Existential Psychology

Overcoming Loneliness

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At the superficial level the solution for overcoming loneliness is surrounding yourself with people. We know this doesn’t always work though. You could be standing in the middle of Times Square yet still be the loneliest person in the world. In an existential sense, loneliness is embedded in our Western way of life because we are painfully aware of our apparent separateness from one another and from nature.

True loneliness cannot be lessened by the physical presence of others because these people remain separated from us emotionally. The only means for lessening existential loneliness is to feel connected to people, to believe they really understand us, to know that ours are lives observed. I saw an interesting question for discussion in an online existential group that asked, “If you are within four walls, and no one knows that you are there, do you exist?” An unobserved life is hell because it seems to threaten to reduce us to nothingness, but just being observed is not enough to overcome loneliness. We also need to feel that we are understood.

We can’t be understood unless we let people in, but some of us fear letting people in more than just about anything since doing so in the past led to bad consequences. Or we may feel that who we are deep down isn’t good enough, that hiding this person is a safer bet because if people got to know who we really are they would judge us harshly and no longer want to be around us.

In this context the key to overcoming loneliness is working to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude towards ourselves and others where true understanding is the primary goal. This attitude helps bridge the chasm of separateness. You can’t connect with anyone if you don’t understand them. You are only connecting with your own perceptions, your own mental formations filtered through your particular biases. The two of you remain monads, closed within your own four walls, neither really known by the other.

No amount of physical contact, sex, drugs, alcohol, food, or any other diversion can fill up the hole created by existential loneliness. The only cure is to be known by someone else and to know that person too. But this is risking a lot. You have to let your guard down, inviting the possibility of painful emotions associated with rejection and abandonment. And of course you have to get to know yourself better, cutting through illusion, summoning the courage to raise your conscious awareness about all of the aspects of your life that you have worked so hard to cover up.