Human beings are prone to feeling lonely and isolated at every age. An infant feels alone and scared outside of her mother’s arms. A young child feels excluded and unwanted when classmates don’t invite him into a game. A teenager feels solitary and inaccessible as she tries to form an identity. An adult feels helpless and angry if his trust is betrayed in a relationship. Any form of rejection can trigger our sense of isolation and loneliness, which, in turn, can trigger fear-based emotions such as sadness, indignation or rage. Our response to these emotions determines whether we spiral into despair or, alternately, ground ourselves in a sense of peace.
Whenever a school shooting occurs, such as the recent incidents in Newtown, Conn. and Taft, Calif., award-winning playwright William Mastrosimone gets a swarm of calls from journalists. His play, Bang Bang You’re Dead, focuses on a high school student who murders his parents and five classmates after spending years as a social outcast.
“When made to suffer the torments of peers, I don’t know why one kid will go home and cut herself while another kid will drink and drug and another kid will pray about it and still another kid will turn to violence,” Mastrosimone says. “I do know that 107 kids wrote to me, saying that they had hit lists, but that after seeing the play and/or movie, they changed their minds. They asked me to get help for them. Such is the power of art — the power of catharsis.”
Through the media of drama and other creative formats, one human being reaches out to another, facilitating a shift from paralyzing loneliness to longing for connection. “We are social, tribal beings by nature,” observes Eliza Ladd, current professor of theater at Kingsborough College in New York. “And when our social structures no longer provide this sort of community, or what I call ‘the meeting ground,’ we spiral into loneliness and isolation.”
While loneliness and isolation do not always lead to violence, and while they are not the only causes of violence, they are often a contributing factor to it. Learning how to transform isolation, in ourselves and others, thus can help facilitate not only inner peace but also social stability.
Following are some tools for staying grounded when hit by the tide of rejection by ourselves (self-hatred, suppressed emotion, etc.), our peers (betrayal, abandonment, etc.), or our society as a whole (disapproval, shunning, etc.).
1. Find a reflection of yourself.
Peace and harmony exist when two contrasting elements are in equilibrium. The roots of a tree, for example, ground into the earth, as the branches reach toward the sky. In the case of human beings, we cannot achieve balance alone; someone else is needed to reflect who we are and what we are feeling. So direct your attention outward while remaining connected inward. In the absence of having a friend available, turn to characters in books, plays, or movies. By empathetically connecting with the struggle of a given character, you can reverse the downward spiral of isolation and achieve inner peace. “In attaining balance,” explains Ladd, “listening is as important as expressing.”
2. Manage chemical imbalances.
Learning disabilities, social anxieties, personality disorders, and chemical imbalances can undermine our relationships to ourselves and to others — thus exacerbating the human propensity toward loneliness and isolation. “Varying levels of serotonin and norepinephrine can alter moods by sharpening the edge of emotions,” says David Fastiggi, founder and head educator of Eartheaven, a spiritual health education center. “Being blue is normal for a couple of days, but if it goes on beyond three days, it can be clinical.” Be sure to get an accurate diagnosis of and proper treatment for any underlying imbalances that may impact your ability to connect with yourself and others. Treatments may be conventional, such as pharmaceutical remedies, or holistic, such as increased exercise or regular massage.
3. Connect to nature.
Nature is a lively manifestation of peace. Even the extreme disruption of hurricanes — uprooted trees, flooded lands, and destroyed homes — creates fertile grounds for new life. The storms in our mind and body can transform into peaceful hope for new beginnings through a simple meditative walk in the natural world. Nature is a recalibration instrument, helping our mental, emotional, and biological states come into balance and harmony.
4. Reach out.
Sometimes, others exclude us from groups or activities. Other times, we fail to take the initiative to join. Gathering places, whether online or in real life, keep the individuals of a community united into a group identity. Experiences together create collective memories, which in turn form an identity of oneness — thus creating a sense of harmony and balance. The upside of our high-tech world is that it is easier than ever to find like-minded individuals. Sites like Meetup.com utilize the Internet to bring like-minded local people together, face to face, and hashtags on Twitter enable like-minded people around the world to connect virtually.
Volunteer formally by donating your time to work in homeless shelters, hospice centers, abused animal facilities, or youth programs. Volunteer informally by checking in with people and going the extra mile to support them — whether helping out with a project or simply listening to them deeply, not only with your ears but also with your heart. Become aware of and spend time with people who seem in need of love and friendship. All these steps will help you feel connected and valued, and you may end up surprised that you receive even more than you give.
6. Express yourself.
Create art of any kind — through painting, cooking, making crafts, or whatever else may speak to you. Even if others do not understand and validate you or invite your expression, you can understand, validate, and express yourself. Take the courageous extra step of putting your art out there, by publishing an article on a blog, playing music at an open mic, or performing onstage at a community event. Boldly showing your soul to the world acts like a calling card to the universe, and like-minded individuals will gravitate toward you. If you do not find those like-minded individuals in your immediate environment, share your art online, where the world is your backyard.
Feeling isolated and lonely are natural experiences in life. As we grow and develop, which we do our entire lives, the old leaves to make room for the new. Mom’s arms don’t hold us anymore, so that our legs can take us on explorations. We are excluded from the group game, so that we can explore our inner self and find personal creativity. We lose childhood dependency in order to form our unique individual character — a huge shift. We lose faith in our assumptions about each other, as we realize the truths of one another; and through forgiveness, we begin new solid relationships with people as they are. How we respond to loneliness and isolation determines how much we enjoy or suffer in life. By proactively taking charge of our destiny, we can develop an inner compass and create a peaceful inner world, no matter what storms rage on outside.