In our time, when people seek out help for midlife issues, issues of loneliness and solitude are often among the most prominent issues that they face.
However, the experience of loneliness often only emerges gradually in the course of individual therapy.
Much research on loneliness, such as that of Prof. Ami Rokach of York University tends to suggest that loneliness is experienced in many very individual ways. Nonetheless, the fact of loneliness is very prominent in individuals’ lives, and takes on a certain unique importance in midlife and later life.
The Loneliness Trend
We tend to quickly assume that loneliness and isolation are issues of importance for the elderly; yet other age groups experience them as well. In the United States two studies have shown that 40% of respondents indicate that they are lonely, as do one quarter of Canadians living on their own. It’s essential too not use such data to overly stereotype or pigeonhole individuals, but they do show the magnitude and impact of loneliness.
Connected but Isolated
Prof. Sherry Turkle of MIT and others have shown that technology, with all its possibilities for connection through texting, instant messaging and social media, actually often contributes to loneliness and isolation. Many people at midlife are more and more engaged with social media. Yet the fundamental need for human contact is not met by these technologies, and can be thwarted by them.
Loneliness and Solitude at Midlife
Studies, like those of Rokach and Neto have shown that loneliness is an issue of great importance at midlife, especially in countries with individualistic cultures like Canada and the United States. These studies confirm the experience of many therapists who offer help with midlife issues.
Our experience at midlife and later adulthood is often very individual, and leads us right into consciousness of loneliness and solitude.
It’s actually necessary to experience loneliness at midlife transition, if we are to individuate. As James Hollis tells us:
…it is precisely when we are thrown back on our own resources that we are obliged to find who we are, of what we are made, and generate from that soul-stuff the richest possible person we can manage in the transient moments we are allowed. It is precisely our aloneness that allows our uniqueness to unfold.
Hollis’ words are not glib or light. The danger of social media and all the other distractions are that they will ultimately keep us from genuine encounter with ourselves. We will never know our own uniqueness, and our true nature if we do not have aloneness in which to hear the very subtle voice of our own deepest yearnings, and to experience our own individual way of expressing what we are. Much as we need other people, there is genuine help for midlife issues potentially inherent in solitude.
Connection — Inner and Outer
Experiences of loneliness and solitude brings us to the question of the value placed on the self. Self-acceptance and tolerance for aloneness go hand in hand.
Help for midlife issues consists of fostering connection in both inward, and outward, directions.
Enabling individuals to find themselves in inner experiences of solitude, to experience, and then to express their uniqueness in outer life is a fundamental dimension of individual psychotherapy and of help for midlife issues.