October 15, 2001
Loneliness and Individuality
Usually when people come to see me for assistance, they have little positive human support. Many have friends and relatives who are negative and critical. They either live with others who neglect or undermine their efforts - or they live alone. All in all, it's a common scenario.
Through contact with me, people find some of the support they need - but only for a small slice of time in a very long week. The self-help gurus say "you must love and care for yourself if you want to receive love and care." Unfortunately the result of such near-sighted platitudes is often the nagging thought that "If I can't succeed with this self-love thing, there must be something wrong - with me."
No, there's not. Human beings are a social species, a group organism that is built to function as cells in a larger organ - the extended family/tribe. If you remove a liver cell and place it on the ground, it doesn't run off and make a happy life for itself - it dies. In all aboriginal cultures, exclusion from the tribe, by accident or expulsion, was a challenge to be avoided. I was once told that if African Bushmen are separated from their tribe, they languish and die.
Not all species function as a "group mind." While wolves, baboons, geese, and bees all operate this way, tigers, bears, badgers, and spiders do not. Apparently badgers don't get lonely, but human beings do.
For some reason, however, the badger ideal has found a place in western society. We have been told to aspire to the image of the "rugged individual," a person who is in control and can take care of their own needs. Psychology often defines the highest state of human development as one of "individuation" and "self-actualization," but the way I see it, we are an interconnected web of overlapping selves. We are a working team made up of organs, that are made up of cells, that are made up of molecules. Equally important, we are a working team of family, tribe, community, biosphere. Each level has its integrity, but is also paradoxically dependent on, and depended upon, by larger and smaller selves.
And so, humans are not intended to be alone. And we feel alone as children, when we are abused and neglected, whether we are surrounded by our family or not. At these times, we are not understood, do not have the supportive network our biology requires - and we hurt.
When we take the courageous step to heal our inner isolation, trusted human contact is a key ingredient that cannot be ignored. Our organism requires the safety of protective support before it opens up its most tender parts and releases stored feelings. That is the way of a social species.
So, although finding adequate support may be a challenge during parts of our primal process, it is not a sign of weakness that we are lonely, even though some of that pain may be from early feelings. To remove ourselves from destructive, negative influences and seek out appreciative people and groups is itself an important part of the work.
No human is an island.