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Loneliness

“If you want to be completely happy, you won’t be able to do it alone.”
Demosthenes

In English, there are at least three different terms to refer to what we call in Castilian “soledad”. Loneliness is the lack of companionship, which is often experienced with sadness and a feeling of discouragement; lonesomeness carries a more intense feeling, for example, the absence of a loved one; solitude is the fact of being alone; separated from human contact, without further meaning. One may be surrounded by people in a big city and feel lonely, but this will not be solitude. There is a blissful “soledad” which is ´solitude´ in English, but that is not loneliness or lonesomeness.

Paul Goodman speaks in the book Gestalt Therapy of a beautiful feeling of solitude that underlies the loneliness:

“[…] there is always a beautiful affirmative childlike feeling: indignation in the defiance, loyal admiration in the clinging, solitude in the loneliness [...]”, [Gestalt Therapy, II, 4, 10.]

There is a basic existential loneliness which is inherent and inevitable to life. “No one can die his own death with anyone or for anyone.” [Irvin Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy and group therapy, p. 268, Ed Ibérica, 2000] However, there is a loneliness that we ourselves produce. Self-sufficiency is an open door to a dull, gratuitous loneliness. When we interrupt the contact with others to “do it alone” we can feel some sense of security. We escape the risks within relationships; we flee the agression, we avoid to go towards the other. However, the price of that security is to perpetuate a sense of loneliness, a feeling that the environment does not support us and we can not do with the other. This loneliness is very different from the existential solitude. In the latter, we are facing the limits of life itself. In the former, you find limits that you do not know if they would really be there, do not know if it is you who is putting them there.

All interruptions to contact are, in one way or another, ways to deny the other and, therefore, ways of being alone. Here I speak of “contact” in the sense that gestalt therapy gives to this word, i.e., as an openness to what is outside and towards others. The experiences of shame are also experiences of loneliness. In shame, I want the earth to swallow me, away from the gaze of another.

In treatment

Loneliness is recurrent in therapy. Patients come to therapy very often with intense feelings of loneliness, aware of their inability to have contact. Therefore, many of the key questions of therapy revolve around the theme of “leaving alone.” I, as a therapist, in what way am I leaving the patient ´alone´? How I can not give you the support you need? You as a patient, how do you stay ´alone´ in the relationship? How do you not seek the support you need?

In my experience

Some of the most intense moments of my own therapy have been when I have experienced that I was being seen in my loneliness. Rather, these moments have come when I have been seen, without anything else, in my sadness, in my fear, in my misery, and I have been accompanied. Often when I have felt that I was being seen, the feeling of loneliness has vanished.

One of the strongest motivations that I have, to work as a therapist, arises precisely from my onw loneliness. Contact, relationship, moments of encounter strengthen my faith that “there is someone there.” Helping others to avert their solitude helps me exorcise my own.

For me, the moments of contact in relation to others have been accompanied by feelings of intimacy and of not being alone. The feeling of loneliness which, more or less consciously, is always with me, reduces contact. Feeling that there is someone there, and feeling the intimacy that gives reality to contact, make me feel less alone. In other words, you could call it a “side effect”: contacting not only helps me to meet specific needs of the relationship, but the mere fact of contacting helps me to have a richer and more hopeful life experience: I am not the only one in the world, being here is worthwhile.

This text has been extracted from a set of more “technical” texts in Spanish available at Gestaltnet.net

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