Opposite me sits a pretty woman, expressive eyes with a worried look in them. She stutters a bit, unsure of how to say what she wants to say. “I feel so alone,” she stammers without looking at me. ‘I don’t know how to break that. I need connection but all I feel is that I am on an island and have no contact with my loved one’. As she speaks these sentences, her breath catches. The intensity of her emotions is audible. I’m waiting to say anything. Wants to give her all the space to say what she wants to say in her own way. It remains silent. Tears stream down her cheeks and her gaze remains down. After some time she looks straight at me and says almost in a whisper; ‘I can be alone so well. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know how to break it. All I do know is that I don’t want to feel that alone anymore. I’ve had too much of that already.”
This woman – let’s call her Sue – is not alone. We feel like her at times; alone. The need for connection, to be seen and to feel loved resides deep within us. What we fail to realize is that feeling alone is often not about the present, but about the past. As we project our past onto the here and now, we feel fear and loss, we feel anger and pain. Only in the here and now we don’t have much to fear at all, that’s how I’m starting to realize more and more.
When I ask Sue for examples of standing alone, she lists them effortlessly. This time without a hitch. Like she has a mental list of this in her head. And indeed; what resounds therein is the apparent absence of support, togetherness and even love. But something that resounds doesn’t have to be that way. It is time to investigate whether reality and illusion are one and the same. Could it be that the loneliness is so deeply ingrained that it still works in the present? In other words, what happens if we still lay down our past as a template over the present?
If we still judge situations based on what we believe about ourselves and the world and what does that actually look like in action? Is it possible that feeling alone is partly the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Do we see what we believe? And do we get what we expect?
This is not to say that Sue is ‘blame’ for feeling alone. On the contrary. Something arises and if it lasts long enough, we come to believe it is happening to us. And that’s a misconception. What I wish her with all my heart and soul is that she has influence in breaking through this feeling. And that is only possible if she takes 100% responsibility for her part in maintaining the feeling of aloneness. Is she able to connect with herself in such a way that she finds within herself the answers to this destructive sense of loneliness?
The weeks that follow are tough. Together we go through Sue’s first encounter with her feeling alone. These go back to her life as a young child. Her parents are busy with themselves and she doesn’t feel safe. A series of years in which Sue feels unsafe as a child and lives with the feeling that she has only one task left; keep her parents happy. She does her best at school, excels in independence and spares her parents by being accommodating and ‘easy’.
Sue is the epitome of invisibility in a life where parents are so absorbed in their own inner ruins that there is little room for visibility and recognition for their child. Their only daughter. The woman does not remember a real puberty. She keeps everything that goes on inside her to herself. Her sadness, dilemmas, questions, loneliness and feeling alone; it stays within the safe walls of her little room. Beyond that, she shows how sociable and smiley she is. She seems separated from herself and the outside world.
If it is true that we view every relationship in the light of our experiences and the beliefs we have developed from them, could it be that the woman has also perceived much in her relationship with her husband from being alone? And not only observed but also acted upon? Worth investigating.
We look at life in the light of our experiences.
What is important then? Sometimes we can talk to our parents. Taking them into the process we are in. Showing ourselves, our struggle. In very few cases I see that the adult in the child play is still acknowledged. I have witnessed a number of times when parents and the adult child entered into a conversation. An often difficult, painful but also beautiful process in which the recognition for the child and the apology for the parents intensified the relationship and parents and child came out more powerful.
When I present my reflections to Sue—as a suggestion—she resists. Understandable. It implies in her eyes that I’m actually saying she got what she believed in. Indeed, she receives it as ‘own fault big bump’, but nothing could be further from the truth. Or rather; there is no fault in any situation. Yes, if you drive your car into a tree because you are not paying attention, you can speak of guilt. Human relationships, however, are dynamic processes, always in motion. As a result, we never know when, where and with whom it started. And by it I mean the patterns we’re in. Driven by subconscious beliefs. Are this woman’s parents to blame? No, neither. They also each bear 100% responsibility for their child’s feeling of loneliness. They could have made different choices. However, this requires awareness of what was going on. It is likely that their personal and relational mess can also be traced back to previous experiences and – for whatever reason – they were unable to see what was happening at the time. We don’t know and it’s not important.
In practice, however, it appears that many receive this recognition through third parties; their loved one, sometimes the therapist or significant other. In the case of this woman, talking to her parents is not an option. She doesn’t want to, doesn’t want to ‘saddle’ her parents with her pain. “I would only hurt them,” said the woman. So strong is the power of the past. She still wants to spare her parents and that is her right. Now she makes a choice and it can only be respected. She may be able to gain recognition for her aloneness from her partner, the man who is apparently unsupportive and loving towards her. Which confirms her in her solitude. What is his responsibility in this?
When asked if her husband knows she has help, she answers resolutely and raises her voice. A powerful voice. She makes it clear that this is none of his business and that he would not show any interest in this. She prefers to save herself from the disappointment by not telling. When asked how sure she is, she says; ‘because he doesn’t show any interest in anything in my life. He is so busy with himself and his own life that there is no room for my troubles’. I give her back ‘so your partner reminds you a lot of your parents?’ It remains silent. It remains silent for a long time.
Getting recognition is a source of strength
I have been able to facilitate such a process on a number of occasions. Occasionally, when I wanted to investigate their ‘problem’ in a broader context, the client dropped out. Apparently it was too early. They were not yet ready to take ownership of new perspectives, to get rid of old safeties and familiar beliefs. The pressure of suffering was not (yet) high enough. With this woman, yes. She was ready to take control of her own feeling of aloneness.
The woman takes the first shaky steps in breaking something, by informing her partner of the step she has taken; Get help with something she can’t figure out herself. And tell him why.