Loneliness vs. Aloneness: Why The Difference Matters, According To A Psychologist
Many people are experiencing loneliness due to this pandemic. While feeling lonely is a normal, manageable experience, it's not to be confused with feeling alone—which is a sign that you may have more inner work to do.
Loneliness vs. aloneness.
Loneliness is the feeling you get when you want to connect with someone, such as your partner, and either there is no one to connect with, or your partner is unavailable for connection.
Loneliness can feel like a very hard feeling to feel, and there is a very good reason for this. When we were infants, if we cried and no one came, we could have died, so many of us subconsciously associate the feeling of loneliness with death. As children, we learn to do many things to cover over this feeling, such as:
- Disconnecting from our body, where our feelings are, and staying focused in our head. Thoughts are in our head, and feelings are in our body.
- Judging ourselves and telling ourselves that it's our fault we are not receiving the love we need because we are not good enough—which actually makes us feel some sense of control, i.e., if only we can change ourselves and be good enough, then we can have control over getting love and avoiding pain.
- Using food or TV to numb the feeling, or even turning to cigarettes or alcohol at a young age to numb out.
- Trying to get our parents or others to give us the love and attention we need with controlling behaviors such as anger, compliance, or being an overly good girl or boy. (In adulthood, this can translate to similar codependent relationships or controlling behaviors with a romantic partner.)
- The problem with all these survival strategies is that they are forms of abandoning ourselves, as well as trying to control others, which makes us feel alone and empty inside.
While loneliness is about wanting to connect with someone when there is no one available to connect with, aloneness is the empty or hollow feeling you get when you have abandoned yourself in any of the ways described above. It can sometimes feel like floating in space with no tether.
Sitting with our loneliness.
I grew as an only child with narcissistic parents who had no clue how to love me or connect with me. The loneliness I felt in my household was so intense that I had to learn ways of avoiding it. I learned to manage it by being an avid reader, drawing, painting and doing crafts, and spending as much time as I could outside or at friends' houses. And I was never lonely at school. In fact, I had discovered so many ways of positively managing my loneliness that when people asked me if I was ever lonely, I always said no. Even in my very challenging 30-year marriage, with my angry and withdrawn husband, I denied being lonely until at least 20 years into the marriage.
All that time I was abandoning myself by disconnecting from my body and staying in my head so I couldn't feel my loneliness—but as a result, I often felt alone inside.
Then one day, when I was out walking and doing my Inner Bonding process, I suddenly felt an intense burning sensation all through my torso. It scared me, and I asked my higher guidance what it was. Fortunately, by this time I had learned how to have a very direct and at-will connection with my spiritual guidance.
"Loneliness," my guidance said.
"Loneliness? No wonder I've been avoiding this feeling. It hurts a lot! What am I supposed to do with this?" I asked her.
"Hang out with it. Learn from it. It has much to teach you."
So I hung out with it for a couple of months, and I learned some of the most profound lessons I've ever learned:
- I learned that situations and people create my loneliness, but I created my own aloneness by my self-abandonment.
- I learned that when I felt lonely when with my husband or another person, it was because one or both of us had closed our heart, so one or both of us wasn't available to connect. That means that if I knew I was open and yet still felt lonely, then I also knew that the other person was closed.
- I learned that when someone was closed off, I could either be open to learning about why, or I could lovingly disengage—which meant that I ended the interaction to take care of myself, not to punish my husband.
- I learned that, now that I'm an adult, I could easily manage the feeling of loneliness with caring and compassion for myself and allow it to move through me. Then I could do something when my husband was unavailable for connection, like call a friend with whom I could connect.
- I learned that if I abandoned myself when I felt lonely, then I felt both alone and lonely, which made me feel hopeless and despairing. But when I stayed connected in my heart with my inner soul and higher self, then I didn't feel at all alone inside, and I could then easily manage the loneliness.
Now, I never feel that awful burning feeling I had when I first felt the loneliness that I had been avoiding for so many years. Now it feels like a little twinge inside, which I now know means that I'm feeling lonely with someone (I rarely feel lonely now when I'm alone) and that I can make a loving choice for myself to either inquire about what's going on or to lovingly disengage.
I now greatly value my feelings of loneliness, which offers me important information regarding all my relationships.
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.