Recently, I presented a program on Coping with Loneliness through the Healthy Relationships Initiative that I oversee in the UNC Greensboro Center for Youth, Family, & Community Partnerships. You can check out the full, hour-long presentation by clicking here.
Loneliness feels like it’s been more common than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic when most of us are more isolated and unable to see family and friends. And yet, loneliness is a natural, normal emotion that everyone experiences from time to time in their lives, and it can be an especially familiar experience for survivors of past abuse.
Some of the reasons loneliness is common for survivors include the isolation that often comes along with an abusive relationship, the stigma surrounding abuse, a perception that other people don’t understand your experiences, and direct effects of the abuse, such as an abusive partner who told you other people don’t like you or there’s something wrong with you.
One of the biggest things I learned while working on the loneliness program was how important it is to understand the difference between being alone and loneliness. Being alone is just a fact--as in, I am by myself in this room right now. Loneliness is the subjective experience or meaning we put onto the fact of being alone. And, in fact, you can feel very lonely even when you’re in a relationship or surrounded by a lot of people.
I suspect that most, if not all, survivors have had the experience of feeling lonely even when in an abusive relationship. In some ways, the feeling of being lonely when you’re in a relationship can be even more distressing than when you feel lonely and are on your own, especially since you may feel more limited in what you can do to get more support.
Loneliness also can be a frequent companion in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. Even for survivors who have a lot of support, it’s understandable to have a lot of moments where lonely feelings arise. In Triumph Over Abuse, one idea I discuss is “riding the wave” of emotions and allowing yourself to feel and process emotions as they come along, and that includes loneliness. Processing emotions can be a very powerful part of the healing process.
Next week, I’ll share another post that includes strategies for coping with loneliness and taking steps to build meaningful connections with others. In the meantime, please share questions about loneliness in the Comments section below, and I’ll address as many questions as possible in a future post.