The holidays are here, as if you have not noticed the cheery songs singing of happiness, joy, presents and Santa Claus. This is time when many people are planning trips to visit family and putting together plans for some food and drink filled celebrations.
Even during this time of gatherings with families or families of choice, there those who of us still feel a bit of emptiness in the crowded room. That emptiness is a reflection of unfulfilled relating. The desire for connection with others is a part of the four existential concerns presented by Irvin Yalom.
From the existentialist perspective we are always alone despite the company of family and friends, we are still alone. But being alone is not considered to be a depressing or grief laden experience. Existentialism emphasizes that isolation or the feeling of being alone is not necessarily pathological. It is a part of being human.
It is aspect of our humanity that brings us joy and pain in our lives. Feeling alone is what makes us human just as much as feeling connected to others does.
Why do we feel alone in a crowded room? One possibility comes from Emory Cowan, contributor to East West Psychology
A quote from Emory Cowan:
“…no one else will ever have your memory or be able to replicate it. Yet, we are all desperate to know and be known by another”
This is from his piece, On Existential Aloneness: The Earthly Pilgrimage, a wonderful reflective piece of one man’s personal journey to his own understanding of the difference between aloneness and loneliness.
Cowan felt that is it our memories that creates our aloneness. How so? Existential aloneness is part of the human experience. It is not due to not having enough friends. It is simply due to the fact that there is really only one of you and you have your own unique memories of events and moments in time. No one can truly understand what it means to be you. No one can really know what you are feeling in the past, present or the future. You are alone in your being.
Even though we are alone in our being we do not have to be lonely. Being alone in who we are does not prevent us from forming relationships with others and co-creating communities and families together. Even if those we chose to be with cannot share our deepest memories, they are still present to hear them and hold us in our pain and celebrate our joys with us.
It is our aloneness that helps us to be human. Cowan wrote the following in his essay,
“…the factor that makes us uniquely human is our ability to reflect on our journey and realize that we are ultimately alone. It is memory that is the vehicle by which we do this reflection.”
Our sense of aloneness is not unusual or pathological it is an aspect of being human. When that sense of aloneness begins to consume the days and brings about a debilitating emotional pain, this is when being alone makes us ill.
This is why connection with others is vital for our humanity.
Yes, the “how-to’s” of dealing with winter depression or sadness that advocate for us to join in with others, to celebrate in community, and to reach out to others are correct. Seeking connection and even treatment in this time is the best way to deal with an illness that may have been brought on by being stuck in our aloneness.
But for others, a transitory feeling of aloneness is not necessarily the end of the self. We can seek connection with others while remembering that our aloneness is not unusual. Others have probably shared the same feeling since as Cowan argued that existential aloneness is a part of being human.
Celebrate the holidays with others and know that having a moment of feeling like no one understands you or shares your life experience is not unusual. Look over at the person in line with you at the store and know that they too have the shared human experience of feeling alone in their experiences and memories. It is a part of being human that we all share with each other, every moment of our lives.
— Makenna Berry