Have you ever had one of those dreams -- or call it a nightmare -- where you're in a situation with several other people or even at a party, and no one recognizes you're there? Your dream-self is invisible; you're on the Outside Looking In. You speak, even shout, but no one hears. To the others in the dream, you have no face, no voice, no 'being'.
For some, it's only in their dreams when they can be assertive, have meaningful conversations, exciting adventures, true social interaction. But when they open their eyes and face the day, the feelings of isolation and estrangement begin.
Imagine how it feels, deep within, to believe there's a valid reason no one seeks you out for a friend. After all, you're dull and uninteresting. You're tongue-tied and never know what to say. You may even feel unattractive or ugly. Your self-esteem is non-existent, and just forget Confidence.
Someone actually invites you to a party, but you're hesitant to attend. Mary invited everyone in the office, and she only invited you because she didn't want to be rude. But your name wasn't at the top of her guest list, you're quite sure. So why should you go? Everyone else will be disappointed if you show up. Why spoil the party?
But then you win the days-long battle with yourself, and decide to go to Mary's party. You'll make an appearance. But when no one is friendly, you'll leave early...
Perhaps you've always been shy. As a child, it was hard for you to make friends. Some are lucky enough to be born into families in which social skills are taught and encouraged. And some are not. In fact, some families are so enmeshed and such self-contained units that children can learn by example that Home is the only safe place to be.
Psychologists have conducted research to identify those children whose behaviors reveal inadequate social skills. At recess, such kids may observe other 'popular' children from a distance, without seeming to know how to join the group. Or a little boy might give money to a popular student, or offer to sharpen his pencils for a year, if only he will be his friend. By nature, we are social creatures, and have a deep need to connect with others.
Henry David Thoreau said that being alone is the basic human condition, which may be true. We can't turn to others to imbue or give our life meaning. That must come from within. But psychologist Dan Kiley has coined the phrase 'Living Together Loneliness,' or LTL. Kiley described the stages of LTL as:
(1) a woman married at age 20 to 24, feels bewildered until age 28 to 30; begins to feel isolated;
(2) around age 34, the woman begins to feel impatient, anxious, and/or agitated;
(3) depression sets in at some point between age 43 and 50;
(4) ultimately, the woman may feel chronic bitterness, or unrelieved exhaustion. The 'culprit', in the woman's eyes, is her husband, because he's so self-obsessed, selfish, uncommunicative. For her, it's all his fault because she is so lonely.
Many people remain in unhappy, imperfect marriages (a) without making a shared effort to improve or rebuild the relationship, and/or (b) from the searing fear of breaking all ties and suddenly being alone.
Loneliness can be situational, and may occur when college students are away from home and family for the first time. Most college and university counseling services deal with this issue. And seniors who lose a spouse or live far away from friends and adult children may feel lonely due to the loss or disruption of their previous social network.
But intense loneliness can transmute into depression, and depression to despair. Every 18 minutes, someone in the US commits suicide -- women attempt suicide at three times the rate of males, but males are four times more 'successful' in their attempts. In the past 40 years, suicide by teens and young adults has almost tripled. And for seniors 65 and older, the suicide rate is 50% higher than that of the general population.
In the UK and Ireland, there are 200+ centers offering confidential support for suicidal thoughts, feelings of despair, or distress -- 4.8 million total contacts in 2001. Go to: http://www.samaritans.co.uk/ Or try Haven of Hope Sanctuary Hotline, http://www.mhsanctuary.com/suicide/hotline4.htm Wings of Support is a wonderful service, too: "Whether dealing with a crisis, addiction, coping with a mental disorder, or just feeling overwhelmed with life." Their services are free, and run by caring volunteers: http://www.the-bright-side.org/ Still other sites: http://www.stoploneliness.com/ which encourages you to create a Personal Plan for making positive changes in your life. And you need to visit the courageous, poignant site of Susan Rose Blauner, http://www.howistayedalive.com/ Blauner wrote a guide to suicide prevention, "How I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill Me."
You're not alone. There are more people who will understand, first-hand, what you're going through than you could ever imagine. Please look in your Yellow Pages, under Crisis/Mental Health/or Emergency. If all else fails, call your local police department, and tell them you are desperate for someone to talk to. Don't go it alone. It hurts too much. Reach out and trust there will be a helping hand in the darkness.
About the Author:
Stephania edits a twice-monthly HTML ezine, Tidbits from the Pantry, that is currently sent to more than 11,000 opt-in subscribers. She recently retired after 40 years in the field of human services, and offers a free evaluation of a life problem to any subscriber by email.
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