As a single person, I am aware that many singles (not to mention far too many married folk) feel especially lonely at this time of the year. Perhaps it is the long nights. Perhaps it is the realization that another Valentine’s Day will come and go without “the right one” on their arm.
Mother Teresa said it well when she was reflecting on western culture. “We have many diseases here in India, but you have a worse disease, at epidemic levels. It’s called ‘loneliness’.”
When I reflect on my own life and think about the times I have felt lonely, I realize it was especially poignant when I didn’t really have a sense of belonging. I felt at “loose ends.” I lacked a sense of rootedness, one that would include good friends with whom I could be myself: to laugh, cry, be silly and feel okay.
Apart from our physical needs, I believe the need to belong is the strongest one. This is true of us in our families, relationships, work or school environment, church, club or wherever we invest ourselves. And yet, in our western culture, based very strongly on the autonomy of the individual, this need is often neglected.
I recently had two young men, students at the local university, share a bedroom in my house because they could not afford to rent separate ones. They were from India where communal living, complete with extended families living under one roof, is commonplace. They did remarkably well together, even though they hardly knew each other before moving in.
In our country we have so much. The average family member has four times the space in our homes as was common just 40 years ago. Most of us get three full meals (and more) a day, drive cars, have entertainment money, travel, and access one of the best healthcare systems in the world.
Yet we are also the poorest because we are so isolated, lonely, fearful, and more. Observing people seeking others’ approval, attention and love would be fun if it were not so painful to watch.
What separates those of us who seem to live wholehearted lives from those who seem to believe they are not “good enough”? People who live full, rich, meaningful and connected lives are more willing to be vulnerable, to be open with others.
Those who live with much fear and shame (“I’m not good/smart/beautiful/gifted enough to be loved, to belong, to be celebrated for who I am”) go through all kinds of maneuvers in order to make up for their sense of lack. They regularly get angry, depressed, blaming others; attempt to be perfect, ultra-knowledgeable, isolate themselves, and more.
As one who is increasingly moving from the world of lack to a life of abundance, I know that it is possible. May it be also true for you, regardless of where you are currently at in your life.
Ian Gartshore is a local therapist, energy guy, and emerging human being.