Loneliness In The Modern World – Part Three
Part Three – How Did We Grow Apart So Quickly?
We all are familiar with that moment. That moment when we look at our partner or a friend or around a group and we think, “I don’t know if I know you anymore.” It is a terrifying moment because we feel the loneliness so intensely in the midst of what should be togetherness and we have no idea how we arrived in this place. We have been growing apart so quietly, that we rarely recognize the steps it took to enter into loneliness.
The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu described this phenomenon when he said,
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
This statement both describes how we got into this place of disconnection AND how we will move back towards connection.
Growing Apart in Small Steps
All it took were little moves away from one another to move into profound loneliness. One text that really should have been a phone conversation. One date night cancelled. One week of busyness. One commitment too many. One, one, one. All those ones eventually add up to what feels like a thousand mile distance between you and others. We notice that expansive distance when we hear ourselves think or say, “Do you know me at all?”
There is another element of “one steps” going on as well. These are the steps of protection we take to insure we won’t be hurt again. Instead of addressing the harsh word or misunderstanding, we back away just a little, just one step. We back away in fear of rejection, being misunderstood, or having our emotions mishandled. We rarely do this consciously. It is almost an instinctive reaction to pain, emotional or physical. If I step back and insulate myself, I will be stronger the next time someone betrays me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
Moving Closer Towards Connection
We need to move towards one another when we are hurt. The cold, harsh reality is we are going to hurt one another. The perhaps sadistic side of that reality is we need each other. We are relational beings, so in the needing of one another also comes the occasional pain. Yes, occasional. This may be hard to believe, but for the most part, our relationships with one another are pretty good. The problem lies in our primitive brains, that precious little amygdala that is working so very hard to protect us from further pain. Bless that precious amygdala for working overtime every day, all the time! However, we need to recognize that the amygdala is limited in its ability to protect us.
We need to gently wrap that amygdala with our rational brain. It goes something like a conversation you might have with a child who is freaking out. The rational brain says to the amygdala, “Yes, honey, I get it. That feels scary. Thank you for pointing that out. Now, let’s figure out together how to make it less scary and how to be brave even though we are scared.”
You see, that precious amygdala doesn’t have the capacity to distinguish between a real threat and the illusion of threat because all it can do is process emotions. We need to bring that rational brain back on board to make an informed decision towards speaking our truth and connection.
When we feel hurt, we need to address it by asking two important questions:
- What is happening inside of me right now?
- How can I move out of the emotion and into proactive connection with myself and others?
Asking those questions supports our brain in working together again by helping the amygdala calm down and bringing the logical part of the brain back on board. The questions move us away from amygdala response, which are the desire to fight, flee, or freeze, and empowers us to make decisions that support relationship instead of landing us in loneliness.
Relationships are a Choice
The other practical steps we need to take to begin our journey back towards a feeling of belonging is to make concrete choices for relationships in our lives. Write relationship time on your calendar. Treat relationship time as sacred by adding little rituals and special touches to family and friend time. Block out time to nurture your relationship with yourself. Give people your full attention and presence by setting aside technology and other distractions.
The journey towards one another is a continuous choice of a thousand steps and how we order those steps either leads towards or away from one another. We need each other. Let us step with intentional courage towards one another.
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