I’ve written previously that being alone brings us face to face with important questions about self—what is the core inclination of self, and how has the lived experience diverted or required compromise of the core self? I’m connecting these questions to the experience of being alone because I think these are question that persist within us and seek resolution—whether we wish to engage with them or not. One of the ways in which we engage, or refuse to engage with these questions is in how we embrace being alone. Or, in how we avoid it. I’m suggesting that the way we approach being alone is one indicator of how we approach the important questions about self.
When asked, most people have clear feelings about being alone. Some like it; some don’t. I’m interested here, in what makes it so difficult for some. We can understand that there is certainly difficulty thinking about—being alone with—the idea that one’s core self is disappointed, unfulfilled, thwarted, shrunken, waiting for something. These are painful thoughts. Painful realizations. Perhaps too painful to bear. One might decline to be alone in order to avoid having to think these thoughts. This is understandable. Why would anyone choose to be in emotional pain?
And so we decline to be alone with ourselves, in some cases, to avoid pain.
But I want to get at something that I often hear in my work with patients. It has to do with a sense that some things start to feel a little flat. A little meaningless. A little mechanical. A little lost.
What is happening?
This is difficult to explain and to do justice to, partly because it’s not the same across the board, and partly because it’s often so subtle. What is being communicated is a feeling that the self is not present. That the self has receded into the background, and something else—something false, or inauthentic, or not self—is in the foreground. This something else is acting as if it is the self, presenting as if it were the self, pretending, as it were, to be the actual self. In reality, the self feels to be in hiding. What is true and real about the self feels constrained to emerge, in whole or in part.
Here we have a situation of being that feels problematic because of its inauthenticity. Somewhere there is the experience of pretense and the accompanying experience of disconnection, absence, wrongness, mistaken-ness, falseness. How subtle this can be . . . to feel slightly off, not fully in contact with what is real. And how disconcerting to carry this around.
I speculate that we have the ongoing cycle of impingement that lead to disappointment in the first place. We can say that living in an “as if” way, with the false-self acting “as if” it were real, and in carrying on with a subtle state of inauthenticity is the real-time expression of impingement and compromise. Having been deprived of the authentic experience of self and having suffered disappointment with the painful truth about self, we are left with an ongoing lived experience of impingement and compromise. In other words, the forced alignment with environmental forces that derailed and thwarted the self—are ongoing. They persist in interfering with the authentic living. The self continues to live in a state of compromise.
This is the condition that gives rise to the sense of things starting to feel a little flat and meaningless. Living is truncated by the dominance of a false, compromised self, making it impossible to feel truly connected to one’s experience. And, as a consequence, things feel less real, less authentic and less meaningful.