A Different Perspective on Loneliness
I remember vividly the first time I heard the live version of that song. It gave me chills. It still does. It came from a compilation album, which I had selected from one of the now defunct CD clubs I promptly joined as soon as I landed a job after college. Owning music that is meaningful to me has always been one of my greatest sources of joy. Music is a magical escape that makes me feel energetically connected to others.
I played that CD on a loop, in my car and at work, for days. Around the same time, I met a coworker who shared that he had been to a Depeche Mode concert in London where he experienced the power of that song in person. He reflected on how amazing the experience had been, as concertgoers interlocked their upwardly stretched hands during the chorus. The ironically uplifting visual of that always gets me as I hear the line, “It’s a competitive world, after all.”
Why am I sharing all this? Because, the message – everything counts – feels particularly pertinent right now, as people are struggling with loneliness, apathy, and depression.
A Crisis of Connection
The lack of genuine connection present right now in the US is so prevalent that the Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has made social connection a priority in his work. He compassionately spoke about this topic on the “On Being” podcast a few months ago. [You can listen here].
I deeply respect the gravity of this situation. However, like many others, I’m also perplexed by the evolution of this problem at a time when communication tools offer us access to each other 24/7.
As someone who rarely feels lonely anymore, it strikes me that this problem is not one of accessibility. I am only able to see some of my dearest friends and family once or twice a year at best. Still, I feel quite content and more connected than ever.
Connection Comes from Inside
In my experience, the answer to this dilemma is not just an externally-focused approach to multiple connections, but rather a focus on greater depth in our interactions. Such strong connections begin within.
As a deeply introspective introvert with a rich inner world, I have learned to find meaning in my everyday experiences – immersing myself in the music I enjoy, writing out what I am grateful for or even what I am struggling with in a daily journal, taking time to savor the foods I eat, observing the beauty of the sky, or spending time snuggling with my cats.
For me, everything counts. And, that focus on the little things has provided me with a natural antidote to loneliness. You’re never alone when you are fully present with yourself.
Being Valued is Essential
Of course, that advice at its core is a bit too simplistic. Surely, if people are lonely, we can’t just assume they need to be by themselves more often. The last thing I want to do is be insensitive to this issue.
After all, I do understand what it means to be lonely. I spent many years of my adult life surrounded by people who didn’t truly see or value me. From an outsider’s perspective, I had lots of friends and a large group of in-laws and colleagues. However, since many of those closest to me were incapable of fully seeing me and my worth, I felt a painful sense of disconnection.
A Nation of Narcissism
In my opinion, such disconnection is the natural outcome of a society that has become increasingly narcissistic. The preoccupation that many have with their own self-interests and image, including an emphasis on superficial elements like social media status, appearance, or money, makes it impossible to foster deep, meaningful connections.
If we are not willing or able to self-reflect, show concern for others, or truly engage in meaningful, two-way conversations, where listening is as important as speaking, we can’t establish nurturing relationships. Furthermore, if we keep seeking connection from people who don’t meet us halfway, the only outcome is despair. As I used to say when I was trapped in a narcissistic relationship, “You can’t get blood from a stone.”
As someone who is in the process of finalizing a book and course on healing from narcissistic abuse, I may be a bit biased on this topic. I see narcissism everywhere these days. It’s in the words of politicians who consistently gaslight us. It’s in the hypocrisy of our neighbors who have more than enough, yet don’t want to provide aid to those in need. It’s in the greed of corporate leaders who continue to make exorbitant salaries as workers experience pay cuts. The messages we are receiving loud and clear seem to exhibit an “every man and woman for themselves” mentality. That’s a recipe for loneliness!
Additionally, it is apparent to me that even when we are with each other we are not with each other. You see this readily when people are fixated on their phones while in the company of their friends or loved ones. How can we maintain connection when we are so clearly distracted?
Focus on Quality Not Quantity
I can’t pretend to know the answer for everyone, as we are all so different. But, in my world, everything shifted when I stopped focusing on being liked by everyone.
My priorities are so simple now. I see my partner several times a week. During those visits, we focus completely on each other and greatly appreciate our time together.
Aside from that, I maintain regular phone calls with my mom and sister, text chats with my besties, and daily, positive communications with the few Facebook friends who interact with me mutually. I no longer try to garner the time or attention of those who dismiss or invalidate me in any way. In short, either love me or leave me. I don’t have the energy for anything less.
I know this is probably much harder for teens to embrace because being young feels like one big popularity contest. It is a challenging but essential lesson that we must stop worrying about what everyone thinks of us so that we can focus on the relationships that matter most.
What Matters Most?
To that end, I feel that genuine connection also comes through knowing what (and who) matters most to us. When we understand and fully honor our values and needs, it is easier to recognize “our people” when we meet them. This was a concept that I discussed throughout Online Dating for Sensitive Women, as I know that finding my ideal partner was only possible after I got clear on what I was looking for.
Have you ever met someone who shared a unique hobby or interest and it felt as though you were destined to meet? This has happened to me several times throughout my life. I believe those connections were a matter of the energies aligning – the joy I was putting out was like a beacon attracting my ideal match.
If you are looking for deeper connections, get started by asking yourself the following:
- What do I value most in my relationships (i.e., compassion, shared interests, sense of humor, similar personalities)?
- What kind of friends and connections do I wish I had right now (i.e., someone to take walks with, a friend who loves to craft, someone who shares the same spiritual beliefs)?
- What level of interaction is most supportive to me (i.e., daily texting, phone calls, personal visits)?
- What do I love most about my life? What are my favorite things?
By getting clear on these questions, you are not just strengthening your awareness, you are also letting the Universe know what you need most. Once you determine what you are looking for in your connections, commit to asking for them out loud.
I did this the year before my divorce. At that time, I regularly prayed that a group of people who were like-minded and kind would come into my life. That effort attracted a job opportunity where I worked with a compassionate group of women. I still maintain connections with many of those loving souls today.
Make Your Own Meaning
Incidentally, a quick Google search tells me that Depeche Mode’s, “Everything Counts” was meant to highlight the corporate greed and corruption present in Britain in the 80s. [Source: Wikipedia] It was not intending the larger meaning that I have given to those lyrics, which for me is the belief that amongst the competitive nature of the world, what matters most are the simple things that money can’t buy. That is the beauty of music, we can all assign our own meaning to lyrics.
I believe that a greater sense of connection with the world requires that we recognize that there is meaning in everything. Every thought, feeling, or belief that we experience and share with others has the potential to connect us – energetically and spiritually.
Over ten years ago, an instructor in my master’s degree program shared his belief that there is a thread of connection that runs between every person we have ever met in this life, and it remains even after a soul has passed on. When you embrace this belief, you realize that we are never alone, and everything does count, in large amounts.
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