I wrote the following for the Jung Society of Utah blog:
“Loneliness does not come from having no people about one, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself.”
– C.G. Jung
Loneliness can be described as “perceived social isolation, or the discrepancy between what you want from your social relationships and your perception of those relationships.” People are often ashamed of feeling lonely, but loneliness is increasingly common: Time Magazine and the Huffington Post recently published articles describing loneliness as a growing public health concern.
How then can we address this common, yet painful experience?
Loneliness as a messenger
Loneliness can be experienced by anyone, even those who are surrounded by other people. Personally, some of my loneliest experiences have involved trying to connect with loved ones who I felt deeply misunderstood by. From a Jungian perspective, this indicates that feelings of loneliness may often indicate an inner situation that needs to be addressed: “Loneliness is an aversive signal whose purpose is to motivate us to reconnect.”
In order to being the process of reconnection, it is necessary to connect with the unpleasant, lonely feelings, rather than pushing them away, or numbing out with anything that provides a temporary distraction. Turning toward that suffering with compassion and considering its message can help us connect to our own inner resources.
If we can let curiosity about the loneliness outweigh our fear of it, we can see what it might have to teach us. From there, we may begin to transform the loneliness through a change in our perception, perhaps seeing it as solitude instead, which offers a chance to know ourselves better and see ourselves more clearly.
Feeling heard, seen, and understood begins with compassionately witnessing what is going on with us. Being in solitude gives us this opportunity to examine our thoughts and reflect on our feelings, values, and desires. In solitude, we can get to know ourselves better, define more clearly what is most important to us, and develop the self-love and self-worth to be able to communicate that honestly. Jung wrote, “It is always important to have something to bring into a relationship, and solitude is often the means by which you acquire it.”
Connection with the Self
Loneliness can act as a catalyst for our individuation, offering us an opportunity to make our darkness conscious and transmute it into greater understanding and wisdom. This could be seen as connecting with the Self and realizing greater wholeness and coherence within the psyche. When we begin to see ourselves more clearly, recognizing our own inherent wholeness and value as individuals, we improve our ability to connect with others. Jung wrote, “But now, if you are in solitude, your God leads you to the God of others, and through that to the true neighbor, to the neighbor of the self in others.”
Productively addressing our own feelings of loneliness may also help us develop greater appreciation for our connections with others. “Loneliness is not necessarily inimical to companionship, for no one is more sensitive to companionship than the lonely man, and companionship thrives only when each individual remembers his individuality and does not identify himself with others,” Jung wrote. When we truly listen to our feelings and take appropriate action based on what we learn from them, we can become more authentic, which helps us connect with others in deeper, more meaningful ways.