Loneliness isn’t cured by merely hearing others, but by feeling heard by others.
Experiencing a real connection to people, but also believing that people feel connected to us too. Without that exchange, it’s more of a performance than a relationship.
Vanderkolk writes that social support is not the same as merely being in the presence of others. We can still feel lonely in a room full of people. We can even feel lonely in a romantic relationship. The critical issue is reciprocity, he says. Being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart.
There was one particular year of my life, right around age thirty, when anxiety attacks started to become a weekly occurrence.
Shortness of breath, waves of claustrophobia, accelerated heart rate, racing brain, it all just started bubbling up inside me.
Because at the time, I was stuck in that dysfunctional way of relating to people. My strategy was as follows.
Isolate myself until the panic of loneliness comes crashing in. Overcompensate by calling everyone in my phone and booking multiple lunch meetings and attending events nonstop. Treat people as props in my person play until feelings of sadness and fear are properly medicated. Then disappear into the shadows and wait for the cycle to start over again.
Not the healthiest way to build community.
Therapists have a name for this process. The adrenaline response cycle. Continuous delay, heroic effort, crash and recovery. It’s common in everyone from cocaine addicts to codependents to procrastinators.
And the problem is, the cycle causes chronic stress, which creates cortisol, which suppresses the immune system, which leads to heart disease.
No wonder anxiety attacks were happening to me so frequently.
There must have been a cumulative impact of this cycle on my psyche, and my brain couldn’t help but sound the alarm.
Back to the idea of reciprocity and social support. That was my root issue. Belonging and community and connection. There needed to be a wholesale shift in my method of relating to others. There needed to be a greater effort on my part to do things that made me feel more woven into the world.
My therapist was a life saver in helping me visualize this shift. He named it, the ships that your soul requires:
Friendship, partnership, companionship, fellowship and relationship.
People whose support and encouragement make me feel alive, and vice versa. It became my daily mindfulness mediation for the next two years. And slowly but surely, those ships began to manifest in my life.
They weren’t perfect. And there were plenty of crashes along the way. Even a few sunken vessels.
But on the whole, this goal of being seen and heard, feeling held in other people’s minds and hearts, and reciprocating that same experience back to them, created a new foundation.
One built of authentic connection, not codependent performance.
There is still much water to explore, but at least for now, it feels like am much healthier place to be.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What can you choose to do today not to feel lonely?