Once we hit our thirties, life has alienated us in many ways. We probably know what heartbreak is in friendships and partnerships, what raising a family is, what it’s like to be in the workforce, we have witnessed numerous failed efforts in changing the world and we have seen at least one loved one fall ill and pass away. We know what pain is and the beautiful fantasies we had about our careers and love have been destroyed. What now?
I have dealt with feelings of alienation since I can remember. Is this worth it? What’s the point? Why do I feel so alone? I was already asking myself this in elementary school. I don’t have the answer to those questions, but what I know is that I’ve been through more than most people my age living in Canada have and I’ve always found something within myself to keep going…on top of therapy when the alienation becomes distressing.
The list that follows won’t protect you from any of life’s heartaches, it might even do the opposite, but here it goes.
Accept that you are not unique
Someone gave me this advice recently and I have in turn given it to at least two people since. Of course no one is exactly like me, but my feelings, thoughts, ideas and even my life path isn’t unique. How does this help?
I’m writing this article knowing that there are at least thousands like it. I’m currently doing a podcast knowing that none of the content hasn’t been said somewhere else. So what? I’m using my voice and creating what I want to create. Accepting that I’m not unique is liberating me from high expectations for myself and I can simply concentrate on what I want to say today. Knowing that I’m not unique relieves some of the pressure I put on myself and the over thinking. This especially helps if you are an artist and/or an activist.
It helps in feeling less alone. I spent the last 2 years of my life bringing my sadness to work. I still do the job, have regular interactions, laugh and have fun, but I’ve also cried around colleagues that I didn’t know that well. At first, I felt bad and then my therapist told me this: “everyone knows what it’s like to be going through a hard time. Most people aren’t going to think any less of you. They might even feel closer to you and to themselves.” That felt so good to hear. On top of that, I’ve noticed that it created an environment in which we’re each allowed to have bad days, that the rest of the team will do what they can to support me, knowing that I’ll do the same for them. When you realize that you are not unique, you start looking for people like you and finding a community.
Accepting that I am not unique helps me feel more connected to people even when a voice in my head is telling me to isolate myself from the world.
Don’t depend on people to make things happen
With alienation comes feeling powerless and hopeless. I don’t believe in the “concentrate on what you can control and let go of the things you can’t control” crap. The worst things I have been through in life, I had no control over. I am still affected by them and will always be to various degrees. What I know is that a lot of beauty in my life is present because of me. Amazing friendships, being a Godmother, travelling by myself, creating opportunities, etc.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I had this belief that whatever dreams people had, they would work towards them. That is not true. Most people put a lot of barriers for themselves and it has to do with their fears. I’m not one of those people. I am afraid, but I try to still go for it. Often times, when I started fantasizing about projects with people, I got engulfed in their fears and the control it had on them. Now it’s not my place to pressure anyone into doing something they aren’t ready to do, but what I know is that I needed to liberate myself from other people’s fears to be able to work on my own. Doing this allows me to discover how powerful I can be.
Keep putting yourself in different environments
I know, who has the time? Let me explain why I believe this is so important in fighting alienation.
Many people have three environments: family, workplace and a group of friends. I have the same authentic core no matter who I’m with, but some sides of my personality only come out with certain people. Whether they’re good or bad, those parts of myself need their space in order for me to grow.
Have you ever seen kids being stuck at home for a long period of time? They start loosing interest in playing and become bored. Why? Their brain learnt whatever it needed to learn at that moment and needs something else. We’re still like that as adults. Being in the same three semi-static environments is infringing. Sometimes, we think we’re a certain way because of what a person brings out of us, but turns out we can be so much better in another context. Find a person or place that brings out a hidden side of you and put in the time to discover that part of yourself.
I’m lucky enough to have a career I love that puts me in new environments constantly. This has allowed me to be exposed to a diversity of personalities, develop many skills, observe what suits me and not, welcome change and to blossom. It also gives me the energy to continue working on and nourishing the long-term relationships that I have in positive ways.
When life bores me, I look for inspiration. If you have limited time, like a lot of us, there are tones of Zoom events you can take part of now.
Stop trying to be the “bigger person”
This is a difficult one because what I’m saying is “be more vulnerable”. If you are an empath, you’ve likely taken that route many times at work and in relationships. I have. I realize now that what I was really doing was to avoid telling someone how I felt, what I needed and setting boundaries. It ended up giving the them power over me and resulted in me, for certain, not getting what I needed. Basically, what I was showing to both the person and myself was that their needs were more important than mine. Eventually, it affected my self-worth and this feeds into feeling alienated.
Oddly, being the “bigger person” feeds our own ego and is actually kind of condescending for the other party. So really, we’re not helping anyone. Keep working on being a good person, but stop trying to be the bigger person in every single situation. You’re allowed to get upset, show it and ask for better.
There are exceptions to all of these suggestions of course and you will each figure out what yours are. None of these require big life changes and can be applied gradually to your day to day with a bit of thought. With change comes discomfort so take your time, observe the changes it brings and adjust.