My brain lies to me sometimes. There are moments when my dear, sweet amygdala (the fear center in the human brain, responsible for our fight, flight, or freeze instincts) tells me all sorts of unpleasantries that are not accurate in an attempt to protect me… from what, I am not always certain. My perceived threat radar is on crack, bless it, so sometimes it goes haywire for no reason. An example? I’m so glad you asked.
Let’s talk loneliness. You know, just to bring you a little holiday cheer. It’s on the rise (Click for Psychology Today article), and if you are here to tell me you never feel lonely, I will respectfully disagree. Everyone feels it at one point or another and, if not dealt with properly, can negatively impact our right now friendships, and any we might make in the future.
Loneliness is not actually a bad thing. It’s like hunger–a signal from our body that we need something, in this case, intimate connection. Ironically, some of us (definitely not me, because I’m a master of human interaction) have precious brains that react to this signal by distorting our perception and exacerbating our fears and insecurities, which just causes us to feel more lonely and isolated. Noice.
Don’t believe me? Good thing Brene Brown, patron saint of vulnerability, backs me up here. In her book Braving the Wilderness, she writes,
“When we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection… the brain’s self-protection mode often ramps up the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, creating stories that are often not true or exaggerate our worst fears and insecurities.”
Cool cool… that makes total sense. Of course our derpy human brains respond to the need for meaningful connection by saying, Time to lock yourself in your apartment, watch Netflix, and scroll and people’s hyper-curated lives on Instagram all night. FIXED IT YOU’RE WELCOME.
To top all that off, we often feel shame for feeling lonely, and we all know that shame is a great way to calm things down. In these confusing and fraught moments, my brain scrambles to find sure footing only to come up empty. My perception gets so distorted that I forget… who are my friends? Do they like me?
In normal circumstances, I know the answers to these questions. I know that I have dear and precious friends who like me and whom I like. But I forget that they are trustworthy and kind. I forget our shared history–the times we have been there for each other. I cannot speak to loneliness within the context of marriage, though I have heard that’s a thing. But I can say that sometimes experiencing loneliness as person who already feels like she in on her own in many respects can feel totally defining.
When I start feeling lonely, I have to make a conscious effort to remember that I am not actually alone. This is really hard to do because your brain is the one telling you that you don’t have any friends. I’m saying that I’m always successful. As an introvert, I do enjoy spending time on my own; that’s not what I’m talking about here. I have learned that I am not the only person in the history of the world who has felt the way that I feel. Sure, my life experience is unique in many ways, but this feeling is part of being human and it doesn’t have to scare me. In these moments, I pray and it gives me the courage to separate the stimulus from my brain’s response. For me, the fight to keep my closest friendships active and healthy begins here, weeding perception from reality and fear from fact.
Note: If you are experiencing an overwhelming, pervasive sense of loneliness or isolation, I strongly urge you to reach out to a mental health professional.