If I gave you my box of questions
would you help me find the key
or would you say it’s just too heavy
and hand it back to me.
Lonely. We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives. Whether it comes knocking on our door in the form of a divorce, an argument with our best friend, a death or even just sitting alone in the lunchroom —loneliness is an isolating feeling. It feels like standing on the edge of a cliff, yelling for someone to hear you but the world just goes on, as if you’re invisible.
I am the type of person who likes to be alone. I like to disappear into the woods for days at a time with only myself to keep me company. And if given the choice between going out with friends or spending the evening by myself, 49 out of 50 times you’ll find me happily tucked away in my apartment — going through my hiking gear for the thousandth time, digesting the latest documentary on Netflix or making another mess in my attempt to master fluid art painting (which I’m probably never going to get the hang of, but whatever). I like being alone.
However, feeling lonely is a completely different conversation.
A few years ago I went through a traumatizing relationship that ended at the exact moment I found out the man I’d poured my soul into for the previous two years was not only married but also the most manipulative liar I’d ever met. When that kind of treachery takes a sudden starring role in your life without your permission — suddenly everyone and everything becomes untrustworthy.
Get off my stage, people! This show is over.
I shut the world out. I pulled the curtains shut, barred up my proverbial doors, and wrapped myself in land mines and barbed wire to keep everyone away while I tried to figure out what the hell just happened.
And while yes, this reaction was self-inflicted isolation, it was the only thing that felt safe.
Eventually, I felt brave enough to try to reconnect with a few people whom I’d decided were safe. I had always loved being alone before, but now I felt broken and completely vulnerable.
“I‘m really struggling,” I admitted to them. “I feel so lonely.”
Each person responded to me with the same exact five-word response without any hesitation or thought as if it were some pre-programmed automatic human response.
Push the button. Hear the words.
“I feel so lonely”
“But you are not alone.”
Ooof. At the time I didn’t understand why those five words felt like a gut punch, but I do now.
If someone trusts you enough to show you their sadness and your response is to simply tell them not to feel that way, it’s dismissive.
It’s like waving a giant red flag that says, “I don’t care” or “Your feelings are invalid.”
Please don’t shut someone down when they express how they feel to you. Especially if that person is still reeling from a toxic relationship where another person constantly dictated how they were and were not allowed to feel. Being dismissive can trigger flashbacks and trauma and it’ll just push them farther down the hole they are desperately trying to claw their way out of.
Trust me. That’s exactly what those words did to me.
So what would I have rather heard instead? I’ve thought about this a lot, (obviously). The conclusion I’ve come to is that in those moments, I wasn’t asking the person to solve anything. I knew what I was feeling couldn’t be fixed with some magic combinations of consonants and vowels.
What I needed, was to feel validated, feel supported, and feel heard.
So here are three suggested responses you can use in the future should someone ever trust you enough to admit they feel lonely:
- Your feelings are valid. Do you want to talk about anything in particular?
- I see you and I hear you. Is there anything I can do to support you right now?
- I know I can’t fix the way you’re feeling, but I’m here to listen.
We live in a society that in too many ways encourages us to operate at surface level. However, emotions — especially the ones that are painful and uncomfortable to face, exist far below the surface and cannot be bandaged with a few empty words. If we’re truly going to support one other, we need to be brave enough to sit in the darkness with each other — to dive down into the depths and simply hold space while someone heals.
If you have any added suggestions for responses, I’d love to hear them. Comment below and tell me what you think.
Previously Published on medium
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: iStock