3 Lies to Kill When Feeling Lonely | Nova Richards
How to create beautiful connections instead
1. “I will always feel like this.” (Hopelessness).
2. “It’s my fault.” (Shame).
3. “I’m powerless.” (Victimhood).
The Guardian and other reputable news and sources are increasingly reporting.
“I’m feeling lonely.”
How often do we admit it? As a strong predictor of disease and mortality, perhaps it’s time to rethink what loneliness is and how we talk about it.
My favourite, non-existent adjective
I’m a teacher-turned-researcher, with many years of personal investment in my emotional, physical and spiritual health. From therapy, self-study in psychology, developmental trauma, anthropology and philosophy to studying for my third degree.
My goal in life…to be unf*withable. To me, this is the journey of self-acceptance. To be so minded with my own goals and priorities that what anyone else thinks, does or says is none of my business and has zero bearing on who I am and where I’m heading.
I choose to hold myself accountable.
The disease of disconnection
I am convinced loneliness is an epidemic of a lack of self-awareness. Which leads to profound levels of disconnection from ourselves, and therefore everyone else. I’ve no personal research to demonstrate this, beyond my own experience, study and observation.
“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
— Jean-Paul Sartre
Yet, how many of us feel lonely surrounded by others? In our families, our relationships, or at work. The presence of people, for myself and many others, has never been the solution. For that reason, I don’t believe loneliness is a consequence of our aloneness.
When Loneliness Takes Hold
It’s early morning. I’m chasing fearful thoughts in circles.
Sleep feels pointless now.
Stabbing emptiness grips me which no amount of covers can keep at bay. I cry salty galaxies…singular yet vast.
Their existence, the wrestle of light and matter that is chaotic life.
The one thing we all need
Loneliness is a symptom of disconnection. As humans, we have certain neurobiological needs of which connection is one of them. Connection is being seen and known for who we truly are.
Ideally, from an early age, we learn the art of connection from parents and caregivers.
For many though, this is not the case, myself included and we stumble through life in varying states of disconnection. Reaping the same results (often relational failures) without ever really knowing why. Or what, if anything, we can do about it. It’s a type of ‘stuckness’ that reinforces the belief —
“I am powerless.”
Because that’s how it feels. I am doing everything I know how to do, but it’s never enough. Time and again I experience —
The. Same. Outcome.
This changed my life
There are facts, and then there is what we think/believe about those facts.
What we think about something, determines how we feel. What we feel, drives our actions. These create our circumstances, and the whole cycle repeats.
Known as the think, feel, act cycle, it’s a core theory underpinning CBT.
I’ll be honest, I’ve had many years of sinking more than swimming. That all changed though when I grasped the think, feel, act cycle. Through a process of several years, I saw a pattern emerge in how I was handling intense emotions like loneliness. I realised I had developed a roadmap for navigating my emotional health which I call my ‘3 C’s’.
It’s an organic approach based on developing the skills of self-awareness — what I think and feel. It is changing my life and hopefully, the lessons I’ve learned can serve you also.
A pathway to freedom
Shortly, I’ll delve into each of these — what they mean and how they can apply to you. First, let’s go a little deeper with the lies that show up.
The lie — “I will always feel like this.”
When I am experiencing loneliness, I struggle to imagine feeling any differently. It’s all-consuming and I can feel powerless to change. I cry a lot. I get restless and go on endless quests of distraction — from TV and social scrolling to as-yet-unfinished, home improvements. I’m still teaching myself to plaster (making walls ‘in British’).
And let’s not forget the mindless, crisps-stuck-on-your-clothes eating. Which I only notice because of Netflix’s gracious gift of an episodic pause. Those horrifying seconds between episodes we get to see our food-covered reflections, staring back at us from our screens.
Sometimes, it takes many, (many) back-seasons to learn a lesson.
The lie — ” It’s my fault.”
