaware of their own internal lives – what they are genuinely feeling or needing, and what feels true to them. Without this awareness of, or connection with our own inner truth, our own genuine self, we cannot be genuinely and meaningfully connected with anyone else. Hence, the lonely feeling, even when surrounded by friends.
You do not need to change your outer environment to find a place “where people really care for and about each other.” Once you feel more connected with your genuine self, you will find you do not feel so lonely. Also, once you make this shift, finding others that you can develop a meaningful connection with will come more easily. Your external environment is not as important a factor here as your internal state.
Practice checking in with yourself. Direct your inquires toward that part of you that says “yes, that feels true.” This is generally somewhere near the heart region, not the head. We cannot use our cognition to know what is true for us. Instead, we experience our own sense of what is true for us. Make a practice of asking this part of yourself what you are feeling or needing, or any other question that is appropriate to the situation you are in at that moment. If you make a habit of this practice, over time, you will start to notice your inner loneliness diminishing, along with your sense of separation from the world. This will make a profound difference in your experience of your life.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.)Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns. 2012 Chaitanya Counseling Services