Loneliness and the broken brain

I want to state that what makes loneliness such a tough subject to tackle is because what we really are experiencing in the state of loneliness is the emotion shame. 

There must be a reason that we can sometimes feel lonely when we are alone and other times not. Just the same way there must be a reason that we feel lonely sometimes when we are surrounded by others and then at other times, not. 

The reason that we have so much loneliness in the world today while at the same time, we have never been more stimulated by other people’s activities before. We are so extremely connected that we get burned out by it. Yet we feel lonely.

So I want to be as bold in my statement that I say : loneliness has not really anything to do with other people. But much more to do with what is going on inside of ourselves. 

So when we are lonely and we search for ways out of this state, we get even more discouraged since the advice we find is usually linked to other people. It’s the idea of speaking to your neighbour or reaching out to the people in your life. It’s all about how to connect more with the already existing network. And this can create an even bigger feeling of loneliness for those who really experience that there is no network. Let’s face it : a lot of people today don’t feel like they have close friends anymore. 

If there is a time of the year when this becomes very prominent, it’s Christmas time. 

After all, this holiday has nothing to do with its original meaning anymore for most people and it has instead turned into a celebration of the family due to this tendency of the family coming together at christmas, gathering around a big table filled with food and handing out presents to each other after the meal.

So those who experience the feeling of loneliness get just as reminded of that as social media does, all year around, but on steroids in December. 

It reminds me of this saying I was taught as a teenager: “writing a letter to the one you love is like drawing a sandwich when you are hungry”. It’s just not the same thing. 

We could even argue that drawing the sandwich makes you even more hungry!

Why is that? Because we get acutely aware of the non-existent sandwich. Or lover. 

So that awareness feels like a “reality check”, doesn’t it? As if we are being very realistic all of a sudden. It’s the narrative in our heads saying “I told you so”. 

And if there’s one thing we know about those words, whether they come from the voice in our head or someone else’s, it’s that they make us feel bad. More than just bad, they make us feel ashamed. I should have known. 

Silly me. Who do you think you are anyway?

I would also say that if we can link that horrible feeling to shame, then it actually makes sense that more people than ever feel lonely in this connected world. 

Because “we should not” feel that way in this connected world and if we do, well I guess there must be something wrong with us…

And that idea of there must be something wrong with me, that is the emotion of shame speaking in our heads. 

So, let’s unpack it…

We are social animals, humans do not survive on their own. It’s firstly a survival instinct, we knew that there was a bigger chance of surviving if we stuck together as a group on the savannah. But more than that, we discovered back in the 80s that children in orphanages who were being fed and changed but not held, stopped developing and actually died. 

Our emotions are messages to our brains and ultimately they serve to direct our actions in our search for survival. Therefore, the strongest uncomfortable emotions serve just like a physical pain : you need to tend to this. 

Shame is as deep of an emotional pain that we can imagine since it cuts straight into our sense of existence. Shame is a message that not only have we maybe done something wrong but more so, we are inherently wrong or bad. 

So when we are feeling shame in a situation as opposed to another, we are creating a story line around it. We are caught up in something that feels like lack, that feels like craving actually.

It’s a narrowed worldview where we feel really small, really insignificant and that there’s probably no one out there even thinking of us. That it wouldn’t even matter if we just disappeared. We feel contraction in our bodies as opposed to relaxed and open. 

What is the most difficult here? To get out of that place we are stuck in because it feels so real. When it feels so real, our thoughts will align with the emotion and then our actions will align with those thoughts. The actions will therefore come in and confirm what the emotion was telling us in the first place which validated our hypothesis and the loop starts again.

This resembles very much what is going on with us when we are addicted to something and the habit loops that happens when we indulge in the addiction which has us repeating the behaviour even if it isn’t serving us. Actually, the part of our brain where this activity can be traced, fires up when we even just see the trigger of the addiction. That means, a cocaine addict that sees an image with lines of coke will have the default mode network activated, will get caught up in the craving just by that. And getting caught up in the narrative around loneliness will therefore be activated in situations where you feel the lack of connection. Such as drawing a picture of a sandwich when you are hungry or writing a letter to the one you love when you miss them.

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