“I caused this”
“I deserve this”
“ I am… fill in the blank”
Frustratingly, when we’re experiencing big emotions, we can also have big feelings in response to those emotions. In his book ‘Permission to Feel’, Yale Professor, Dr Marc Brackett calls these meta emotions — our emotional response to something else we’re feeling.
The stories above — “I caused this”, “I deserve this” — are in response to feeling lonely. They often show up for me. Although they are different statements, they share something in common — shame. In this case, shame is a meta-emotion. I’m feeling shame about feeling lonely! As if loneliness itself were not enough to deal with.
Shame can be tricky to identify. Researcher and author, Brene Brown has helped me clarify what shame is and understand how it shows up in my life.
The lie — “I’m powerless.”
There is a prevailing narrative that centres us as rational beings with emotions. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Listening to the Nagoski sisters talk about their book Burnout, they explain ‘we are emotional beings, sometimes capable of rational thought’. Our physiology confirms it. The research demonstrates it.
Moving from emotional reactivity to intentional choice is key. I achieve this by becoming aware of what’s actually going on inside of me— self-awareness.
It’s normal to feel powerless in response to circumstances. But the belief
“ I am powerless”, although common, is as far from normal as it is the truth. And it’s rooted in a victim mentality.
In simple terms — that’s the belief everything in life happens to you. You are a slave to circumstance. The very opposite of personal responsibility. Victim mentality simultaneously creates a sense of permission to stay in our muck — this happened to me — while continuing to create more muck.
Taking responsibility is hard, painful and (often) agonisingly slow. I think many of us avoid it for this reason. I want to be clear though — shaming yourself for what you’ve done and your circumstance is not personal responsibility.
I like it because it’s humanising, which always gives me hope. We’re in this together, not alone in our expressions of messiness.
3 C’s — Your Pathway to Freedom
Learn to become a neutral witness of your emotions. Allow the feeling to rise, be expressed and felt in your body. And when you’re ready, start to ask questions.
- What am I feeling?
- Why am I feeling it?
Do whatever you need, to connect with your emotions. I can often feel blocked. I know something is off, yet have difficulty connecting with what I’m feeling. When this happens, the following are a few approaches that work well for me.
Movement — this is my go-to. Physical exercise, especially lifting heavy weights, has become an essential tool for emotional release. Intimate and connected sex is an obvious choice — co-regulation is such a powerful tool. Dancing or yoga are some other great options.
Whether cognitive or not of our emotions, our bodies store them. And movement is nature’s pressure release valve.
Journaling — absolutely not about ‘dear diary’ entries. Journaling is a simple and tactile activity that can help you to become more present in your mind, body and emotions. It creates a space for your thoughts to exist somewhere other than your head. Ideally, in a non-judgmental or shaming way.
Write whatever comes to mind. Everything is valid, there’s no right or wrong. Again, it’s about becoming a gentle, neutral witness to yourself — your thoughts and your emotions.
Don’t f*** with these
I have some clear boundaries when I am engaging with curiosity around my emotions.
- I will not allow myself to be shamed for my emotions either by myself or others
- I speak to myself in a nurturing way — much as a loving, attentive parent would for a child
- I ask questions, listen and validate my answers
- I don’t stay in my feelings
Avoid the trap
I’m going to be your coach for just a second and tell you this —
All feelings are valid.
Big, small, wild, devastating…they are valid. Emotions are neither good nor bad.
Any negativity stems from how we act on our emotions. Take anger for example. A frequently repressed emotion because of its negative connotations. For many years, I internalised the belief it was a bad emotion I shouldn’t allow myself to feel.
Feeling anger → normal and healthy human expression.
Acting angry e.g. aggression → well, that’s gonna land you in some hot soup.
Once I’ve expressed my feelings and I’m able to answer, with clarity, what I’m feeling and why — I’m ready to start moving out of them and let go. Part of letting go is starting to engage with ‘what is’ — e.g. asking
- What’s the truth / what are the facts?
- Reframing your thoughts. e.g. perhaps a loved one hasn’t texted you back (you feel lonely, rejected). Perhaps they’re having a full day or something’s come up for them. In other words, it’s nothing to do with you.
