The classic trope of being “alone in a crowded room” seems almost timeless, and the feeling clearly predates that. I doubt there are many people who could say they’ve never experienced this situation, though it’s a conundrum. Most of us are aware of the importance of keeping some kind of support system around, and thus have our people. So how could there be a time of feeling alone despite being surrounded by others?
Sometimes, when we know something is considered good for us, we’ll do it. The act of simply doing doesn’t require too much effort, and so we get to check that box without putting a ton of thought into it. Take for example: you aren’t feeling great so you reach out to a friend, problem solved. Then you wait to feel better…and wait…and when it doesn’t pay off, you feel somehow broken or cheated despite doing what was purported to be helpful.
When seeking to do anything, especially in the pursuit of tending to ourselves, we must be mindful of intention and energy that we put towards it. Having folks to talk to and people in our lives that we love is no doubt important, but when the feeling of loneliness or isolation creeps up, we might want to reconsider how we’ve been seeking these relationships. In the previous example, a possible missing piece is sharing how you’re feeling and expressing your needs. Simply having these people in your life and knowing they’re there does not equate to utilizing your support system. Here are a couple of strategies for combatting loneliness and navigating how to turn toward your support system.
What does your support system look like?
The sturdiest kind of support system is one that contains folks you’ve connected with through a number of different ways. Some people may have been “built in”- your family, a friend from childhood, a coworker you’ve become significantly close with. Others, you’ll need to be intentional about seeking out and gaining connection with, such as folks who’ve had similar experiences to yours. This tends to be a portion we overlook, presuming that those that already know us best can show up and support despite not having had similar experiences. Lots of the time, they certainly can- but sometimes you need people who can really identify with you in a specific way. It is important for your system to contain people with the ability to be empathetic and the ability to hold space for you, as you can reciprocate for them. Finally, it’s important to have people geographically close so you can spend time in person. With the uptick in accessibility via texting, FaceTime, checking in on social media, it’s easy to overlook the importance of seeing people in person. If you don’t have people that feel safe and inclusive nearby, it could be a good time to look into resources for finding some. A therapist can be a great tool to help navigate finding support groups or pointing you in the direction of a community that fits you.
How do you utilize your support system?
Isolation can be tempting, especially when you experience something particularly difficult. When there are no words to say, it’s easy to turn inward and to keep your experience to yourself. However, you aren’t giving your support system the opportunity to support you. You don’t have to say it perfectly, you don’t have to have an answer or have it all figured out, and you don’t have to sit in it alone. Sharing your experience, allowing yourself to be seen and heard, opening the door for emotional expression when you’re ready- these are all things that combat loneliness. Allowing yourself the opportunity of taking up emotional space in the context of a safe, reliable relationship only serves to deepen the relationship and to help you process while being held. If being vulnerable and asking for that space to be held is uncomfortable for you at this time, therapy is an excellent starting point to begin that journey.
Loneliness can be an unforeseen feeling that arises within us, but when we have the tools and the people to combat it it can be a manageable feeling. I also recognize that this all may feel like a daunting task and just existing in the loneliness maybe “easier”, but I invite you to practice reaching out for support through therapy where we’ll help you identify and/or create safe and reliable relationships in your life.