Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Lockdown is a really triggering time. Time and again we’re reminded that we need contact with others, even if you think of yourself as an introvert, someone who is content with their own company, completely self-sufficient, or someone who just doesn’t like other people much. Deep down, most of us want to be kept in mind, considered, listened to.
But how do you get on in times like these if you are or feel, truly alone? What if you have no family looking out for you or friends checking in with you? How do you fare if you find yourself craving contact with others but feel that no one really cares? Or on the contrary, how about if you have plenty of people around you like family, housemates, work colleagues or such but you feel lonely on the inside?
Many people feel lonely on the inside at some time or another. Have a think about why you might be feeling like this. Perhaps you feel the need to guard yourself from others, to protect yourself. Maybe it is difficult to trust people or perhaps you worry about burdening others. Maybe you have experienced complicated relationships with family or significant people in your life, which have influenced the way you relate to others and the world around you.
Often negative pattens from past experience can bleed into the way we navigate our relationships and can make us feel avoidant, mistrustful or anxious with others. This is known as our ‘attachment style’ and our attachment style in relationships is mainly formed during childhood. It continues to impact the way we relate to others throughout our lives and goes a little something like this: If we have uninterested, neglectful parents or carers, chances are we’ll grow up feeling unimportant to others, even those with whom we form loving relationships. If we have attentive parents/carers who listen and are responsive to our needs, chances are we’ll have a greater chance of experiencing the same in relationships as an adult, because this will be our blueprint for relationships - being treated right is what we’ve learned to expect. Human relationships are complicated and I know i'm oversimplifying things in the interest of making a point, but I hope you catch my meaning: we expect things to pan out a certain way, because in our experience that’s how it’s always been.
Attachment feels important to mention right now because with social distancing, our attachments and the way we relate to others are being tested. 'Attachment Theory' was co-founded by John Bowlby, a psychoanalyst who, through observing the way caregivers and children interact, developed the concept. It remains pretty rock solid in terms of the relational patterns that people follow in their lives and is one of the reasons why psychotherapy explores the significant relationships in our past. If you’re interested in reading more about Attachment Theory, I’ve referenced some of Bowlby’s work below but you can also search Attachment Theory online where there’s a sea of information available.
If you feel lonely on the inside, as many of us do from time to time, have a think about why that might be. We can’t control the behaviour of others but we can think about our own. Do you worry about being a nuisance to others or expect them not to care about you and your feelings? Do you crave closeness or avoid getting involved? Or perhaps you have tried to reach out but feel ashamed in doing so, as if you don’t deserve another’s time and attention. We are in the midst of a global pandemic and in this difficult time, reach out you must. If you are uncomfortable in seeking help, perhaps you could help another. It could be a neighbour in need, someone who is isolating for 12 weeks because they are vulnerable. Or maybe you are that vulnerable person and reaching out feels frightening and unbearable.
Reaching out, in all its difficulty, can be a step towards experiencing people differently. There’s alot of altruism at the moment, it’s not all stockpiling and hoarding as we’ve seen on the news. There are lots of people giving their time and looking out for each other. Perhaps you are in emotional need and if you are, go easy on yourself. It’s a completely unprecedented time, this stuff hasn’t happened before. Everyone is muddling through and many have their defences down. We are all in this together no matter who you are, and that’s pretty humbling.
Remember, remember, remember this is all just for a time. Lockdown, covid-19, frightening news reports, social distancing, it will all pass. Our current state is transient and soon enough we'll return to something that feels more recognisable, more familiar and normal.
Be kind to yourself by practicing self-care. We can’t all necessarily step outside, but if you are able to, make sure you take that daily exercise in a green space if you can. Practice mindfulness techniques to bring you into the moment, connect with your breathing and do breath work to alleviate anxiety (box breathing is good for this). We are more connected than ever before, in fact, before Covid-19, many were talking about our connectedness as the next big stressor. How things changed and how quickly! Now our connectedness via social media and video call is holding people and communities together.
So call somebody, write a post on an anonymous Internet forum, email an old acquaintance. Make contact. Be heard. Don’t feel alone in this. Because you aren’t.
Bowlby, J. 2005. A Secure Base (Clinical applications of attachment theory). Routledge Classics