Therapy for Helping with Loneliness in Toronto
“It is a joy to be hidden, and disaster not to be found.”
– D.W. Winnicott, pediatrician, psychotherapist, author.
Coping with Loneliness and Isolation
Human beings are essentially social creatures. We draw much of our meaning from relationships, being known, caring for others and belonging, whether that’s with partners, family, friends or community. Although many of us live and work in crowded urban centres, the vast majority of us live alone and we often feel hopelessly isolated and lonely. It is important to remember, that being alone and feeling lonely, are not the same thing. Why do so many of us find it intolerable to spend time alone, while others can cope or even find they recharge while in private?
For some of us, if no one witnesses our lives, actions and emotions – we can fear that our existence begins to have no meaning. This sense of not ‘being seen’ or non-existence can carry over from childhood. Early psychotherapy theorist and pediatrician D.W. Winnicott recognized that ease with being alone is a strength we should all learn in early childhood development. As the child climbing in the playground, looks over their shoulder to check for mom’s gaze, we feel safety and can climb higher, knowing that we are being watched over. Over time, that gaze can be mental and not actual. We can play by ourselves in the next room, believing that mom hasn’t forgotten about us. And as we grow into adulthood, we can assume that friends, partners and others remember us as our parents did, even when we moved away from home and started our independent lives. We can feel the comfort of their caring – a certainty, even when we are physically alone.
How to Manage Feeling Lonely and Isolated
How can psychotherapy help the many of us who have never known that certainty, who know more loneliness, the fear of being forgotten and not being important in anybody else’s mind? Firstly therapy can identify and validate how painful and debilitating loneliness can feel and uncover in the client’s history and development how they have learned to cope. Then, the most important thing in a good therapy session is the therapist-client relationship. This can be a starting point to understand and find ways out of the vicious cycle of loneliness. Building on that therapeutic relationship, the client can begin to reassess their relationships, what caring do they have in their life – and more importantly what they have done in the past to defend against that caring and how they can begin to act, assuming relatedness rather than isolation and loneliness.
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“Tell me, where’s the shepherd for this lost lamb? There’s a someone I’m longing to see, I hope that they turn out to be, someone to watch over me. I’m a little lamb who’s lost in a wood, I know I could, always be good, to one who’ll watch over me.”
– George Gershwin