Loneliness is on the rise, and the impact can be staggering. Social isolation is real, in spite of the fact that we live on a planet with more than seven billion humans, and have a myriad of ways to “connect” with each other. Social media often makes it seem like everyone is so happy, experiencing so many wonderful things with so many wonderful people. We forget that people are usually posting only the best of their lives and we think, “Wow, I wish I had that life, with those people, with that much fun.”
There’s also a fair amount of literature about women over 50, feeling invisible as they age, primarily because we live in a place where appearance is often valued above all else.
In addition to isolation, social media, and aging, many of the ways people used to stay connected have become obsolete.
It’s rare to find several generations of family members living together.
We often don’t stay in one area long enough to “grow” friendships.
Organized religion is taking a hit.
We live such fragmented lives.
It’s the intimate and real “connections” that we seek—the feeling that another person truly knows us legitimizes us in a way that gives us confidence and security.
Have you ever felt alone even though you were in the company of a group of people?
Have you ever felt alone in your own home?
We often understand the feeling of lonely when people are physically alone, but it’s much sadder to be lonely with others around you.
In general, I’m blessed to not feel lonely or invisible. I am very fortunate to have my daughters and grandchildren living nearby. My husband loves me. I belong to a faith community where I am valued. I have amazing friends who genuinely have care and concern for me—people who know me with all my flaws and love me anyway. Even if we know we have value, there are times we can end up feeling invisible. Recently, I had just such an experience.
I felt like I was prepared for a time I was going to be away from my home. I armed (notice the language…”armed”) myself with plenty of reading material. I packed plenty of comfortable sandals for long walks. I made a couple of specific requests that I thought would be helpful. I was going to be in a beautiful area, so that would be lovely. I was going to be with mostly “nice”, “caring” people. I carried with me positive thoughts from friends. In spite of all that I ended up feeling very alone.
Following are some of the things I wrote during the week. (Honestly, it’s tough for me to commit those writings to this page, to be vulnerable enough to share my insecurities)
“waves of emotion wash over you, tears come from a well you were sure was dry, your head throbs, your throat hurts, but no one SEES you, you are invisible”
“you sit around the fire, toward the back; there are others there too but then everyone moves away and you are ALONE; no one notices that you are alone because you don’t matter”
“you draw people out; you ask questions; you let them KNOW they are important, that you’re interested in what they think, but no questions are asked back of you, no one wants or needs to know about you because you are INVISIBLE”
Of course, I could have called one of my friends. Reaching out and hearing a supportive voice would have helped. Of course, I could have sent an email to someone who loves me. I’m confident I would have gotten a loving response. I did neither of those. Why? I’m not a psychologist, but I’m guessing that I was so darned exhausted from TRYING that I couldn’t deal anymore and simply “shut down”. I flipped the switch and “existed” instead of “lived” through a few days.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow published “A Theory of Human Motivation”. This paper included, the now famous, Hierarchy of Needs. Following Biological Needs (#1) and Safety Needs (#2) are Social Needs- love, belonging, affection. We have a strong need to be accepted and valued and validated.
Could we banish loneliness? If you live alone, could you reach out to another person who lives alone as well? Is there a group in your neighborhood or faith community that you could be part of? If you live with someone (or with more than one person) could you get to “know” each other? I’m not talking about, “I know that my wife likes to read in the mornings.” or I know that my father likes quiet until 9:00”, or I know what my kids like for dinner”. I’m talking about true conversation where we BECOME known; where it’s more than simply passing comments about schedules and responsibilities.
Once we’re hurt, we can get caught in a cycle of shutting down and being unwilling to risk again. If there’s even one hand you can reach for; a hand that wants to hold yours; a hand whose touch says, “you matter”, a hand that let’s you know you’re loved, seek that out. Believe in yourself (I know, sometimes easier said than done). Believe in the beauty of your spirit, your value in this life, because you truly DO matter.
Sure, there are often times I love being alone. But, like everyone else, I don’t want to ever be invisible again.