How do you live with the situations of isolation you are going through today? In one way or another, we all are separated, with the lockdown, from something important, a loved one, a project, a job, a freedom or even simply separated from something that gave a rhythm to our life. And this situation of separation creates a form of isolation.
We tend to limit the feeling of isolation to being alone. But our brain continuously perceives all forms of regularities in our environment. When a discontinuity occurs, when the expectations of our brain are not met, suffering emerges. We need to create new benchmarks.
But the separation from the people we love is the most painful. Loneliness and isolation have an impact on physical (it reduces our life expectancy) and psychological health. John Cacioppo has shown that our body reacts to feelings of loneliness in a way comparable to physical aggression. No wonder we avoid loneliness!
Studies have shown that feelings of loneliness are not only associated with depression but a precursor. An analysis over time shows that loneliness occurs before depression, indicating that loneliness causes depression.
And if this test brings something good, I hope that the confinement we are going through will highlight a problem that has taken roots for several decades: the progressive isolation in which our culture confines us. I hope we can manage to reverse this toxic spiral.
And psychology has its share of responsibility to take. Most therapeutic approaches have based their approach on the independence and empowerment of the individual (with some exceptions with for example therapies associated to the theory of attachment) Autonomy in itself is positive, unless it is to the detriment of the recognition of the basic needs of emotional bond and a positive interdependence.
We see it clearly today, without the others, we are not much. With all the gold in the world, you cannot buy a product that is not produced, have a nice walk in a destroyed forest or be joyful when those you love are in pain. Money can destroy as much as it can create if it is used without awareness. And we realize how much we depend on others for the smallest things in our lives.
So how do we restore those sacred bonds that we are deprived of today? One simple way, highlighted by Paul Gilbert, founder of compassion-focused therapy, is to be open to receiving compassion. Compassion, the motivation to prevent and release suffering is something that we can offer to others. But we often forget how important it is to receive it.
How do you do it when we are alone? Our brain has this incredible ability to react to film footage as if it was a reality. Simply by mentally creating the reality we need, an ideal of compassion, we can respond to this need and create a caring and warm presence present for us when we want it and when we need it. Let’s try!
Take the time to imagine the ideal person, real or imagined, that you would need to feel fully seen, heard and understood. What would this person look like? What would be the tone of their voice? How would you feel in their presence? What would be the qualities of this person? Wisdom? Kindness? Courage? How would you feel if you received compassion from this person?
When I was at the bottom of my bed with the COVID-19 pandemic, I imagined our Mother Earth, like a mother, pregnant of the blue planet. I saw her suffering from the suffering of Humans. Her benevolent gaze and her soft but infinitely powerful arms awaited my suffering. I wrote her a micro-poem echoing my feelings
I lay my suffering in your hands
I lay our suffering in your hands
May we find the courage to keep our heart open to receive your love
For various reasons, some people are reluctant to open up to compassion. It’s perfectly legitimate. If this is your case, try to observe this reluctance with sympathetic curiosity. If you want to go further in the experience of receiving compassion and soothe feelings of separation or isolation, you can join Dennirs Tirch, for a guided meditation here.
Image credit: Freepik
Dr Isabelle Leboeuf is a psychologist and psychotherapist. In her practice she integrates hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and compassion-focused therapy.