“Loneliness is not outside, it’s inside.” What a profound statement! Loneliness doesn’t necessarily come from being alone. It’s a feeling of isolation, like no one understands you or knows how you feel. Loneliness is a lack of any meaningful connection with others. This explains how someone can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by people, even with a thriving social life. It also explains why social media is an increasingly lonely place.
On the topic of loneliness, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“The feeling of loneliness is not uncommon to women who do too much. We are constantly busy and surrounded by people and still we feel lonely. In fact, it is quite possible that one of the reasons that we keep so busy is that we are trying to avoid our feelings of loneliness and are, simultaneously, frightened by intimacy.
We believe if we just rush around enough, keep busy enough, and surround ourselves with enough important and interesting people, our loneliness will disappear. Unfortunately, none of these things works. Indeed, as Fiona Macleod says, ‘My heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill.’ Our hearts are seeking something, and the many things we have tried don’t seem to be it. When we have lost the connection with our spiritual beings, we will be lonely no matter how much we have.”
Addiction stems from a lack of real connection, from loneliness in other words. This was discovered by scientist Bruce K. Alexander and his colleagues in the 1970s when they conducted a series of studies known as Rat Park. In Rat Park, rats were given access to two fluid dispensers—one with plain water, the other a morphine solution. They also had access to plenty of food, exercise and toys, and companionship from other rats. As a result, they indulged in the morphine solution far less than their counterparts who were kept in standard laboratory cages without access to any of these things. In fact, the rats who were isolated without toys or sufficient room to play would drug themselves to death. The point is when we feel lonely, we seek out ways to distract ourselves. The means we use to do so can be anything from drugs, alcohol, shopping, sex… or in the case of us workaholics, working and keeping busy. The idea that if we just keep busy enough, if we surround ourselves with enough people, if we distract ourselves enough we will no longer feel lonely is a lie. Our hearts seek connection with ourselves and the world around us. If we aren’t comfortable with ourselves, if we aren’t satisfied with who we are inside, we will never be able to outrun our loneliness. Like so much in life, we must connect first with ourselves before we can connect with others. Loneliness is on the inside.