Loneliness Anxiety

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Loneliness anxiety is one of the hardest things to bear

Loneliness anxiety is a wounding and scary feeling.

Loneliness anxiety is an existential threat. It’s a sense of not existing in the mind of your loved ones – as if you don’t exist; that you don’t have a place on the radar of significant others, on whom you depend to make you feel wanted, worthwhile and important.

Loneliness anxiety is part of a feeling of dread – that you have made to disappear from those whom you are attached to, and that without them you can’t survive the emotional overwhelm that strangles your breath.

Difference Between Loneliness Anxiety and Feeling Alone

Feeling alone is more a sense of being separated or marginalized in ways that make you feel isolated and uncomfortable. Loneliness anxiety is more of a threat about not being able to function because you have no parameters of safety and connection.

Loneliness Anxiety is Having Your Skin Ripped off, Leaching Out Your Vitality

Phyllis a 45-year-old hair stylist was devastated when her partner of 8 years left her after a blow-up over parenting each other’s children from prior marriages. She was stunned that Corey wouldn’t try to work things out.  The breakup flooded her with loneliness anxiety, turning what was once a comfortable place to live into a dungeon of darkness with no air hole.

Loneliness anxiety brought rage at having no control and of not being able to convince Corey that they should mend the fissures in their relationship.

Loneliness anxiety was like her skin being ripped off, as her sense of safety and meaning was drained from her arteries and veins.

Insecurity took over. Her bones hurt, she was disoriented having lost her sense of time and space as the one person who provided her with that structure was gone.

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Loneliness Anxiety Has its Origins in Early Infancy

The second of five children born in quick succession Phyllis got a very short amount of exclusive bonding time with her mother. It wasn’t long after her birth that her mother’s smiling face, joyous voice and tender arms were lost to her as the other kids needs intruded on the exquisite feeling of being the center of mother’s universe.

The shock of losing the excitement and zest for life when mother was away for excruciatingly long periods of time was the beginning of a severe loneliness anxiety for Phyllis. All she had ever known was love through being held, touched, smiled and cooed at – and now that was rationed to feeding time.

Loneliness anxiety grew into fear of losing that skin-to-skin knowledge of being on mother’s radar – making her greedy with her feeds – needing to fill herself up before mom withdrew again.

Loneliness Anxiety Makes You Feel Disemboweled

Loneliness anxiety engulfed infant Phyllis each time her feed was over. She had learned about love in an ‘adhesive’ way – skin-to-skin stickiness. If it was there, all was well, but when it wasn’t, her sense of self was endangered and she was in a state of acute loneliness anxiety as if she couldn’t hold herself together.

Intense feelings of fear, rage, hate and loss spiraled out of control. Without mother reading and acknowledging Phyllis’s emotions, and giving them back in words she had no opportunity to understand her own feelings. Unfortunately, Phyllis’s mother had a low tolerance for her infant daughter’s messy emotions because she was overwhelmed with her own stress of having to take care of other kids and not have any time for herself. Instead of reading Phyllis’s emotional state and talking about what she might be feeling so that Phyllis could experience being understood and tolerated, mother left her to deal with a tsunami of undigested emotions.

Loneliness Anxiety Develops When The Caregiver is Not Tuned in

The experience of being torn apart each time mom turned away to deal with a text message, another kid elbowing in, or when mother stopped holding her became moments when Phyllis had to defend herself against the wave of uncomfortable emotions that engulfed her.

Phyllis learned that she wasn’t able to cope with her own feelings because they were so big and so bad.

Waiting for the time when mom would come and hold her for brief moments made her dependent on skin-to-skin contact for relief. For the rest of her life Phyllis was imprisoned by this dependency because her mother wasn’t able to dialogue with her and give her an idea of how to think and create a mind that could eventually tolerate and regulate her emotions.

As Margot Waddell says in her book “On Adolescence: Inside stories”, 2018, (Karnac Books):  “it is the capacity to think about emotional experiences, to engage with them, suffer-and bear-them, that feeds the mind and promotes growth-a capacity constantly opposed by intolerance of fear, of frustration, and of the pain of emotions.”

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Loneliness Anxiety Crippled Phyllis into a Dependency on Physical Proximity

Because Phyllis’s emotions had not been read and digested as an infant she wasn’t able to respond to it in adult life. Her relationship with Corey was based on being physically close, feeling his body when they sat on the couch or slept in bed together. The romantic relationship mirrored that with her mother, working when they were looking and smiling at each other, holding hands, feeling each other in the same room and car but not otherwise. They didn’t read each other and talk about what they saw. There was no curiosity about what was going on inside one another – again repeating the experience Phyllis had with her mother. Relationships were about physical nearness and not about the sharing of minds. As the relationship matured, that physical proximity and exclusive looks and touches diminished until it disappeared with Corey’s departure.


Loneliness Anxiety Fails to Respond to Words of Comfort and Understanding

Words of support from friends and family were strange and didn’t have the same comforting effect that Corey’s nearness did. She couldn’t find the words to describe her fear of coming apart at the seams – desperate to be held together and sewn up by the body proximity of another person.

Words of sympathy and reassurance after Corey left her did nothing to help soothe the bleeding wounds after her skin-to-skin relationship was lost. She was thrown back to the terrors of her infancy when she had to deal with the trauma of unbearable intense negative emotions.

She was now prone to have an elevated risk of inflammation every time loneliness hit her, as research reports in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews,  in February 2020.

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Cure for Loneliness Anxiety

Phyllis was so stressed that she couldn’t manage her parenting tasks and her job. She was in shock with the ground under her feet removed. Her crisis brought her to individual relationship counseling so that she could begin to feel safe, cared for and understood.  All the messy emotions were taken in and absorbed; words were put to her experience that finally gave her the chance to develop a mind – to think about what was happening and take in good stuff from the therapy. At first, she resisted getting nourished by words. She protested not having anyone she could use for comfort through physical comfort, which was the familiar and reliable way she knew. Except that it meant her staying stuck in that dependent place.

Over time she moved slowly from the skin-to-skin type of relationship to one of taking things in through words of understanding, empathy, with a focus on being interested only in her inner experience – no distractions.

Phyllis grieved the loss of that skin-to-skin connection, as we discussed her early deprivations in family of origin counseling. She shifted to a more mature place where she found another partner who was eager to know about her mind and though it wasn’t as exhilarating as pure skin-to-skin interactions, she was no longer dependent – but able to feel loved even when she and her new partner were not in the same room.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2020

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