Have you ever been in a crowd of people and still felt alone?
In today's world, we connect to something constantly, whether a device or a person. Not only are we bombarded with stimuli, but with the rapid development of technology and increased use of social media platforms, people can communicate quickly and efficiently.
With the ability to receive instant responses at any given time, day or night, how is it that loneliness is at an all-time high?
According to one survey, nearly half of Americans have reported feeling alone or left out. Loneliness was already on an upward trajectory, but the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing proved to be a new catalyst.
Are There Different Feelings of Loneliness?
Everyone experiences loneliness at some point in their life. They will reencounter it within their lifetime, likely more than once. Loneliness is a natural and universal emotion experienced by people from all walks of life, but did you know there are multiple types?
Some feelings of loneliness may be fleeting, situational, or effortlessly resolved. Other forms may persist and gnaw away at someone for an extended period, sometimes without any identifiable cause.
The ideas of existential psychotherapy and isolation were brought to the forefront by American psychiatrist, Irvin Yalom. While examining the concept of mental health and mortality, Dr. Yalom identified three types of loneliness or isolation.
Interpersonal loneliness is the kind of isolation most of us initially think of when referring to the word "lonely." This type of loneliness occurs when we feel disconnected from others.
Interpersonal loneliness can occur when we are physically separated from other people. However, it can also be present when we interact with others but do not feel connected to them or feel the relationship holds no meaning.
On the contrary, intrapersonal loneliness occurs when we feel disconnected from ourselves. Maybe we don't know who we are, how we think, or what we want. Regardless, it is the feeling that there are parts of ourselves we do not know.
Now for the heavy hitter, that of existential loneliness. Existential loneliness arrives when we feel a disconnect from our existence and the world. It is the realization that we are born into the world alone, will leave this world alone, and will go through life between these events alone.
Existential loneliness is often associated with feelings of meaninglessness and lack of purpose. No matter how many quality relationships you have, you are the only one who can experience life the way you do.
Defining an Existential Crisis
Existential loneliness can result from someone pondering deep, objective questions about life, death, and self-purpose. Asking these questions and theorizing about the answers can be positive and lead to a more enriched and meaningful life.
Dwelling on these questions, however, when no answers seem to be apparent can cause your psyche to falter. It is easy to slip into a dark hole of despair when there are no evident answers. Getting stuck in this cycle can lead to feelings of existential dread and meaninglessness in life.
When people lack answers to essential elements of the human experience, they may develop feelings of dread associated with their existence. If they spiral further down this road, they can lose interest in future goals and believe life is pointless. When life loses meaning, it is undoubtedly an existential crisis.
Existential Dread Definition
It's unclear whether people are more aware of the terminology or if the occurrences of existential crises are growing. Regardless, the number of people regularly experiencing an existential crisis seems to be increasing. Whatever the reason, questions regarding existential dread have remained consistent.
If you feel despair and uncertainty when you think about your life, you are experiencing what some call existential dread. According to Dr. Yalom, there are four ultimate life concerns regarding dread, which include:
A U.S. survey showed that 42% of people are afraid of death. The topic is undoubtedly inescapable to all of us and yet remains a vast unknown.
It is no surprise that death could be an area of concern to us in this life. However, knowing there's an end makes what you do with your time meaningful.
The realization that we have freedom in life is another common cause for question. Both negative and positive connotations accompany the concept of freedom.
Freedom means we must choose our life paths and create our meanings. It means that no one else is responsible for your life, and how you decide to live it aside from you. Freedom provides endless possibilities but can also be an inescapable burden.
Existential isolation is another inescapable part of life. The human experience is subjective. No matter how close you may get, there is an unbridgeable gap between yourself and another human being.
We are the only ones that can fully experience life the way we do. Even with fulfilling lives and relationships, people can only know our experience secondhand.
Life is essentially meaningless unless you attach meaning to it. From this point of view, there is no given destiny or fate. You, and you alone, are responsible for creating a life of purpose.
Why Is it Important to Address Existential Questions?
The existentialist view on the four "ultimate concerns of life" may seem like a bleak way of thinking. Despite this, the concerns pop up at some point in the lives of many, so they are worth addressing.
Questioning is more common and intense among those with no clear sense of life purpose or direction. Some people dwell on trying to find the answers, while others use them as distractions from the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life.
Loneliness is part of the human experience, but spiraling down the existential hole can lead to destructive relationship patterns, further self-inflicted isolation, mental health issues, and potential drug use.
Learning to manage feelings of aloneness is vital to living a fuller, healthier, and happier life. Direct yourself towards a clear path, passion, and goal by finding solutions unique to you.
Overcoming Negative Emotions
To manage overwhelming feelings, a person must first confront them. Acknowledging the inability to fully overcome isolation can free us to live a more fulfilling life with deeper connections to ourselves and others.
Similar to battling an unidentified illness, receiving a diagnosis can be a relief regardless of the news. Accepting isolation can help recalibrate our views of reality and plans moving forward. Adaptability, quality relationships, and futuristic goals all combat hollow feelings.
Sometimes, life takes a massive turn, and feelings of existential isolation return. While we have established that no other person can experience your life and feelings, take comfort in knowing you are not the only one.
No matter how lonely you may feel in this worldly experience, everyone else is equally so. In a way, that makes us all a little less isolated. No matter what you do with your time here on earth or how long that time is, you are never truly alone.
Are You Experiencing Existential Anxiety, Depression, or Suicidal Thoughts?
Some people will work through an existential crisis on their own. Others will adjust to the changes that have occurred in their life or make changes that bring life more in line with their values. Others may need help to get through a crisis.
If you continue to have anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, or other symptoms, you may need the help of a mental health professional. There is no one best therapy for an existential crisis, but various counseling approaches may work.
Inner Balance offers support for the issues that trouble people the most. Our team can help you find yourself again if you're feeling lost and alone. Contact us today for a consultation.