MAKING IT BETTER: Feeling Lonely…Being Alone, What’s The Difference?
A friend called me a few days ago from South America. We are very good friends but don’t get to speak to one another often. When I saw the international alert on my phone, for some reason I thought it might be her. She is a very accomplished woman who I would easily say is at the top of her game. She has a very full life. She has a husband who loves her as far as I can see, she has children who have done well in life, she has family who look up to her and think the world of her. Anyone looking from afar into her life would easily say she is blessed and couldn’t want for anymore. Having said that I have always taught my kids never to envy any one’s life no matter how glossy it looks on the outside because you never know the whole story!
So I have always been perplexed by our conversations which never really appear to change. She always talks about feeling lonely and says when the feeling becomes overwhelming she thinks to call me. She always apologises profusely and says she hopes I won’t think she only calls me when in need. I always tell her nothing can be further from the truth and I feel humbled and privileged that she thinks to call me when she has a need. The truth of the matter is that I am very fearful and concerned as to what is really going on in her emotional life.
On this particular call, which by the way she has given me permission to write about without giving too much away; she asked if there was really a difference with feeling lonely and being alone. She said she had always thought it was semantics. It would have been very easy for me to start intellectualising or giving her ‘therapy speak’, but I really wanted to try to understand what was really going on in her psychic world. Sometimes this is the difference between coming back from the brink and tipping over! All I could think of was not on my watch!
I was reminded of Princess Diana of Great Britain who died tragically in a car accident in Paris. She probably had to be the most adored, famous, privileged, beautiful woman who walked the face of the earth in our times, and equally she was easily the loneliest women you could think of too. The more surrounded she was with people and things, the more lonely she became, so much so that in her desperate craving to alleviate her feelings of loneliness, she made reckless decisions and choices that ultimately led or at least contributed to her death!
You can be surrounded by a multitude of people and feel very lonely. Feeling alone or lonely is uniquely different to being alone which you can easily remedy by seeking physical company. Feeling lonely is an internal experience that you can carry around with you because it emanates from within you, as a result it goes where you go until you are able to explore, understand and address its root.
Being lonely has a particular nature to it that resonates an aching in your chest. Regardless of where or who you are with, it’s simply impossible to shake. It’s about a lack of feeling, you know something is missing. It’s a kind of depression, incompleteness, an absence of something, a need you have but just can’t quantify or qualify. It can be all encompassing. It’s a gaping hole that feels impossible to fill no matter what you do. This is the sense I get from my friend every time I speak with her. Being lonely can leave you with many side effects, memories, insomnia, and confusion.
In contrast being alone can be very empowering. It is a state of being as opposed to a state of mind which loneliness is. Being alone can be very constructive. It is a time for yourself, to be contemplative, to enjoy in enjoyable things you can do alone. Things such as reading, listening to music, going to the cinema, and workouts are a few things. When you are alone nobody is needed to fulfil you. You are enough for yourself. You can be happy even ecstatic while alone.
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking we have to be surrounded with a host of people to show how loved or popular we are. Social media, mobiles, internet as they stand today and how people choose to be involved with them is some evidence of that desperate need and appetite we have developed to be constantly in touch with people without thinking about the value or quality of the contacts we are making. Being ‘virtually liked’ by a million people who will delete you at the click of a button on a whim, is not an indication of how loved you are.
We need to be more discerning, introspective, thoughtful at how we make our choices of friends; but more importantly we must be able to appreciate, value and love our own company and be able to be still long enough to have the opportunity to get to know, love and claim who we are as individuals
Gloria Ogunbadejo writes a weekly column for Punch Newspaper. She is a Psychotherapist, a life coach, a holistic counsellor and an ordained Minister
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