What should young people do today with their lives? There are many things. The most courageous thing is to build stable communities where the horrible disease of loneliness can’t be treated. -Kurt Vonnegut
Do you feel like someone is watching over you? Seeing other people feel like they are separated by an invisible wall?
We all have experienced it at times and know how damaging it can be. Research has shown that loneliness can be worse than obesity or smoking for a person’s overall health.
We live in a connected world. Why is it so lonely for so many?
Gabor Mate’s teachings on addiction, connection, and love have inspired me greatly.
He talks about the mind-body connection, particularly the deadliness for suppressing emotions and how social connections can speed healing.
It’s difficult to believe that this isn’t common knowledge when he speaks. How can we treat the mind and body separately? Why aren’t we asking more questions about someone who has cardiovascular disease? These people are not supported holistically.
To me, it makes perfect sense that someone with a chronic illness or disease who is socially isolated won’t be able heal as quickly as someone who feels connected in their community. It is alarming that society has become reliant on artificial connections that create feelings of isolation. It’s because it’s profitable.
Karl Marx first coined the term alienation. The theory of alienation, which Karl Marx first coined, describes “social alienation” of people from certain aspects of their human nature due to living in a society with stratified social classes. It is when a person becomes isolated or withdraws from their environment and from other people.
People suffering from alienation are more likely to reject their loved ones, society and even parts of themselves. It can be very disorienting to feel excluded and separated. It can also be fatal for humans, who thrive and flourish when they feel connected and belong.
Here are the four types of alienation we face in our modern world and how to overcome them.
1. Alienation From Nature
It is not surprising that our loneliness is caused by our alienation from the natural world. When we degrade rainforests and dump large quantities of trash in our oceans, we kill a piece of ourselves. To protect the earth requires compassion and empathy for all life. It is also about acknowledging that we all are connected.
This is not a ‘kumbaya” meaning. As the oil and coal we use will be the air we inhale, so will the microbes of plastic in the fish we eat. It is frustrating to see people deny this. If we destroy our planet, we destroy ourselves. The planet is a huge organism that has undergone many drastic transformations over its 4.5 billion year lifespan. We need it, because it does indeed need us.
Spending more time outdoors is the best way to show respect for the earth. It is important to get out of the city and all its man-made structures and spend more time in nature.
When you hear the rushing of a waterfall, how can you not fall in LOVE with this planet? Feel the vibrancy and aliveness of a forest? Nature is us, after all. It is what we came from and it will be what we return to. In a sense, connection to the earth is connecting to our truest self.
2. Alienation Of People
Many people are disconnected from others in meaningful ways. Social media has replaced human interaction in many ways and created artificial connections. Our brains are wired to communicate with others face-to-face, eye to eye and not via our smartphones.
Social media is more than just connecting with people. It also offers companies the opportunity to market their products. These platforms offer an incentive to keep you engaged for longer periods of time, taking your attention away.
There’s a reason you suddenly find yourself in a web of notifications and endless newsfeeds. Top psychologists and behavioral scientists are working hard to keep your phone on the screen longer. For more information on this topic, I recommend The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma.
This decrease in attention can cause us to be less present in the moment, and more focused on what’s coming next. This can lead to anxiety and depression. As are the laws surrounding it, we are still learning about the effects of mobile phone use on mental health. We live in a blurred world and are not sure what the future holds. It’s the same era our parents were in with smoking before they realized it was a cancer-causing habit.
I understand how difficult it can be to make friends with people when there is a lack of genuine social connections in your life. It can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable to make friends with others. What are our options as adults? It was much simpler when we were children.
We can all start by going out more. You can find hobbies, workshops, and classes, and connect with people who have the same interests. It’s a little more difficult to find people during lockdown, but there are many online communities that have emerged. Although it is not as easy as meeting face-to-face, online communities that allow for genuine sharing and connection are the best. It’s hard to put yourself out there, but it is worth the risk.
3. Alienation From Work
It will eventually kill us if we work for a purpose that doesn’t serve our soul and is only a means to an ending. This reminds me of the saying, “The cost to not following your heart means that you will spend the rest of your lives wishing you had.” It is difficult to do a job that doesn’t fulfill your dreams because you are afraid of losing it.
All of us have talents within ourselves. The challenge is to discover how we can make a living from them. This requires a certain amount of pragmatism. We simply cannot quit our well-paid jobs to become puppeteers. If we are determined, there are intelligent ways to get where we want to be. Every day offers an opportunity to move in the right direction.
It is always worth going where you feel the most alive and invigorated. You can find out what people regret the most when they die by looking up “Things People Do Not Want to Do”.
4. Alienation From Yourself
The last but not least, our disconnection from ourselves. Our true selves. We were the person we were when our world was first opened. Free and wild, happy to be. We were then told by society, our parents, and culture that we must follow the well-trodden path and do what everyone else is doing. It is not surprising that many people forget their inner child. It’s not lost. It’s just hiding under the layers of who we need to be.
Sometimes I’ve been disconnected from myself in my life. It hurts to not be my authentic self in order to be accepted or loved. It’s like my inner child looking at me and telling her, “You’re not good enough.” Change. It breaks my heart.
It is the most saddest thing to lose touch with your youngest self. They remind me of Robin William’s character in Hook, before he realizes that he is Peter Pan. He was a miserable, overweight lawyer who was obsessed about work. He was disconnected from his family, the natural world, and, of course, himself.
We all could use a little Julia Roberts fairy in our lives to lift us from our adult selves and remind of our inner Peter Pan.
Imagine how much joy we would all feel if we were forced to attend training to reconnect with our true selves. To heal and transform, we must first have a close relationship with ourselves. How do you go about it? Meditation, journaling and therapy are some of the ways to do this. It requires vulnerability, patience and courage as well as the willingness to learn.
It doesn’t mean we have to be alone in our loneliness. It’s something that we all know well and have experienced. The wall of loneliness will crumble if we find ways to connect with nature, our community, our values-based work, and ourselves.