- Make generous assumptions. If you’re going to make any.
My father used to tell me this silly story as a child —
“ You know what the difference between a mathematician and a poet is? One day, the two are in a boat on the lake and the boat suddenly starts sinking. How do you think they react?”
“Don’t know”, I respond.
“Well…”, says my Father, “…the mathematician immediately starts calculating the volume of the boat, the speed and volume of the inflowing water, and extrapolates a timescale for their demise. Then plans his escape.”
“What’s demise?” I chime.
“You’ll figure it out…” Continuing, he explains “you know what the poet does? He pulls the plug, ensuring their demise — he wants to know what it feels like to sink.”
“oh” I say…not fully understanding the nuance of his story. “ What would you do?” I ask.
“Both! ” he says, accompanied by his usual wry smile.
You see, my father was both a mathematician and a poet. A gifted writer, yet his first love was Maths, which he described as a universal language underpinning all existence.
I tell this story to illustrate a perspective on creativity because I anticipate resistance from some of my readers to the idea of being creative.
The truth is — it’s impossible not to be. Our very nature is inherently creative. We’re surrounded by creative expression from the moment we’re born. From nature to the uniqueness of appearance and personality in everyone you meet.
The poet and mathematician
The nuance I came to understand in my father’s story was this — although two vastly different approaches, both are as creative.
- The analyser, prioritising process and solution (mathematician)
- The experiential learner, prioritising experience for the sake of their art (poet)
I happen to be a writer, artist and musician — typically thought of as creative expression, yet this is a limited metric for creativity.
The art of reframing
This is your permission to solve those equations; grow your gardens; plan strategies; curate your socials; make beautiful spaces in your homes and practise your sport or talent. These, are equally as creative.
- Do something you love and have passion and enjoyment for
- Play a game, plan a meal, practise a skill
- Make something — anything (doesn’t even have to be ‘good’)
Creative output helps us connect with ourselves and anchors us in the present moment.
Loneliness is an indication I am likely lacking some meaningful connection — first and foremost with myself.
Loneliness is not the absence of others, rather the absence of ourselves.
When I avoid my feelings to escape pain, I disconnect from myself. I dissociate — unconscious to my thoughts and feelings, living in a constant state of emotional reaction. I’ve lost years to this.
This is why reconnecting with what we’re thinking and feeling — getting curious, is such a powerful skill to develop.
In a world where ‘ knowing yourself’ has become overly cliched sentiment, it’s easy to overlook the foundational truth behind it. When I create space for myself to be seen and heard — what I’m thinking and feeling — I’m actually creating an opportunity to be known. To myself first, and to others. Which is a basic human need.
It’s this lack of being known which creates our loneliness.
Self-awareness, therefore, is a road to a deeper and more meaningful connection with myself, and others.
- Practise curiosity.
In developing an understanding of yourself, you’ll naturally find yourself creating the same space for others.
It’s an overflow of being authentic which put simply, is an alignment between our internal and external worlds – nothing suppressed. I’m honestly communicating my thoughts and feelings.
- Practise creativity
Creative output is deeply restorative. When I’m creating, I’m not spending energy on past concerns or future worries. I’m present with myself, connected, and authentically expressing something of who I am.
- Spend time with people who give you energy
Ideally, this is your partner, family and friends. If not — start getting curious about why.
I’ll Leave You With These Thoughts
We make beautiful connections when we’re fully present and connected with ourselves. Self-awareness, therefore, is one of the keys along your pathway to freedom.
Self-awareness, along with emotional regulation are learned skills we need to develop — much like most other areas of life from relationships and sexual intimacy to financial literacy and athleticism.
Here’s what I know to be true — life gets infinitely better as we grow in these essential areas.
So, from that standpoint alone, these are some of the most worthy investments we can make in life.
3 Lies to Kill When Feeling Lonely | Nova Richards was originally published in Better Humans on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.