There is this common thread in society. A feeling felt by all at different degrees in various circumstances. It’s amplified by expectation on a societal and personal level. It’s associated with a sense of shame, and shame silences problems. This silence makes it hard to diagnose and therefore treat. So to speak about it further I should label it: Loneliness.
Synonyms for loneliness include: isolation, abandonment, rejection, unpopularity, sadness, separation and seclusion. Seven alternate words which serve to highlight the negative nature of loneliness.
In today’s society many of us communicate with our phones more than we do with other people. Together, with our phones, we peruse the internet, shop, learn languages, review our finances, listen to music and podcasts, navigate journeys, order meals for one, take photos, play games, watch movies and television programmes and write notes to ourselves. We can do this all from one spot, without a need to speak with anyone else. This is an incredible advancement in modern technology but does it isolate us? If you find yourself spending time in the presence of people entranced by their phones are you really spending time together? If you try to gain the attention of someone who is engrossed by their phone do you apologise first? If your phone is low on battery do you panic for fear you will have no escape from the silence? This is a sad reality of modern day company.
What about feelings of loneliness when no one is around? Has social media become a source of companionship? Does this bid for entertainment and distraction sometimes come up short as we harshly compare our lives to the lives of others? It is easy to forget that social media allows us to advertise highly edited snippets of complicated realities, when we are feeling lonely. Social lives projected across social media can consolidate our skewed view that we are the only one feeling lonely.
So why don’t we communicate our feelings of loneliness? Why is happy, excited, angry and upset so normalised and loneliness is not? Where does the shame come from? As technological advances allow us to do more activities alone and project perfect lives, is there a societal expectation to be independent and self-sufficient? Does this force us into thinking that a cure to loneliness may be found in increased status on social media or in a vice such as alcohol, drugs or sex? All of which are temporary solutions. An aesthetic bandage for a bleeding wound.
So what is the cure to loneliness? First we have to change how we view loneliness. It is not defeat. It is not confirmation of our inadequacy or a trademark of rejection. Loneliness is something we all experience. Loneliness is a product of modern day society. To admit to feeling lonely is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, a belief that we are deserving of support. We should endeavour to identify feelings and be honest with ourselves and others. If this time of social distancing has proven anything, it is how much we need and desire human interaction. Phones allow us to contact those who are far away but we should not allow phones to consume us to the point of replacing human contact. We should not obsess over how lives are portrayed but endeavour to notice and ask how we all are behind the screens. So next time you’re in the company of others, drop it and be present.
In times of loneliness your phone or social media is not the answer. They are the pull, slip, trip, dive, fall further into loneliness. Human interaction is the answer. We are the answer to each other’s loneliness.
By Orla Friel