August 29 th
Transitions, loss & five ways to combat lonelinessBy Laurie Rosenfeld
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. . . .
“I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied rather shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
— LEWIS CARROLL, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Transitions pave the way for new beginnings. And on the way, as Alice implies, we typically experience loss, confusion, and loneliness.
I work with clients who are undergoing profound transitions. While change and transition are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. According to organizational consultant William Bridges:
- Change is situational; it is a shift in one’s external situation reflected by outer events. E.g., relocation, promotion, job loss, marriage, divorce, birth, death, onset of illness, and so on.
- Transition is psychological; it reflects an internal re-orientation and self-definition that includes disengaging from the old, moving through the ‘no where’ between old and new, and then embracing the new.
While we have all kinds of tools to plan for external changes, transitions are interior experiences that often blind-side us and catch us unaware.
I have watched clients, friends and family struggle with decisions to leave their job, find a new job, start a new business, take their business to the next level, find a new partner, dissolve a marriage, and manage illness. And I have struggled with these issues myself.
The challenge is that these decisions to take action, while seemingly simple when viewed from the outside, produce a wide range of complicated, unsettling and confusing feelings on the inside. Internally, when we are in transition we experience a series of psychological births and deaths. Transitions usher in literal and psychic loss.
The two greatest losses that I see as people grow are the loss of identity (who am I now?) and the loss of meaningful relationships (where are “my people”?).
One of the primary experiences my clients report is a palpable sense of loneliness. And while it is not surprising that loneliness would accompany transition, it is quite unnerving.
Loneliness is defined as “the condition of being lonely”, as “solitude”, as “isolation”. In fact, loneliness is a sense of chaos and disconnection that springs from emotional or social isolation.
Emotional isolation occurs when we have lost touch with ourselves and with what we need to thrive. We have disconnected from our bodies, from our feelings, and from our own wisdom.
Social isolation occurs when we appear to be surrounded by people who seem not to understand us (or when we are quite literally socially isolated and not present with other people). When we are not surrounded by people who mirror us unconditionally and non-judgmentally, and support our process whether or not they understand it, it is easy to feel alone.
In my experience, the way out is through. To that end, here are five ways to work with and move through loneliness:
1. Become aware of your loneliness. Acknowledge it. Name it.
- What are its qualities?
- How does it show up in you?
2. Befriend your loneliness. Welcome it. Allow it. Practice non-judgment.
- Acceptits existence as part of the process of growth.
- Remind yourself that it’s normal.
3. Invoke curiosity.
- What do you notice in your body?
- What feelings arise?
- What thoughts bubble up?
4. Contemplate loneliness. Understand it as a universal human experience.
- Read about others’ experiences with loneliness, loss, and perseverance.
- Remember it is a natural part of the cycle of life.
- See it as a sign that you’re being called to the next level of growth.
5. Act. Take conscious and creative action.
- Change things up. Go against the grain. Try something new. Welcome the discomfort.
- Join a group. Seek out like-minded, like-hearted others.
- Engage a coach. Make meaning of your current experience. Design new directions.
- Make regular social plans. Keep the commitment. Whether you feel like it or not.
- Take up a body-based practice. Exercise. Yoga. Bodywork.
When have you felt lonely? What has helped you move through it? As you read this list, what would you add?
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