When asked what makes loneliness hard to admit, people of all ages often say that they believe loneliness means they are messed up, defective, a loser, friendless, or unlovable. This condemning voice that calls us names is what Dr. Chip Dodd calls the voice of toxic shame in his book, The Voice of the Heart.
Rather than lead us to acknowledge our neediness, toxic shame entangles our hearts, tightly binding them up, leaving us unable to experience full life because we can’t experience our natural place. We believe we should hide who we are, and we center our lives on doing it. (pg. 117-118)
The tragedy of toxic shame is that it often targets, in an attempt to shut down, the goodness of our most human parts–our feelings, needs, desire, longings, and hope. When these roots of our hearts are misnamed as “bad” or “defective,” we in turn reject them, preventing us from giving and receiving the love we are made for.
The voice of toxic shame has a host of accusations tailor-made for your particular situation. Toxic shame may tell you are lonely because:
You are broken.
You need too much.
This is what you deserve for past mistakes.
And the list goes on endlessly.
The truth is that we are created with a need to love and be loved.
Dr. Chip Dodd also states that loneliness can be reinterpreted as a gift rather than a curse. Instead of rejecting our hearts, our loneliness could be telling us something about what we need.
Could your loneliness be telling you that you are made for relationships where you can be more fully you and belong? Could your loneliness be hinting that there is more to know of yourself, other people, and of God? Could your loneliness reveal more about what is good, true, and right about you than what is wrong with you?
Loneliness is a gift because it reveals our hunger for intimacy—a longing to be deeply known and to know others. Our loneliness reveals that we are made for a richer intimacy, a deeper acceptance, a kinder touch, more consistent companionship, and more generous delight than what we are currently experiencing.
When we deny our loneliness, we cut ourselves off from the very intimacy for which we were made. We can even go a step further down the rabbit hole and refuse to feel the pain of our unmet desire for relationship. Rejecting these core human emotions leaves us alone and in greater pain.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage to reach out to someone for intimacy, knowing that as we experience the joy of rich relationship, it can’t always deliver the results we want. Relationships here on earth will disappoint. Sometimes you get hurt, there will be loss, and it runs the risk that others will cause you deep pain.
So what can do we do? We’ve got two options: We can keep listening to the voice of toxic shame or we can start listening and trusting that our loneliness is beckoning us to experience life more fully.
Do you need help listening to the voice of your heart? What is the truth your loneliness wants to speak to you? Contact one of our trained therapists today. We’re here to help.
Melanie Rogers is a therapist at Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves inviting people to explore their own interior landscapes, challenging them to be intrigued with the bigger story being told in and through their lives. Melanie loves nothing more than to see her clients discovering, recovering, and living from their truest self.