Your Brain on Lonely
Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash
I am talking to a group of university undergrad students via Skype. The topic is neuroplasticity and learning. During the Q and A, a student asks about loneliness.
"What can you do to combat the feeling of loneliness?"
"Is loneliness in your DNA?"
I thought about her questions for a long time after the session, and although I answered part of it, I feel like there is more I want to say.
All your feelings are important. Your body carefully conserved every feeling you have because at one time during our time on this planet, it helped us survive. The body makes no distinction between a 'good' or 'bad' feeling. Every feeling is information and at some point in our evolutionary lifespan, it contributed to our survival.
Lonely can be painful. It is the experience of feeling discontent or sad at the lack of human connection. It has nothing to do with the number of people who surround you. You can feel lonely in the care of a newborn child. You can feel lonely in a room full of crowded family and you can feel lonely in a room all by yourself.
Back when we lived in tribes, our survival depended on community. Not having the connection of a community was dangerous. Being on the outs with your tribe could cost you your life.
It is no wonder we do what we can to avoid our modern experience of lonely. Our cells have millions of years of practice equating lonely with death.
If you are living a good life, lonely is normal. People you love die. People you love hurt you. You feel misunderstood. You are in a community or situation where you feel out of place. You don't see your reflection in the people around you.
Lonely is temporary. It will move with you through the ebbs and flows of living. There will be times when your life will be full of connection and human contact. There will be times the flow of community will be easy and effortless. And there will be times when it will be work and full of effort, often at times when you don't have the energy or resources available to you. Some of my greatest moments of loneliness have been the hours in a darkened room, unable to move without excruciating pain, during my years struggling with undiagnosed fibromyalgia.
Lonely can also be a sign of transformation. In my energy medicine practice, when a client expresses feelings of deep and painful loneliness it can be a signal of an impending transformation. That deep sense of disconnect with your outside world may be early signs of your awareness that something needs to change. Something big.
Like maybe your realize a family 'norm' is no longer okay with you.
Or you have evolved out of your tribe.
Or the balance of power in your marriage needs rearranging.
Or the way you have taught your children to treat you now needs an overhaul.
Or maybe you realize you have been spending money on stuff in order to cover up your feelings of 'not good enough'.
Lonely can be a powerful sign that transformation wants to push its way forward. Don't be too quick to judge your loneliness as a sign that your life is crappy or that you lack community. Both things might be true, but there is much more to your lonely.
My invitation to you is to stay lonely and explore the information. You might be in the throes of a healing, a rebirth and an answer to prayer.