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Triangle of Loneliness
Dealing with lonely emotions and feeling connected
This video is a first for me for two reasons. One, because it's the first time that one of you out there has requested that I do a video topic. And second, because I'm dealing with an issue that I haven't really come to grips with myself, and that is loneliness.
But in preparing for this video, I've started to understand how it affects me, and I've come to see just how emotionally vulnerable I am to it and how hard it is to deal with. And I'm not entirely sure how I'm going to hold up, so I guess we're going to find that out together.
So, today's video is on my triangle of loneliness. I had a good hard think about how you deal with issues of loneliness when you have people around you. I tried to think about the components and the feelings that I have, and this is really the end result of my analysis and soul-searching in preparation for this video.
I'd like to present to you, without further ado, my triangle of loneliness.
As you can see, there are three sides to this triangle, and in the blue space, there's my lonely thoughts, and they are being misunderstood, being inauthentic, and thinking that I'm worthless. Within those thoughts are the lonely feelings in the yellow space and in the corners because I think those feelings are often a result of combinations of the thoughts on the sides. And those feelings are alienation, isolation, and abandonment. In the centre is the worst feeling of all, in red, and that is feeling completely unloved. As thoughts compound, eventually, they can result in a state of feeling completely unloved and unlovable. That's where my analysis of myself took me.
So, first of all, let's look at the terms I've used in this triangle. Now, there are three lonely thoughts in the blue space:
They are being misunderstood, and that can be that nobody understands your feelings or what you're talking about, or your ideas, or they can't understand your passion. Sometimes, you have the deepest interests in things or passions that people can't follow.
And then there's being inauthentic, and that's feeling like you can't be yourself because of shame or social restrictions or a lack of acceptance. The third one is feeling worthless, and that's where you think that you have no value because of an insecurity or some pathology where you think that you're broken or even from existential worry where you're not quite sure where you fit in with the world.
And then there are the lonely feelings:
Those are alienation, which is when you feel disconnected from a group that you have an affinity with. Isolation is feeling emotionally separated from people, despite the fact that you have people around you. Abandonment is where you feel you're undesired or left behind or in some way discarded.
Now, I'm going to show you three pictures that represent those ideas because I think they are quite different, and unlike the lonely thoughts, there are a few nuances in there. Alienation is when you want to be connected to a group or a person, but you're really not sure how to get in. So, in this picture, we've got the little kid. He knows he's a kid, and he belongs there, but he's not quite sure how to join the other children.
For isolation, you feel like you're in the group. You're in the crowd surrounded by people, but you don't feel connected to them emotionally.
The third one is abandoned, and that is where you're either physically cut off by someone else or you feel you're unable to keep up with others.
I'm the first to admit I don't always deal with these thoughts and feelings very well. I do have strategies that I'm going to share with you now, but I have to be honest, I still struggle with it.
The one of being misunderstood: my first tip is to bridge the gap or make peace with it. And you can use a little bit of both. When it comes to people who are close to you, like your family, you need to maintain those relationships, and the only way that you can feel a little bit better understood is to try and make peace with that gap between you and understanding, or try and close it a little.
For me, an example of that is with my mother. I often feel that she doesn't understand me at all. She loves me, so I don't feel worthless around her, and I'm always my authentic self with her, so I don't have that issue. But she just doesn't get me sometimes, we’re two very different people. I've had to come to terms with the fact that, in all likelihood, my mother will never fully understand me. But that's okay. I try to connect with her on things that we do have in common. Sometimes, I introduce her to things that are important to me, just on a small scale.
And then I always remember that not everybody wants to dive into the deep depths that I do with my interests. An example of this recently is The Mandalorian. I'm obsessed with it, and I love to discuss it on a really analytical and deep level. I didn't know if my mum would like it, but we watched season one together, and she loved it. She fell in love with Grogu immediately, as a lot of people do. I know that she's never going to want to discuss things like alchemical symbolism in the series, but now, at least, she has a little taste of why I like it so much, and it's good to be able to talk to her on any level about it. So, I close the gap a little bit, and then I've been able to make peace with the rest of the gap.
My second tip for you is to get a Swiss Army knife of people around you. Get a toolkit of humans who you can connect with on different things. I've got people that I discuss positive disintegration with, I've got Harry Potter people, I've got a friend that I can talk to about emotional and spiritual things, and I have a friend that I've worked with for many years who understands my career stuff. And I also have my family. So all these friends and loved ones combine into making that emotional toolkit for me, and the good thing is by not putting all my eggs in one basket, I'm not relying heavily on any one person, and I'm not taxing anyone too emotionally.
I think sometimes we do this with people, and we expect them to fill all our needs at once. We think that we're going to connect all the dots with one person, but it's really not a fair expectation to have even when you love them. So, I've found building that toolkit of people around me not only allows me to talk in depth about certain topics, but it also allows me to share my emotional load.
My third tip is to put yourself out there. Find a group of like minds. Find them online, and even if you've got some special interest where there's no one out there that you can find that seems to share it, put yourself out there. Post something about it, blog about it, you know, make a video. You never know who's going to come along and comment and say, “You know, hey, I'm interested in that as well.” You don't know until you put yourself out there.
