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Loneliness: Privilege or Burden?

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Startup Jedi

We talk to startups and investors, you get the value.

We are all unique and this might be part of the reason we feel lonely and misunderstood. But how is this still possible in the 21st century with all the opportunities and means of communication that we have at our disposal? In today’s article based on the insight from Founders Club startup studio discussion groups, we’ll look into why people feel lonely and what is the paradox of loneliness in the modern world.

What’s loneliness?

We’ve all felt lonely. The first thing that distinguishes loneliness is the lack of emotional connection with the loved ones. The situation when there is no one to share feelings with and no one to talk to about what really matters.

The second is a feeling of helplessness, not fulfilling yourself, psychological disorientation ("Who am I? How do they perceive me?"), the so-called "abandoned child" syndrome.

The worst thing is losing connection with the world through others, the lack of reflection and contact. Psychologists associate loneliness with a deep fear of death: when there is no one who would objectify ("you are smart/stupid"; "you are interesting/boring"; "you are kind/aggressive"), you start questioning the very fact of existence. You start experiencing this subjective feeling "they don’t see me", "I don’t feel anyone nearby". Therefore, in existential psychology, the concept of loneliness is generally associated with being, the very existence of the individual. "Do I exist if I am not reflected?"

It is encrypted in the ancient structures of our brain that physical loneliness is fraught with death. Quite real. Our distant ancestors, excluded from the human community, could not hunt alone, provide themselves with safety and good food, and as a result they perished. To be expelled from the community meant you were bound to die, this was the most terrible punishment for special crimes in the ancient understanding of justice. Therefore, the experience of loneliness is rooted in our most terrible fear, that of death.

Why do people feel lonely?

Our mental health is arranged in an interesting way. The subjective experience of loneliness does not always correspond to reality. You can not feel lonely in the quiet of your office, immersed in interesting work —  and feel left out at a noisy party.

On a personal level, this feeling is rooted in the child's part of the psyche. When, for some reason, the child felt superfluous. For example, mom and dad were too busy sorting out their relationship. Or the parent's problem became the main one, all the family's efforts were put into solving it. For example, father's drunkenness or any sort of addiction of an older family member, illness or severe depression of one of the parents, elders' preoccupation with work or even their inability to communicate, lack of full-fledged interpersonal communication among family priorities —  in short, all situations when "there is something more important than you"...

In this case, the child's feelings and emotions are generally not realized and do not receive adequate expression (they do not even suspect that they are important). The child unconsciously feels that something is happening to them, but it’s difficult to explain what exactly. And these very feelings and emotions form a conditional obstacle between a child and a potential counterpart. Such a child is not used to voicing their opinion, they do not have experience of being deeply understood and accepted. Growing up, they may be surprised at how easily others come into contact and even chirp about "stupid things", while they find it very difficult. The "You can be anything" message is simply not encrypted in their brain as they have not had such experience. 

On the other hand, such a child, growing up, already projects onto those around them the image of an "absent", "distant" or "cold" parent. Getting closer to another can generally be experienced as a danger (because they have not had lasting and constant experience of intimacy).

Here is the most extreme case. For such patterns to form, it is not necessary to live the childhood of an "abandoned child". Just a few or even one but very painful traumatic episode are enough. This has to do with the fact that a person realizes they are deprived of connection with a significant other at some important moment. This becomes a problem if a person, growing up, is unable to independently form interpersonal ties, overcoming the feeling of loneliness.

Alone in the crowd

This is a paradoxical feeling. And it is also very subjective. If you look at things realistically, you can always find someone to talk to in a crowd and build a contact of varying depth. The same applies to being alone online (remember the novel of the same name by Yanush Vishnevsky?) This is a state when, with an apparent abundance of opportunities, a person chooses to avoid dialogue (or engage in a "wrong" dialogue that brings satisfaction).

Even a large number of connections does not exclude loneliness. It is not quantity that matters, but quality. Remember when you had a deep contact with someone? Chances are, you were genuinely interested, emotionally involved, and able to express what you wanted at that moment. The last factor is important. The antipode to loneliness is a full-fledged manifestation of some aspects of personality, authenticity, conformity to oneself in contact with another. When you can’t do this while communicating, then a feeling of loneliness arises.

And the very abundance of opportunities and connections (thousands of subscribers, friends, dozens of groups and communities) has nothing to do with authenticity and the possibility of high-quality self-expression. In this sense, it is indicative that bloggers and online speakers always introduce interactivity and ask for feedback so as not to feel isolated. Because the reaction of listeners / viewers influences further self-expression. This is called mirroring. The nature of the contact changes depending on the feedback. And if it is not there, then disorientation occurs: “Who am I doing this for? What for? What's the point?"

The paradox of loneliness in the modern world

First, it’s the abundance of opportunities. Messengers, social networks, opportunities for communication in different parts of the world, dating sites, online training, international projects —  all these should seamingly solve the problem of loneliness in the 21st century. But it doesn't. It seems that even an unprecedented technical arsenal does not affect the laws of the psyche in any way. On the contrary, it is often these very possibilities that lead you into the trap of projections and only exacerbate the feeling of loneliness. How come?

