You are Not Alone – Part 1
A theme that keeps popping up for me lately is ‘loneliness’. Loneliness on an individual scale. And loneliness on a societal level. It seems our lives are busier than we may want, yet authentic connection with others is absent from the busyness. Somehow, something is desiring for us to shift what we’re doing – personally and collectively. I’m not the only one this has been a theme for either.
The US surgeon general, Vivek Murthy, has been discussing this topic since 2014 and he sees the emotional well-being of individuals in the US as being paramount to our physical health. In his data gathering, Murthy has found loneliness to contribute to a reduced life span as well as to depression, anxiety, dementia and heart disease. In the last few months, Murthy, created the “National Strategy to Advance Social Connection” which gives a framework for addressing loneliness societally within six areas in order to curb the growing loneliness epidemic that he sees occurring for us.
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Maybe, we are tired of talking about loneliness by now in its various forms. By now the clichés of “surround yourself with people you can trust”, “find a community!”, “dig into the lives of the people around you” and many more abound. The prompting and the facts are there about why being connected to other people is a good and beneficial thing, but it can feel like a tall order to suddenly create an ideal community or friendships. We can hear that the US is facing new times of loneliness, but what can we do about it in our own lives?
What is keeping me lonely?
Recently, I’ve been reading “This Here Flesh” by Cole Arthur Riley and one of her chapters is on the idea of belonging. Riley states, “If you go without belonging for long enough, if you’ve known the sting of betrayal, you can end up manufacturing an identity from your alienation (Riley, 2022, p. 77).” Her writing is beautiful and profound in the description of what holds us back from connecting in community, including that sometimes, we may even feel above the need for connection with others. As with most things, getting into our own reasoning and drives for the how and why of our loneliness can elucidate how we move forward with taking action.
An important distinction
Being alone and loneliness are quite different. The solitude that comes from being alone can be the strength needed for the health and well-being of many, many people. The solitude in aloneness may be what keeps you trucking on with your work with people all throughout the day and in interacting kindly and healthily with your family. The divergence between these two is when the feeling of loneliness is unwanted as opposed to the intentional choice you make to spend time alone. And this could be the starting line for each us of individually – looking internally at ourselves and asking the question to see where we are in terms of this feeling of loneliness. For some, answering this question may take time or it could be difficult to access our internal world. Finding resources in your process may be beneficial to continue this internal exploration. And maybe answering the question comes quickly to you and now are wondering where to go next with your information. What does it look like to reach out to others and begin growing, or maybe re-connecting, in deep and meaningful ways? We will talk more about this in the next part of this series on loneliness. Stay tuned!
McGregor, J. “This Former Surgeon General Says There’s a ‘Loneliness Epidemic’ and Work is
Partly to Blame.” The Washington Post, October 4, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2017/10/04/this-former-surgeon-general-says-theres-a-loneliness-epidemic-and-work-is-partly-to-blame/
Riley, C. A. (2022). This here flesh. Convergent Books.