I had an argument in the street with my neighbour. He was shouting at me from his car window without, to my mind, a shred of justification. Once it would have been embarrassing but now it was simply annoying.
It stayed with me afterwards, the injustice of it. The disrespect. It irritates me when I experience other peoples unwillingness to take any personal responsibility, maybe because I had a habit of taking too much of it for too long.
The results of the BBC Loneliness Survey have been on the radio a lot over the past weeks.
Through all of the psychological reasoning, the suggestions about how to mitigate feeling lonely, and the stories about how people cope, I have a feeling that at the route of a lot of unnecessary loneliness is a reluctance to be with ourselves.
Some of us don’t know ourselves very well, and, even if we do, we don’t much like what we see.
How did I ever think it was possible to feel connected to other people if I couldn’t connect with myself? The world cannot compensate for such a gaping hole.
Only in the most recent quarter of my life was I able to recognise the fragility of my own self-image. Fully prepared to accept my unworthiness I was looking for signs of it before anyone had the temerity to point it out.
When we take rejections or insults to heart, from people who know nothing of us, what does that say about our sense of self? If we create a picture of who we are solely based on the opinions of others, who know nothing much of us, how can we emerge with anything valuable or true?
There are a handful of questions I ask clients which have a tendency to stop them in their tracks. They aren’t designed to do so but, over the years, I have noticed they have this effect. Here’s one of them.
“Who are you?”
With the roles of your life stripped away. Parent, sister, son, professional, friend, what is left? Only you. It is the absence of understanding or accepting this person which leaves us lonely.
Compounding the misery, our inability to see through the fog of our own identity, we have a deepening reluctance to look harder, to investigate. So the image remains obscured, and we have nothing much to hold onto other than the mistaken and ambivalent opinions of others.
Creating a more positive and stronger sense of self is rarely an overnight revelation. Which is why the question “How can I change the way I feel about myself?” is so huge. It is a lifetimes work.
But you have to start somewhere, and a realisation that the person you least like spending time with is you is the point at which the work begins.
Back in the street with my angry neighbour, whereas once I may have shrunk from the confrontation and felt bad about myself afterwards, I found myself responding to his ridiculousness with the words “Who do you think you are?”. Maybe things changed when I realised the importance of answering that question for myself.