Moving along to the next side of the triangle, let's talk about being authentic. Being a Dąbrowski fan, authenticity is important to me, but sometimes it's really hard to be yourself, especially where you fear judgment. The only way to handle this is to unmask, even if it's just a little, and I just try to be a little bit more me around people where I can. And yes, that does come with a risk of rejection, but if I'm not me, who are people loving? Someone else? Some altered version of me? It's not what I want in my life.
Vulnerability does take a certain level of bravery, but the thing about being vulnerable is that not only does it help you be yourself, it also gives others license to be vulnerable around you. The good thing about that is you're going to draw people to you who resonate with your experiences. People who can talk your language, so to speak. Which also helps with being misunderstood. So it's really a two-for-one situation. You know, be yourself, and you're more likely to attract people to you who are like you, and then you will also know that people love you for who you really are.
And that brings me to the last side of the triangle, which is feeling like I'm worthless. This is the one that I really struggle with. I beat myself up, I talk myself down, and I have developed those habits over many years. I know that it's going to take time to break those habits, too. I know it's not helpful when I look in the mirror some days, and all I see is a laundry list of flaws and deficiencies.
So, the first thing I need to do is be mindful of my strengths. I don't always think I have them, but I do have them. It's just that sometimes I'm so focused on my weaknesses I forget about them. And I'll give you an example of forgetting about my strengths. The way I speak about myself is such a problem sometimes. And recently, Chris Wells and I were guests on the Our Gifted Kids podcast. It was for Neurodiversity Week. And the way I speak about myself is so negative it got picked up by the host. I didn't realize that I'd done it until I listened back to the episode, and she put in the introduction, “I have to say Emma really underrates herself,” and I'm like, “Oh shit! I've done it again!”
And then my friend listened to the episode as well, and she contacted me and said, “You really need to figure out how to sell yourself better,” and I sort of gave in to help at that point and said to her, “Look, I need you to help me write a bio,” so she did. She offered and said, “Look, I can help you with this,” and I'll tell you what, when she sent back what she'd written, I found out two important things.
First of all, that I had strengths that I'd completely forgotten about, and secondly, that other people don't see me the same way that I see myself. That was really powerful for me because often, in those moments where I feel completely worthless, I forget I'm projecting those thoughts onto other people. I'm the one who's perpetuating my own fear of abandonment. And seeing myself through someone else's eyes really helped.
So that's the three sides of my triangle of loneliness. However, in the words of infomercials, “But wait! There's more!”
On top of those strategies, there's a number of things that I do to become more comfortable with myself. I've got a short list of other self-help things that I do away from other people, in my own time, that help me deal with these thoughts and feelings.
So, to help me better understand myself, first of all, I engage in autopsychotherapy. Dąbrowski would call this his mechanism of self-perfection. Instead of having the reactions that you always have, picking yourself up in those moments of stress and learning to deal with them better.
I also know my values. I've written my values down in my journal and re-read them so when I'm out in the world, I know I can act more in line with my authenticity and be more me.
I also create mental space. Stop the intake of information coming into your brain. And I realise that I actually do this a lot. I go for walks alone, I spend time in meditation, I spend a lot of time just in my own head, switched off from media because it can be easy to underestimate the amount of traffic coming into your brain, and when you cram it in you get information overload, and it becomes really hard to process your own stuff.
I've also had to accept that I've built up habits that need time to break, and building new habits isn't going to take place overnight.
I also try to reconnect with my place in the world, whether that's sort of getting out in nature, or even just having thoughts of where I fit into the universe because the fact of the matter is that if I'm here… then I have a place here and I belong here.
And the last tip that I have is to acknowledge my emotional overexcitability. It's not to invalidate those feelings, it's just to remember that when your brain goes into those lonely spaces, it's going to hit you at full volume, and particularly when you move out of those moments, it's ideal to forgive yourself for having those really big emotions.
That's the triangle, but there's one part that we haven't discussed. Last but not least is that red center of doom. Feeling completely unloved. And what I want to say to you today is that if you ever find yourself in that red zone of feeling completely unloved and unlovable, reach out to somebody. Please.
I have been there myself, and when you start thinking that you have no value and that nobody loves you, it can lead you down a very dark path into some awful places, and I count myself very lucky that I am still here and still alive. Since coming out of those dark places, I have made the discovery since then that those thoughts of being unloved and unlovable were completely unfounded and wrong. And even though I didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel at the time, it was always there. I never want to return to that horrible, dark, loneliest of places in the middle of my triangle. And I truly hope that you don't ever go there either.
Please reach out because people care. People care what happens to you. No matter how oddly you think you fit into life, no matter how hidden you feel you have to be, and no matter how misunderstood you are, if you have people in your life, I'm betting that those people care. Even if you don't see it yourself. I'll tell you what, I care. It's the reason why I really wanted to do this video, even though it was hard for me to do, because I understand those lonely places, and I know that some of you out there are in the lonely places, too. And even though we all feel lonely sometimes because we have this shared experience, in all reality, we're really not alone.
So, thank you for joining me on my journey of understanding how I experience and deal with loneliness. And a special thanks to the person who requested this video because you forced me to look at myself in a way I hadn't before. And today, in the spirit of what I've learned, I'm going to change my sign-off. I'll say to you, I hope you found this video useful because I'm sharing my lived experience with you so that together, we can all feel a little less vulnerable, feel a little happier, and be one step closer to being our authentic selves. See you later.