On the one hand, you can communicate spontaneously, freely establish and break contact, and find interlocutors anywhere in the world. There are many ways to express yourself and maintain contact, from emoticons to videos. The only question is whether this communication turns into reality. And if not, then the mechanisms of projections come into play and "mind games" begin. The virtual interlocutor is necessarily endowed with some projective qualities and properties, and communication with them gradually turns into communication with yourself. When the other does not fit into our idea (this inevitably happens in any communication, it just takes longer in the virtual world), you get disappointed. And it would still be ok if this disappointment was accompanied by a genuine recognition of the other. But more often than not this is not the case. The "bitter truth" either gives rise to new projections, or forces you to break off contact, which has lost its former charm. And here you are —  welcome, loneliness!

The second paradox of the modern world is the blurred boundaries of the real and the virtual. People are addicted to games, social networks, and instant messengers. This is a vivid symptom of loneliness. When "I can’t but do it," "life without it loses its colors and even meaning". The need to belong to the community often lies in the mechanism of such dependence. You need to understand the laws of a particular game, accept certain rules to feel like you belong. Does addiction satisfy this need? Only partially. To the extent that the virtual world can replace the real one.

And the third paradox associated with the feeling of loneliness of our contemporary is the rapidly growing ideological gap between people of different ages (not even generations). Not only can grandfathers and grandchildren literally speak different languages, but a generation that was once fascinated by Harry Potter can feel obvious discomfort with young Tik Tok fans. The experience of the elders is no longer as in demand as it used to be as the world is rapidly becoming different due to different conditions, circumstances and values. And, most importantly, different meanings. Therefore, a young person feeling lonely in the family, while having strong ties with peers, is already almost a psychological norm.

The problem of loneliness itself becomes more acute precisely in the 21st century, when there is no need to stay close to relatives in order to have social and financial support (as was the case, for example, in the 70-80-90s of the last century).

New opportunities, besides obvious advantages, are also a challenge. If almost anyone can achieve success and become financially independent without academic education —  that is, acquire the attributes of an accomplished adult, then will they cope with their real selves? With fears, including their own loneliness? Will they cope with an unconscious loyalty to ancestral traditions combined with an outward separation from them? These are open questions. Perhaps such a psychological unpreparedness manifested itself recently. When cases of depression became more frequent and the demand for psychologists increased during the recent coronavirus lockdown. The absence of "live" emotional and social contacts has exacerbated the inner instability of millions of people, forcing them to face something difficult inside.

What If I feel lonely

First of all, you are one of many people who feel the same. Secondly, in this state, the potential of dialogue is still embedded: all great creations grew out of the solitary state of the creator, captured by a plan, idea, picture or vision. When a person feels deprived of important connections, but there is a need to realize their inner content, they enter into a dialogue with themselves. And often it is this honest dialogue that becomes interesting to many people.

Psychologists know this effect as triangulation. One example is doing this through drawing or art therapy. Through a portrait, metaphorical cards, works of art. Through living spontaneous images in psychodrama. When the inner content is immersed in an external object, and the client interacts with the world through it.

As any other phenomenon, being alone is not black or white. This is both the cause of depression and the main condition for creativity. An intolerable state is an indispensable context for important insights and insights. Lack of external connections and the ability to establish a deep connection with oneself. This depends on the perspective. 

Therefore, it is important to determine the degree of your loneliness. When it becomes destructive, and when it can not only be endured, while it is necessary for inner comfort and self-realization. It is no coincidence that psychologists agree on the idea that only those who know how to be alone without drama can create real partnerships.

When loneliness is a problem 

So what do I do?

  • Try changing your perspective: experience loneliness as a resourceful state. After all, it is not even the fact of loneliness (that is, as we have seen, controversial), but the bitter thoughts that we have: "I am not needed and interesting to anyone", "no one understands me", "I have no one to speak to". And this is the same "abandoned child" syndrome that needs a sympathetic and accepting parent. Just be aware of this and... become such a parent for yourself.

  • Give yourself a place in your life. Pay more attention to yourself. What do you love and what do you not? Are you warm or cold now? How would you like to spend this weekend? The "four questions" works well: "What am I thinking now? What do I feel? What's wrong with my body at the moment? What would I like for myself now?"

  • Scale your interest. Whatever it is —  a hobby, an unusual project, a field of knowledge or a new profession —  it always fills you. As you grow and develop in what interests you, you inevitably meet like-minded people. No, you do not need to strive to establish some kind of strong relationship, you can just be in this community. That already softens the inner state. Interest is a good remedy for loneliness as a certain "second" object or sphere appears, where your attention is directed. And voila! —  your opinion about loneliness is already different.

  • Try journaling or finding another way to talk to yourself. You need this so that this "second one" appears, be that a diary, a dictaphone or a post on a social network, any object where you can "lay out" this state. Relief is bound to come.

  • Create. Whether it's an original decoration for a room, a global working project, your look for tomorrow, or just a sketch in a notebook. Create a part of your reality, making it unique, only yours.

It’s up to you to decide whether feeling lonely is a privilege or a burden. Perhaps, at deep collective levels, a person is never alone and can always interact, even if not with someone specific, but with reality itself. And the product of such interaction can be the key to getting out of the state of loneliness.

***

The path "to oneself" is always more difficult and painful than the search for external ideas and following someone else's guidelines. But what this road can transform into is priceless. Come to Founders Club, find your soul mates, open up new horizons and never feel lonely again!

 

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