Loneliness & solitude – The Pain & Paradox

by Anushree Ghosh

“Zindaagi Kii Raahon Mei Ek Bheed Chalti Hain
Sochiye To Lagta Hain Bheed Mei Hein Sab Tanha”

                                                                                     – Javed Akhtar

(The crowd moves, on life’s roads; give it a thought, and everyone is lonely amidst this crowd)

Akhtar wrote these lines way back in 1999 and left us thinking about the lingering feeling of ‘loneliness’ that refuses to leave, even if you are surrounded by people all the time – parties, gatherings, official meetings, unofficial rendezvous, or for that fact, busy doing the daily mundane job, or a particularly interesting one.

                                                                             Pc: freepic 

Now, let’s try and deconstruct the layers of loneliness – it may or may not be associated with the physical presence of another human soul. You can be alone and not lonely, and you can be among a thousand people, but still, you may feel lonely. It is the perception of being alone, rather than situational. The reasons could be many – mental distress, a sense of social isolation, discontentment with the current situation, or facing the universal question: Is anything at all on this planet worthy of your time?

 In Words of Daniel Perlman & Letitia Anne Peplau –

“Loneliness is the unpleasant experience that occurs when a person’s network of social relations is deficient in some important way, either qualitatively or quantitatively.”

Solitude Vs Loneliness

Solitude is the preferred choice of being alone, while Loneliness is a painful state that one has to be tolerated, out of compulsion.”

“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous – to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
― Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Tales

                            PC : amazon

Perhaps the above quote could give us a vague idea of why Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, chose to be alone, he felt that his creativity or his source of inspiration would come only from his loneliness; marriage would corrupt the true experience of being lonely, and strived hard to reach the depths of it by breaking it off from the woman who he dearly loved, at even a greater emotional cost to the woman.

There is such an innate need to fit in, that we go to extreme extents to please others – laughing at jokes that particularly don’t tickle us, attending parties that on the surface look utterly boring, nodding on beliefs that we don’t agree with and liking pictures on social media that doesn’t add to our lives in any way. However, this could have been a different scenario, if we were not so scared of facing loneliness inside the cemented walls that we chose for ourselves.

 How is Solitude Different?

Solitude comes from the feeling to break the monotony and clutter; this monotony can even come from being surrounded by people all the time. Hence, it is the time to reflect upon our feelings, get a clear sense of understanding of where our heart lies, and the must-deserved distraction that is needed from the overwhelming thoughts.

Is Loneliness Painful?

Hell Yes! It is a sharp pain in your chest that doesn’t manifest itself in any physical pain rather it hurts at different levels of consciousness – the sense of being irrelevant in the vast scheme of universal things.

As Lars Fredrik Händler Svendsen, writes in his book A Philosophy of Loneliness

“Why is loneliness so painful? Loneliness tells us something about ourselves, about our place in the world. The emotion tells us how insignificant we are in the greater scheme of things. We feel relegated to a universe where we make no difference, where our being or non-being is devoid of relevance for our surroundings. Loneliness is particularly tied to shame.

         Loneliness, after all, is a social pain, an ache that signals that one’s social life is not satisfactory and that pain becomes especially discomfiting when it becomes socially visible. Loneliness is not only painful but embarrassing. In order to avoid shame, it is essential a person maintain the impression of having a thriving social life, however lonely that person might feel. Despite the fact that loneliness is a general human phenomenon, whoever suffers from loneliness is a loser.”

PC : amazon

 However, it is astonishing to note that in the pretext of having privacy, we are indeed seeking loneliness, without even realising it.

In his book The Pursuit of Loneliness, Philip Slater wrote:

“ We seek a private house, a private means of transportation, a private garden, a private laundry, self-service stores, and do-it-yourself skills of every kind. An enormous technology seems to have set itself the task of making it unnecessary for one human being ever to ask anything of another in the course of going about his or her daily business. Even within the family Americans are unique in their feeling that each member should have a separate room, and even a separate telephone, television, and car, when economically possible. We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more alienated when we get it.”

German Psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer describes loneliness as, an “unrecognised disease that is painful, contagious and deadly.”

The visual depiction of this pain can perhaps be observed in the works of Edward Hopper, one of the most acknowledged artists of the 20th century, his paintings depict urban loneliness, and disappointment, and his characters are drowned in depths of despair. Connecting the world that is shrinking bit-by-bit, and within it resides the elements that do not understand each other’s language, and as a result, keeping to themselves and, lingering with the constant feeling of loneliness.

          HOPPER, Edward_Muchacha cosiendo a máquina, c.1921 _595 (1977.49)

The causes and emotions that may lead to loneliness can have different shades, let’s talk about three kinds of loneliness:

The Existential Loneliness: Exploring the purpose of life can have a different meaning for everyone. And, losing oneself in this exploration can lead to a crisis of emotions, which ultimately affects our actions and chain of thoughts.

Why are we here? What Am I doing? What is the point of anything? Does anything exist? What is existence? How do you substantiate existence?

When we see no point beyond the circle of nothingness, we feel utterly tired to find meaning at that very moment, and therefore, interaction with other human souls becomes an activity that just drags you to nothingness, and beyond it, more of nothingness.

Emotional Loneliness: It is the feeling of being solely responsible for one’s emotions, even in terms of reactions – there is no one to share the happy news, or just a little funny thing, or an event that is bothering your soul. It could be due to the absence of a person who held a special position in our life; and when suddenly the person is missing from our schedule, we don’t know how to fill the gap.

Social Loneliness: It is a predetermined fear of being secluded, the constant need to belong to a group countered by our fear that we don’t belong, creates a tumultuous dilemma in our hearts. The need is there, but we lack the courage for various reasons – fear of being ridiculed, shamed, or simply because we have different personalities.

Now, how to combat loneliness?

Like any other feeling, we must first acknowledge that the lingering feeling of constant pain is ‘loneliness’ and the journey begins from there.

For most people, loneliness is a temporary thing, it will dissipate on its own once you begin life giving a chance again – look up to the next morning for the brewing cup of coffee and the money plant you have so dearly kept on your table. However, for some people, it may deteriorate with time, and they may feel themselves sinking bit by bit with no means to afloat. A series of self-judgments may prevent us from seeking help. Well, here are a few things to try but in case these don’t help, please ask for help!

  1. Self-care – Indulge yourself in a self-care routine. Like all the lifestyle articles, the formula is simple, try things that are good for our physical and mental health – read a good book, eat something nutritious, exercise, and groom.
  2. Join a class – learning a new thing, always helps, and in the process, we meet new people with whom we don’t have to make an effort to communicate; everything becomes effortless and organic.
  3. Stop the chain of negative thoughts – the negative spiral in our mind is toxic and do not refrain from pushing us to the brim, where we feel exhausted; however, keeping ourselves distracted is a great start. As the more we stir away from negativity, it will lose its grip on us.

Ultimately, let’s try to transform our moments of loneliness into solitude – moments of reflection, where we put an effort to understand ourselves, rather than lamenting the fact that we are lonely – after all, we came alone, and we’ll leave this earth not lonely, but in solitude.

P.S: Please visit a professional therapist if you get stuck in the loop of loneliness.